Last week, bloggers focused on two subjects that have resonated in social media before. One, the recovery efforts in Japan, has been a major topic three out of the last four weeks. The other, the climate change debate, is a subject that galvanized bloggers a year ago, but has receded since.
From April 4-8, 28% of the news links on blogs were about the fallout-literally and figuratively-from the earthquake in Japan, making it the week's No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Most of the news continued to be discouraging as bloggers spotlighted reports about bodies found at the nuclear power plant and high radiation levels measured nearby. And there was plenty of skepticism about whether Japanese citizens were being told the truth about the catastrophe. But a report that Japan's Red Cross had raised $1 billion, but had yet to distribute any money to victims, drew particular interest and sparked a conversation about ways to find trustworthy charities.
The bloggers' continued high level of interest in the earthquake stands as something of a contrast to the mainstream media, which were fixated on Beltway budget fights and devoted only 7% of their coverage to the continuing problems in Japan last week.
The second-biggest story, at 25%, was global warming. Specifically, bloggers focused on the surprising Congressional testimony from physics professor and long-time skeptic of climate change science Richard Muller. While Muller was expected to present research in opposition to the prevailing views on global warming, Muller instead stated that his work supported the scientific consensus that a warming planet is a significant trend.
Liberal bloggers and defenders of climate change science had a field day with that unexpected turn of events.
The subject of global warming has repeatedly been of great interest to social media users. Muller's testimony received virtually no coverage from the traditional press last week, but this marks the 13th time that the subject has ranked among the top five in a given week since PEJ began the NMI in January 2009.
In particular, global warming was a major topic of conversation among bloggers in December 2009 when skeptics seized on the "Climate-gate" scandal, when leaked emails from a British climate laboratory raised questions about whether or not weather data had been manipulated. Generally speaking, those who argue against climate change science have dominated these conversations.
Last week, however, it was the supporters of climate change science who had the louder voices.
The No. 3 story (at 10%) was a much-discussed April 1 Washington Post column by Richard Goldstone, the chair of the United Nation's fact-finding mission on the Gaza war of 2008-09. Goldstone concluded that his earlier report, accusing both Israel and Hamas of war crimes, was based on incomplete information. In the column, he concluded that Israel did not have a policy of indiscriminately targeting civilians during the conflict.
Most of the blogosphere reacted by defending Israel and many claimed that Goldstone's original report had unfairly damaged that nation's reputation.
The low-key launch of President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign was the fourth biggest subject at 7%. And news that the Obama Administration will not pursue civilian trials for several 9/11 suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but will have them tried by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, was the fifth-largest subject at 5%.
On the social networking site Twitter, the top five subjects involved technology-either the business side or how technology is impacting people's daily lives.
The top subject, at 10% of the links, was about Google's attempts to utilize the popular video-sharing site, YouTube, which is also part of the weekly NMI. Most of the attention was directed at a Mashable article about Google's plans to spend $100 million to create original programming for YouTube that will eventually be supported by advertising. Some twitterers took this move as a sign that Google might be getting into the music and entertainment business.
Stories about the business aspects of Facebook, including an advice column on how to land a job working for the online giant, were second at 8%.
The results of a survey conducted by Skype suggesting that working from home is becoming more accepted by employers and more desirable for employees was third, at 5%.
The No. 4 story (at 5%) was a Mashable piece offering predictions of what the smartphone industry will look like in 2015. One analyst suggested that in the next three years, Microsoft will overtake Apple's lead in the market share of such products.
And a short article about how Twitter reverted back to an earlier version of its site during April 5 technical troubles was the fifth subject, also at 5%.
More than anything else related to the recovery, bloggers paid notice to a report that Japan's Red Cross had collected $1 billion in the three weeks since the earthquake, but none of it had been distributed to victims.
"Unfortunately, this isn't anything new," remarked Project Armannd. "Less than 40% of the $1.5 billion raised by charities for the Haiti earthquake has been spent-and it's already been more than a year since that tragedy. I'm sure we all want the money we donated to be spent wisely, but when it's happening at such a slow pace that it may take months to even begin the process, it kind of takes away from the core purpose of the deal."
The news sparked a discussion of how people could most effectively help the cause. A number of bloggers offered suggestions.
