Last week, the two most popular stories among bloggers
highlighted the roles of—and differences between—traditional journalism and digital
media in a rapidly changing news universe.
An altered photograph of BP’s crisis center during its Gulf
cleanup that was first identified by blogger John Aravosis of Americablog
provided an example of how social media play an important role as fact-checkers.
And a satirical piece by a Washington Post staffer focused on the dramatic changes
in newspaper journalism—with much of online commentary coming from print
For the week of July 19-23, 22% of the news links on blogs
were about a Washington
Post report on the photo that made the BP crisis center look busier than it
was, according to the New
Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in
Journalism. (We do not believe Icerocket’s news source list includes
Americablog which many bloggers linked to as well.) The revelation led many
bloggers to attack the already sinking reputation of BP, while some celebrated
the blogosphere’s role in catching corporate deception.
The second-largest subject, with 16% of the links, was a
satirical yet pointed column in the Washington Post magazine by Gene
Weingarten who lamented the changes to newspapers in the age of online
news. He specifically mourned the loss of creative headlines and also took a
jab at online comment sections which, he suggested, are often filled with
simplistic and angry messages.
For the most part, bloggers who linked to Weingarten’s piece
enjoyed his humor and supported his nostalgia for an earlier period of
journalism. However, some saw it as another example of a longtime scribe who
does not understand new media.
Indeed, all top five subjects for bloggers last week linked
to Washington Post stories.
The third-largest story on blogs last week, at 14%, was a
column from that paper’s ombudsman
Andrew Alexander, who concluded that the Post had taken too long to cover a
controversy over the Justice Department’s decision to narrow a voter
intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.
Fourth, at 10%, was the furor over an
excerpt of a speech by Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod that was
first posted on the website Big Government. The video, which was taken out of
context, made Sherrod appear to be making racist remarks at an NAACP meeting
and the Obama administration quickly forced her resignation. (Click
here for a detailed chronology of the media
storm that followed the unveiling of the video.)
Bloggers linked to multiple stories involving
the scandal including a Fox News transcript
of Big Government proprietor Andrew Breitbart’s July 20 interview on Sean
Hannity’s program and a Washington
Post article about the July 21 apology to Sherrod from Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack for having ousted her in haste. The Sherrod story
accounted for about one-third of the cable news airtime studied by PEJ last
week, 3% of newspaper front-page coverage and finished overall as the No. 2
topic across mainstream
And fifth, at 9%, was a Washington Post op-ed by Charles
Krauthammer warning conservatives against underestimating President Obama’s
political skill and the impact of
his policy agenda.
The social networking site Twitter is often used to share
information about new media technologies and last week, the two leading stories
fit that pattern.
The No. 1 link last week (at 15%) was a graphic-based report by
the BBC that showed how traffic on popular social networking sites had changed
over the past year. Facebook had grown substantially, for example, while
MySpace had lost users.
Second, at 10%, was an in-depth report from Wired detailing
the troubles Apple has had with its popular iPhone and phone network companies,
most specifically AT&T. The previous
week, Apple’s problems with the iPhone were the top story on Twitter, with
16% of the links.
The three other leading Twitter subjects from July 19-23 cut
across nature, science and politics. The No. 3 topic, at 9%, was about hundreds
of dead penguins that washed upon the shore in Brazil to the puzzlement of
scientists. Next at 5% was another Wired story
about physicists studying the paradoxes involved with time travel. One example:
if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, thus preventing your
birth, how is it that you exist today?
Fifth, also at 5%, was a BBC story about the
domestic criticism British Prime Minister David Cameron received following his erroneous
statement that England was the “junior partner” to the U.S. in the Allied fight
against Germany in 1940. The U.S. did not join the war until 1941.
Altered BP Photo
On the evening of July 19, John Aravosis of Americablog
was the first to report that BP had used an altered photograph on their website
of the Houston crisis center at the heart of the oil spill cleanup. Aravosis, in close-up examples on his
blog, revealed several places on the photo that had been altered in an
amateurish fashion to make blank screens look active. A day later, the Washington
Post picked up the story and BP admitted there had been some changes made,
although they claimed no intent to deceive. BP also released the original, unedited
photo, which showed Aravosis to be correct: there had been three blank screens
that were altered to show images.
Some bloggers focused on the role of social media and BP’s
relationship to news outlets in general.
“A great example of how a blogger spotted something that
traditional media failed to notice,” decided Steve Safran at Lost
Remote. “This is actually a fine example of why news organizations should
not take photo handouts. You don’t know (unless you’re a hawkeye like this
blogger) how the picture has been altered.”
