April 28, 2011

California Politics (and Strangeness) Catch the Eye of Bloggers

PEJ New Media Index April 18-22, 2011

Last week, the Golden State was the focal point of much of the blogosphere’s interest. Three separate stories about some form of wrongdoing or impropriety in that state were among the most popular. Two involved actions by California politicians, while one featured a modern method of mourning that appeared morally questionable to some bloggers.

For the week of April 18-22, 14% of the news links on blogs were about the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize to the Los Angeles Times for its coverage of corrupt officials in Bell, California, tying it for the No. 1 subject ranking, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The prize-winning series, which appeared in the spring of 2010, exposed the exorbitant salaries of city officials in the small, working class town. As a result of the investigation, eight former city officials were charged with multiple felonies and many California counties instituted tough new disclosure laws. Last week, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded the Times a gold medal for public service, which triggered a conversation about the improper activities of public officials.

In addition, many bloggers saw the award as a sign that quality newspaper journalism is not dead, as social media users discussed one of traditional journalism’s most prestigious awards.

And in another sign of the interactivity that social media can facilitate, several individuals at the Los Angeles Times shared information on how the series was created and the joyous reaction of those in the newsroom when they learned of the Pulitzer award.

Another California story making the list of top five subjects among bloggers (at 5%) was an agreement between Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s prison guards. The new contract allows guards to save unlimited vacation days which could result in massive payoffs for officers when they retire. Most bloggers felt that Brown was giving special deals to a group that had been one of his biggest political backers.

The No. 3 biggest story last week, at 10%, was another California issue that angered bloggers, although it had nothing to do with politics or public policy. Instead, it was a drive-thru funeral home in Compton, California where mourners can pull up to the facility and pay respects to the deceased through a glass-encased chamber. A number of commenters found the idea tasteless and a poor way to honor the dead.

Elsewhere on Blogs

The other story that tied for first on blogs last week (at 14%) highlights two patterns found in social media: the influence of British news and culture and the marking of deaths of famous individuals. The passing of actress Elisabeth Sladen, 63, was especially noteworthy for British children because of Sladen’s role in The Sarah Jane Adventures, a British science fiction series which was a spin-off of the show Doctor Who. Many blogs linked to a BBC page that featured children’s memories of Sladen.

Bloggers frequently take time to note the passing of well-known individuals. In the last six weeks alone, the deaths of columnist David Broder and actress Elizabeth Taylor both received significant attention in the New Media Index

The role of social media in presidential campaigns was the fourth subject, at 6%. The story reported on how, in the wake of Barack Obama’s successful embrace of social media in 2008, all candidates are now looking online to aid their campaigns.

And another subject that tied for fifth last week (at 5%) was a Los Angeles Times story about Mexican drug cartels setting up shop in cities around the U.S. such as Seattle, Anchorage and Minneapolis.

Twitter

On Twitter, the top stories had to do with both the pros and cons of new technologies and social media.

The leading subject, with 16% of the news links, involved rumors that Twitter was in the process of acquiring TweetDeck, a site that is a personal browser where users can design and focus on the tweets and updates they are most interested in. (No sale has taken place at this point.) Some linked to a Mashable story explaining how the move was a defensive business maneuver by Twitter. Others highlighted a TechCrunch story concluding that Twitter was defending its turf, but also predicting that the move would wind up being the end of TweetDeck.

The controversy over the discovery by Wired that iPhones and iPads have tracking devices that have been sending users’ location information to Apple for the past 10 months was No. 2 on Twitter, at 9%. Overwhelmingly, Twitterers were disturbed by the news and worried about a possible invasion of privacy. The issue has stirred enough controversy that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) announced he would be holding a Congressional hearing on mobile privacy in May.

A study by the dating site OKCupid showing that active users of Twitter tend to have shorter relationships than the rest of the population was third biggest story (at 7%).

That was followed by two different stories about Facebook, both at 5%.

One was the marking of the one-year anniversary of the creation of Facebook’s “Like” button, a function that has been duplicated on thousands of other sites across the web. The other was news that Facebook had accidentally turned on the email notification function for some users, sparking a wave of complaints.

Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Winning Reporting

The corruption of government officials in Bell, California, exposed by Los Angeles Times reporters was brought back into focus last week when the paper won a Pulitzer Prize.

A few bloggers used the opportunity to criticize an improper use of public funds.

“Bell City, one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County, paid its city manager $787,000 a year,” recalled Jim Hoft at Mr. Punky Kitten. “Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Gottleib released a list of Bell city officials and their salaries in a July report. The citizens of Bell were outraged by this revelation and held a protest after the report was published…There was one fact that Gottleib kept from his readers. The corrupt Bell politicians were democrats, every last one of them. It was probably best he didn’t mention it. He may not have been awarded a Pulitzer.”*

Most bloggers addressing the subject, however, used the story to discuss the role of the media.

