Last week was one of those that
highlighted the divergent news agendas of the mainstream and online media.
While two stories—unrest in the Middle East and President Obama’s State of the
Union address—dominated coverage in the traditional
press, bloggers and Twitter users opted for very different topics.
In the blogosphere, the No. 1
linked-to story from January 24-28 was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ failure
to report his wife’s earnings over a five-year period, according to the New Media Index from the Pew
Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Drawing 14% of the
links, bloggers were highly critical of Thomas, accusing him of a double
standard after the watchdog group Common Cause charged that he had failed
to report his wife’s earnings of $680,000 from the conservative Heritage
Foundation. Even though Thomas later admitted
the error and amended his financial statements, critics took joy in needling
the controversial judge.
Another major story, with 11% of the links, involved U.S. economics.
Most of the attention focused on a Washington
Post report claiming Obama was unlikely to support his deficit commission’s
controversial proposals regarding Social Security—such as raising the
retirement age or reducing the program’s benefits. Bloggers gave more of a
mixed verdict here. Many supported Obama’s view for both political and policy
reasons. Others, however, criticized Obama for being unwilling to take
important steps to secure the country’s economic future.
Also at 11% was a Los
Angeles Times story about two teenagers found dead in an apartment
alongside an empty can of the caffeinated alcohol drink known as Four Loko, which
has been banned in some states. Although it was not immediately clear if the
drink was the cause of the deaths, concerns about its safety were enough to
raise questions about the role it may have played.
At No. 4, with 10%, was a BBC
story about a polar bear that swam for more than nine days in search of sea
ice. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey suggested that this journey
provided more evidence of global climate change.
The fifth story (at 9%), was another BBC report,
this one about the firing of British sports announcer Andy Gray due to
allegations of sexist and improper behavior.
The turmoil in Egypt did not
register as a major social media topic in the sample studied by PEJ last week.
It did, however, rank as the seventh-biggest story among users of Twitter, a
platform that has been extensively used to share information about such events
as the 2009
protests in Iran and the devastating earthquake
in Haiti. Despite attempts by the Egyptian government to block access to
Twitter within their country, users posted images, links, and other pieces of
information about the uprising from the outside. In the blogosphere, interest
in the situation in Egypt seemed to pick up by the weekend, a period not
included in this report.
Other stories linked-to on Twitter last week involved the
web and technology, including disagreement over the value of news and
The No. 1 story (14% of the news
links) was a TechCrunch
piece by Paul Carr defending AOL against criticism in a recent New
Yorker story that the company relies too heavily on technology and not
enough on journalists, resulting in poor news quality and selection. Carr wrote
that AOL’s news judgment is no different than other major internet news sources
because most consumers want dumbed-down content about salacious subjects.
The second-largest subject (at 13%) was a follow-up to a
story that was popular the previous week.
On January 21, Google announced
that the removal of the RSS reader option from Gmail was a mistake. That came
after users voiced their displeasure with the action, and Google’s subsequent
response proved to be another example of the impact that an explosion of
opinion online can have on a major company.
At No. 3 (12%) was news that a team of British engineers
are planning to send a mobile phone into space to see if today's products are able
to function in such an environment.
report about Obama’s decision to appoint General Electric’s chief
executive, Jeff Immelt, as chairman of his panel of economic advisors was the
fourth subject at 11%. The author, Lora Kolodny, wondered if Immelt’s
support for carbon cap-and-trade was a positive sign for proponents of green
And the arrest of five men
between the ages of 15 and 26 for launching web attacks in support of WikiLeaks
against companies such as PayPal, Mastercard and Amazon was fifth at 10%.
Thomas and Disclosure
that Clarence Thomas had failed to include more than half a million dollars of his
wife’s income on financial disclosure statements brought charges of hypocrisy.
“Judicial dirtbaggery at its finest and more evidence that
highly ranked government officials play by a separate rule book,” complained
Jim at Zwinglius
Redivivus. “A book that, were you and I to
live by, we would find ourselves in serious hot water.”