“There has been a growing sense of concern amongst the
journalism community since media access to oil spill areas has been
extremely limited,” summarized Jessica Lum at PetaPixel.
“BP issues press releases and images of cleanup efforts, but this recent
discovery is cause for even more concern over misinformation and filtered
The discovery also provided more fodder for bloggers to
criticize a company already reeling from the fallout of the Gulf disaster.
“The joke was that ‘BP’ stood for ‘Broken Pipe’. It nows
appears that it stands for ‘Bad Photoshopping,’” wrote Warren
Toda. “Every photo released is now suspect. If BP alters pictures, is it
also altering the facts in its press releases?”*
“Wouldn't a more effective PR policy on BP's
part be to actually repair the leaking (oh, sorry, the splurging, gushing) well
and then get on with the task of trying to remedy the disaster they've
created?” wondered Jim Johnson at (Notes
on) Politics, Theory & Photography.
“Whenever I see this sort of bumbling I think . . . ‘You couldn't make
this stuff up!’”
“What has consistently bothered me about BP’s cleanup and
containment efforts is…that they seem to prefer to put on a show, instead of
coordinating a response effort that would truly minimize the economic and
environmental devastation,” declared Nick Zantop at It’s Just Light.
Many bloggers who linked to Gene Weingarten’s humorous
column bemoaning the loss of some traditional newsroom practices agreed with the main thrust of the piece, especially
“Gene Weingarten takes the words out of my—and just about
every other journalist over 35'—mouth with this column
about the sad state of journalism,” applauded Kenneth
“The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten is old enough to be
my dad...I think. And I mean that as a compliment. But in this
column he nails it and expresses everything I feel about journalism since I got
into the biz a scant 14 years ago,” agreed James Burnett of the Miami
Weingarten also sparked a lively conversation among new
media types about two specific components of today’s online reporting.
First, many responded to his derision toward “citizen journalists”
who write jarring and off-topic comments in response to online news reports.
“It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of
maggots,” he quipped.
“The vast majority of these comments reflect relatively
well-conceived thoughts,” disagreed Scott Greenfield at Simple
Justice. “To call them maggots…is over the top…People may lack the degree
of thought, nuance, focus and comprehension that one might want to have in a
discussion about the issues raised, but interesting ideas still come out.”
“Now, I would agree that some of the people who comment on
[newspaper] articles bear a striking resemblance to fly larvae,” wrote former
reporter and editor Billy Dennis at Peoria
Pundit. “But MY commenters? No, sir. MY commenters are witty and charming.
Their every word is like gold.”
Weingarten also lamented the loss of headlines that allowed for wit and creativity.
Online headlines, he concluded, are boring because they are designed primarily for
search engine optimization.
“Sadly, Mr. Weingarten, you have unwittingly revealed one of
the reasons why traditional publishers are struggling in the internet and
search engine age,” criticized Hugo
Guzman after making a case that Weingarten’s understanding of online
searches was insufficient. “Your refusal or inability to grasp how search engines
work…is the reason. It has nothing to do with having to write article titles in
a search engine friendly manner.”
“I loved the purity of distilling the story to its essence,
with wry wit when possible, and doing so while cracking the crazy calculus of
the headline’s space restrictions,” reminisced J. Drew Scott at the
Retort. “I can hold hope that their inspiration may draw us back to a time
when a headline meant something more than statistic in a marketing report.”
Some of the top
YouTube videos chronicled in the New Media Index have clearly been popular
because of their basic gawker value, the fact that they are visually compelling
often without having any significant news value. For example, the top story the
week of November 2-6, 2009, was a brief report about a Russian
forklift driver who crashed into shelves. For the week of June
21-25, 2010, the No. 2 story was a Brazilian baby dancing the samba.
The most viewed news video
on YouTube last week was another example of that genre.
A short report by the television news program Russia Today, featured
a leisure company in southern Russia that sent a donkey parasailing in order to
promote their business. The donkey, according to the report, was scared during the incident but survived even
after landing in the ocean.
The video report received more than 1.3 million views.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of July 17-23, 2010
A news report from Russia Today about a
promotional stunt that included a parasailing donkey
A Taiwanese animation that parodies
Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs and problems with the iPhone
A journalist interviews two women on a
beach in Italy
5. The segment of the NAACP speech given by Shirley
Sherrod that caused a significant controversy
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), andreads,
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 monitored the tracking site Tweetmeme.
Similar to Icerocket and Technorati, Tweetmeme measures the number of
times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and
retweeted. Then, as we do with Technorati and Icerocket, PEJ captured
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 lists used on
Technorati and Icerocket offer the top links over the previous 48