“Today is a great day in the journalism world. The Los Angeles Times (the newspaper for my region) won two Pulitzer Prizes,” announced Ed Carrasco. “The Los Angeles Times’ Pulitzer Prize win is obviously good news for the aging paper, which has seen cutbacks in its staff and an ownership gone amok. It’s also good for local government transparency.”

“The Los Angeles Times wins, deservedly, for its devastating series of reports that exposed corruption in the city of Bell, California,” wrote Anna Clark at Isak during her rundown of winners. “Altogether, this is badass, and personally one of my favorite journalistic projects in awhile.”

And some Times staffers, including some of those who worked on the project, shared their first-hand observations of the reporting process.

“I was part of a team of 20 Los Angeles Times reporters and editors, led by Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives, that was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service,” shared Times reporter Robert Lopez. “The story was broken by Gottlieb and Vives, who first reported the high salaries in summer 2010. I became involved with Paloma Esquivel and wrote two investigative articles, both of which were submitted as part of the Pulitzer package.”

“this is what it looked like in the office today,” described LA Times Blog Editor Tony Pierce at the Busblog underneath a video of the office celebration. “there was much celebration for winning journalism’s highest honor…And then there’s the Times as a whole whose last 3-4 years have been distracted by numerous things a paper shouldn’t have to experience. Don’t call it a comeback.”

Jerry Brown and Prison Guards

After Gov. Brown approved a 200-page contract with the state’s prison guards, one clause stood out in terms of generating reporting and commentary. Guards will now be allowed to save unlimited amounts of vacation, which could result in large payments when they retire. Critics claimed this would be a huge liability for taxpayers. Brown defended the agreement, however, by claiming that the furloughs imposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger added so many days to corrections officers’ time off that they could not help but exceed the vacation caps.

Brown drew the ire of the blogosphere when the Los Angeles Times also reported that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent nearly $2 million to help his campaign last year.

“California unions spent tens of millions to put retread Governor Jerry Brown back into office. So, it is not all that surprising that he is, once again, doing California’s taxpayers no favors by letting the unions ride roughshod over him in recent budget negotiations,” argued USA In the News.

“This is like committing a felony is broad daylight, in front of everyone who pretty much thinks you are a criminal,” added Robert Konishi at Blazin’ Asian. “This blatant behavior during this sensitive time just shows how Jerry Brown and the Prison Guard union just don’t care what normal folks think.”

“Governor ‘Moonbeam’ pays off a voting block,” declared Yossarian at DailyBrisk.

Drive-Thru Funeral Home

Although the Los Angeles Times story on the drive-thru funeral home in Compton described some of its benefits-such as the convenience for mourners and the ability for many people to see well-known community members-most of the bloggers saw it as objectionable.

“I think that’s the most tasteless thing I’ve ever heard of,” proclaimed Alisha at Because I Said So. “We live in a “microwave” society where we’ve become used to getting whatever we want at the drop of a dime…No one wants to be inconvenienced, but there are some situations in which you should put forth some effort…If it’s too much to park at a funeral home, drop a card or sign a guestbook and take a quick glance at someone you deemed important enough to pay respects to, what’s the point of going?”

“To me it screams undignified and tacky but clearly the market exists and kudos for the funeral home for offering the service to those in their time of need,” added Five Forces.

“What have we come to that we can’t stop and park our car to go in and pay our respects to the dead?” wondered Tales of a Misplaced Southern Boy.

YouTube

The most-viewed news video on YouTube last week was an embarrassing moment for a world leader.

The video shows Czech Republic president Vaclav Klaus pocketing a pen during an April 10press conference in Chile alongside his Chilean counterpart Sebastián Piñera. The Czech leader is seen taking the pen out of the box and inspecting it before the pen vanishes under the table and into his pocket. The viewers are guided through the complete operation with the help of red circles and arrows.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of April 16 – 22, 2011

1. Video of the President of Czech Republic caught stealing a pen during his official visit to Chile
2. New Japanese disaster footage of the tsunami hitting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
3. Video of a six-year-old girl being subjected to a body search by a TSA agent at New Orleans Airport
4. A Portuguese-language video recorded by Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, the man who fired on students killing 12 of them in Rio
5. Video of a man helping drivers involved in a New York City highway crash who was later charged with insurance fraud for events related to the accident

 

The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ’s New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket, which monitors millions of blogs, uses the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links weekday each day. They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (25 stories each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally captured both Technorati’s and Icerocket’s daily aggregation. In recent months, though, this component of Technorati’s site has been down with no indication of when it might resume. 

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and analyzing the results.

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Icerocket, PEJ captures the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of “news” as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24 hours while the list used on Icerocket offers the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week.

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.