Last week in the mainstream media much of the commentary
about the January 8 Tucson shootings reverted back to partisan bickering over
the tone and impact of political vitriol. But in the social media, the
post-Tucson conversation was kinder and gentler. Generally bloggers applauded a
display of unity and bipartisanship.
For the week of January 17-21, fully 17% of the news links
on blogs went to a Washington
Post op-ed by Republican Senator John McCain commending President Obama for
his speech at the January 12 memorial service for those killed and injured in
the Arizona shootings according to the New Media Index from the Pew
Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
In a conversation dominated by liberals and moderates, those
bloggers overwhelmingly praised McCain’s piece for showing what a reasonable
discourse that reached across political lines would look like. Many also expressed
surprise and respect for McCain, who they felt reverted to an earlier phase of
his career when he was known for his independence and willingness to
The other major
political subject that gained substantial interest in the blogosphere last week
(the No. 3 story at 15%), was a piece by conservative columnist George Will, which suggested confrontation
more than cooperation. In it, Will asserted that Congress has bequeathed much
of its lawmaking power to the Presidency and to other government agencies in
recent years. The new 112th Congress, Will believes, needs to
reassert its position and stand up to Obama’s agenda.
strongly backed Will’s column, although there was some skepticism about whether
the Republicans in Congress would be willing to take on the President in this
Will’s work has
become a popular catalyst for conversation online recently. Last week marks the
fourth time in the last two months when one of his columns has been among the
top five subjects linked-to on blogs in the PEJ analysis. This trend suggests
that even though newspaper circulation is declining, well-known columnists can
still be influential in political conversations in both the traditional and
Two other top stories on blogs last week involved major
The fourth-biggest story was health care at 14%, a subject that
has not been among the top topics online in almost four months. Most of the
attention focused on a new government study written about in a Washington
Post story showing that as many as 129 million Americans under the age of
65 have preexisting medical problems that are red flags for health insurers.
The economy was the fifth-largest subject at 8% as bloggers
linked to reports about the size of the U.S. government’s debt,
now at $14 trillion, and global efforts to slow down rising food
The No. 2 story last week, at 16%, was back by popular
demand. Bloggers linked to the same BBC interview with Microsoft
chief executive officer Steve Ballmer that made the list of top stories the previous
week. Bloggers focused on Ballmer’s hint that Microsoft will support the
use of Kinect motion controllers with PCs sometime soon.
On Twitter, Apple was once again the leading subject; 8% of
the links from the social networking site focused on the subject. The attention
was split between two stories regarding the business aspects of the company.
One was the impact
of CEO Steve Jobs’ indefinite leave of absence for medical reasons; the other
was a report about sales
of the iPad, which surpassed the expectations of business analysts.
The introduction of the logo for HTML5,
the newest revision of the web programming language, was the second-largest
subject with 9% of the links.
And another technology story came next: The outcry
over Google’s decision to replace the link to its RSS reader product on the top
of its Gmail homepage was the No. 3 story, also at 9%.
That was followed (at 8%) by a blog post from Greenpeace’s Dr.
Paul Johnston arguing for more action on climate
change and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in light of recent dramatic
The fifth-biggest news story on twitter
last week (at 7%) was a CNN
report about one of the largest single-day
operations taken against the Mafia stretching across Italy, New
York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, resulting in the arrests of 127 people accused
of organized crime activities.
McCain’s Praise for
After John McCain wrote a column
commending his 2008 presidential rival’s speech at the Tucson memorial, many
liberal and moderate bloggers thought it represented the less ideological
McCain who had been known as a maverick before growing more vocally
conservative in recent years.
“These words echo the moderate, sane McCain of the distant
past, a time before he became the angry ‘Gran Torino’ guy capable of only
shouting ‘get off my lawn!’” wrote EJ Perkins at The
Portal. “Is the senior senator from Arizona finally walking back from the
brink of political oblivion? I hope so.”
“In the blogosphere you’re apt to be scorned if you choose a
reflective approach over snarky expressions of distilled cynicism in your
posts, but once in awhile we need to rise above our prejudices and give credit
where it’s due,” admitted Virginia Bergman at Katalusis.
“I appreciated President Obama’s speech in Tucson the other
day, and I likewise offer a pat on the back to John McCain for his response in
today’s Washington Post.”
“McCain indicated that he knew the President to be both a
patriot and a legitimate leader,” posted Sharon Dooley at Politics
Plus. “On the other hand, Sarah Palin, in a message that was tone deaf to
the pain of a nation, chose the day of mourning to appear in a slickly scripted
taped video to address the criticism she had received…Ultimately, she waited
too long to speak out and sent the wrong message.”
Others expressed a guarded optimism that we might see a
change in tone in Washington.
“I thought McCain showed a lot of class here,” lauded J.S.
at The Adventures of Steanso.
“I also hope that there's some substance to the idea that these shootings could
represent some sort of a turning point. I'm not saying I think it's likely, but
I remain sort of hopeful.”
Although in the minority, there were a few conservatives who
viewed McCain’s actions much differently.
While McCain and some bloggers were interested in finding
common ground, George Will and his online supporters were focused on a very
different tack. To them, a key priority was having the newly empowered
Republicans in Congress challenge executive authority.
Debby Durkee at Politically
Empowered, for example, strongly supported Will’s thesis. “The executive
branch has, through the years, increased its power because of a lazy Congress
unwilling to do the hard work of writing laws and performing the necessary
oversight of the executive branch…Your representatives need to be reminded that
the people’s power rests with the legislature, and we fully intend to keep it.”
Some, however, weren’t sure if Republicans were up for the
is clear and good,” agreed Clifton Chadwick. “The big worry is whether the Republicans
understand it and have the cojones to do what they must do. Frankly, I am
“The country is watching to see if this Congress has the
seriousness of conviction to follow through on the rhetoric upon which they
were elected,” added Fred Unger at Emerging
Not surprisingly, liberals did not share Will’s perspective.
“You almost want to crack George's cranium open just to see
what's going on in there,” wrote A
Spork in the Drawer after criticizing Will’s historical descriptions of
progressives. “One has to wonder if he's deliberately dishonest or genuinely
believes what he says. Actually, given George's long record of dishonesty…it's
safe to conclude that George Will knows what he's doing.”
The most viewed news
video on YouTube last week was of the dangerous January floods throughout large
portions of Australia. According to reports, more than 17,000 homes lost
electricity and the total cost of the damage could reach $2 billion.
Taken on January 10 from the
second floor of an office building in Toowoomba, the footage illustrates the scope
of the flood waters and the extent of the damage. Cars are swept up in the
powerful current while streets and buildings are flooded.
The text that accompanies
the YouTube video makes an appeal for donations to various relief efforts. This
video is a good example of how the power of images spread throughout the
internet can deliver the impact of tragedies to places far from the event, even
without coverage from traditional media.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of January 15-21, 2011
Hillary Clinton falls while boarding a
plane in Yemen
“Palin’s Breath”—a short
video made up of small segments of breathing compiled from her speech about the
events in Tucson
A short video from “Always
Up to Date” that includes a link to the video channel of Jared Lee Loughner, the man
accused of the Arizona shootings
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.)