“Thomas has argued in the past that he believes the
requirement to disclose large political contributions are unconstitutional,”
pointed out Ted McLaughlin at jobsanger. “It looks like he has decided that his personal
beliefs are more important than federal law, and he's going to hide some of his
family finances regardless of what the law says.”*
Some wondered if this error was intentional.
“I actually didn't know that ‘the Supreme
Court is 'the only judicial body in the country that is not governed by a set
of judicial ethical rules. It appears that they could use one,” wrote microdot
Brain Police. “I mean it's difficult to see how this
could possibly be an inadvertent omission by Clarence Thomas. Seriously,
did he forget Ginni was his wife?”
And a few bloggers used the opportunity to criticize the
conservative Thomas, with references to his highly charged confirmation
“Thomas has never been one to honor ethics,” asserted David
M. Pittle at Marine
“He harassed women, took bribes of gifts from corporate sources…and
now has failed to report income from a source that clearly biases his decisions.”
“My accountant says if you make less than $150,000 a year
you can forget about filing taxes this year. Amateur porn enthusiast and professional
legal guy Clarence Thomas says it's o.k.,” declared Kirby at I
Make No Promises. “And really, who knows more about the law than
a Supreme Court Justice? No one, that's who.”
A passionate online discussion was sparked by a Washington
Post article—leading up to Obama’s January 25 State of the Union address—predicting
that Obama would not endorse his deficit commission’s recommendations to either
raise the retirement age or reduce Social Security benefits.
Some bloggers applauded Obama’s reported reluctance to alter
the program because it was good policy.
“At a time when people are hurting economically, when food
prices are rising, housing prices continue to tank and gas prices going through
the roof, lowering social security benefits shouldn’t be an option. It
really shouldn’t EVER be an option,” declared Mountain
Sage. “The government needs to take its greedy paws out of the social
security piggy bank and make sure it’s solvent.”
Others supported it for political reasons.
“Preserving Social Security is one of those rare instances
where the right thing to do and the popular thing to do intersect, even 60%
of Republicans don't want to see cuts,” wrote Desperado at The
Daily Hurricane. “Making that contrast clear also has strong
political advantages for a president with an eye on re-election.”
Critics, however, argued that Obama was ignoring economic
realities and afraid to make tough choices.
“President Obama claims to be worried about the deficit, but
when faced with a serious opportunity to do something about, kicks
the can down the road,” stated Where
Are My Keys? “Very soon, someone has to give this Country a dose of ‘tough
love’, for the good of its citizens. At this point in his Presidency,
Obama is choosing not to be that guy. He's instead making the choice to
play politics, and trying and get re-elected.”
“This is the public policy equivalent of a gangrene patient
opting to not take antibiotics and other nutritional improvements,” analogized Not
a Potted Plant. “Social Security won't get better on its own. The budget
won't get better on its own. We have to cut, something, at some point. The
sooner we do it, the less painful it's going to be.”
The most viewed news
clip on YouTube last week was the most recent episode of the first-person
YouTube series The Philip Defranco show. The weblogs, known for their jump cuts and
close-up view of its host, consist of Defranco’s take on current events
including politics and pop culture.
The second most viewed video
was a segment from the June 9, 2010, edition of Glenn Beck’s Fox News Channel
show. The 22-second clip includes Beck’s discussion of radicals when he says, “They believe and have called for a revolution. You're
going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you."
The clip has been spread widely across the web in the wake
of the January 8 shootings in Arizona which severely injured Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords, killed six others and sparked a national conversation about
vitriolic political rhetoric. Some liberals have decried the language used by
conservative talk-show hosts such as Beck and see this statement as an example
of what they call “hate speech.” (A transcript of the entire show is available here.)
Beck and his supporters claim that the clip has been taken
out of context and that he was warning against radical leftists who have called
for a violent revolution.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of January 22-28, 2011
A controversial segment from the Glenn
Beck show originally broadcast on June 9, 2010
Comedian Ricky Gervais discusses
his views on religion and atheism on the January 20 edition of CNN’s Piers
An interview in Spanish
conducted by Mexican journalist Carlos Loret
Another version of Loret’s interview which has
since been removed from YouTube
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.)