"Common sense tells us to resist the heart's desire to physically go to the scene; better to give funds to those who know how to organize and manage the relief effort," advised I See My Shoe before referring readers to other trusted sites. "The GiveWell Blog...concludes giving to Doctors without Borders is one of the best ways to ensure funds result in direct benefits to victims. Peace Boat is a Tokyo-based nonprofit that has experience in organizing relief efforts, and is accepting donations as well as volunteers in support of its work in Miyagi prefecture."
"If this is making you rethink donating, please read Emily [Co]'s insightful article on how to donate smartly," urged Suzie Leung at Absolutely Fobulous. "She's also organized an amazing Facebook campaign called JustOneCrane (see donation box on the right!). 1000 cranes, 1000 bucks to help heal Japan."
For other bloggers continuing to follow news from Japan, the information was overwhelmingly negative. Many seemed resigned to more tragic news to come.
"In news all too reminiscent of the BP oil explosion, it looks like this nuclear crisis is going to drag on and on-thanks to a history of failing to meet safety standards and industry-friendly regulators," predicted Suburban Guerilla.
Some took note of an April 3 Los Angeles Times article about the discovery of two fatalities at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex. The cause of death was believed to be the impact of the initial tsunami and not radiation.
Others questioned information being disseminated about the tragedy when they read the admission from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. that it found 7.5 million times the legal limit of iodine in a seawater sample taken near the nuclear facility.
"The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant situation in Japan has gotten so out of hand," wrote Phil Butler at Everything PR. "Misinformation early on, and the continual underestimating of this catastrophe by officials there, right before the world's eyes is astonishing. The only thing more astonishing really is the realization that a worst case scenario is probably closer to the truth than any of us realize."
"Here's a level of lying that would make Hitler and Goebbels blush: the Japanese government is assuring it's people that everything is fine, while in the same breath admitting that the radiation level in coastal seawater is 7.5 million times higher than the legal limit," added Lentenlands at SmashABanana.
When UC Berkeley professor Richard Muller testified on March 31 in front of a GOP-led Congressional hearing on climate science, he was expected to present work refuting the prevailing view about global warming. Muller had been a longtime critic of global warming science and was heading the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, a study funded in part by well-known climate change skeptics and oil billionaires Charles and David Koch.
However, Muller surprised observers when he declared that, "We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups."
Liberal bloggers reveled in the turn of events.
"Muller's testimony must have felt like a slap in the face to the GOP members of the Science & Technology Committee, who were expecting a golden opportunity to scoff at Global Climate Change and urge the increased exploitation of non-renewable energy sources," concluded gummitch at The Zoo.
"Be careful what you wish for," chided Chris Carver at Uncommon Sense. "Congressional Republicans seem to be encountering frustrating seeds of reality and truth on many fronts, and their attempts to repudiate the Science of Global Climate Change are no different."
Many took extra pleasure in learning that Muller's work had been connected to the Koch brothers, who are known for backing conservative politicians and causes.
"Don't you hate it when you pay someone millions of dollars to do a study that global warming doesn't exist and he comes to the opposite conclusion?" jokingly asked The Beehive.
"I wonder if the Koch brothers-the same guys who are backing the King of Wisconsin-think their $150K is well-spent. Chump change, I suppose," wrote Catholic Sensibility. "They'll make it up in tax cuts."
While in the clear minority, there were a few who were critical of Muller's stance.
"Dr Muller betrayed us," announced Baron von Monckhofen at The Climate Scum. "He was not the honest and upstanding no-nonsense scientist we thought him to be."*
The most-viewed news video on YouTube last week was an international soccer match turned bad.
The April 2 incident occurred during an African Champions League game in Egypt between Tunisia's Club Africain and the home team, Zamalek. Ahead 2-1, Zamalek appeared to score a third goal only to have it ruled out by the officials. The home fans became so enraged by the call that they stormed the field and forced the Algerian referee to leave.
An Egyptian official stated that nine people were injured during the incident which "revived the soccer tension between Egypt and Algeria of the recent past," according to a Reuters report.
This is the second time in a month that a rather sobering soccer video has been drawn international attention. During the week of March 7-11, a news report about a soccer player kicking and fatally injuring an owl mascot during a game in Columbia was the lead news video.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of April 2-9, 2011
1. Chaos ensues during an April 2 soccer match in Egypt
2. Almost six minutes of footage from the dramatic tsunami that devastated parts of Japan
3. A satirical ad by the National Republican Senatorial Committee criticizing President Obama
5. Footage of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange dancing in a nightclub
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.)