The two subjects that dominated the blogosphere last week illustrate the wide range of debate and discussion that fills that online platform. One focused on a celebrity spouse split and the other on one of the most dramatic and perhaps significant news events in recent years.
For the week of May 9-13, over three-quarters, 81%, of the news links on blogs were about either the breakup of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger (41%) or the death of Osama bin Laden (40%), according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The conversation about bin Laden's death largely focused on the political fallout from the May 1 raid in Pakistan, with bloggers arguing over which president-George W. Bush or Barack Obama-deserved credit for killing the terrorist. This has been an ongoing debate among bloggers and while in earlier weeks voices were pretty evenly divided, this past week it was those crediting Bush for the bin Laden killing who seemed to lead the conversation.
Two the top five YouTube videos last week also related to the death of bin Laden.
Gaining just as much of the spotlight, though, was the Shriver-Schwarzenegger split. Celebrity bloggers shared their level of surprise over the breakup while political blogs looked at the decision in the light of their careers.
Osama bin Laden
Attention to bin Laden's killing decreased by half last week-following a week when it dominated with 80% of news links-and the conversation took on a more singular focus: which president deserved credit.
"You see, Bush deserves credit," wrote Ray Titus at Buyer Behaviour, "For his guts and his conviction. A li'l over half of America knows that. Its left for the rest now to admit and admire. I sure hope that happens."*
"Can our Commander in Chief get any more crass than using the SEAL killing of bin Laden as a punch line to raise campaign cash?" asked Bart DePalma on Citizen Pamphleteer.
"With bin Laden out of the way, the president can (somewhat rightly) claim he is a tough guy like his predecessor (not really) although he hasn't given the previous president any credit for putting him in the position to move on bin Laden (or for the Surge in Iraq, either)," wrote Harrison at Capitol Commentary.
Other bloggers pulled up old stories to make their points. Some argued that Bush did not deserve credit for bin Laden's killing, and cited a 2006 New York Times article that discussed the closing of a CIA unit focused on capturing bin Laden at that time.
"This is why George Bush cannot take credit for the killing all OSama [sic] bin Laden and why he didn't show up at ground zero," wrote Lee Gaddies.
"Bush apologists need his administration's torture program to be vindicated in order to take some credit for a manhunt they abandoned in 2006, before the Obama administration took it up again," wrote Washington Post blogger Adam Serwer.
One side conversation built off the question of whether his death was a hoax. Many cited a 2001 Fox News article reporting that bin Laden was already dead at that point.
"No one will notice that those who fabricated the story forgot to show the kidney dialysis machine that, somehow, kept bin Laden alive for a decade," wrote Paul Craig Roberts at Global Research, "No doctors were on the premises." Several other bloggers posted Roberts' piece in full.
"So do I believe the US government version? Definitely not. Do I believe Bin Laden is dead? The answer is still yes. Do I believe it happened just a week or so ago? I have no idea," wrote Harriet Penhey.
These conspiracy theorists had something of an international flavor as well. Bloggers wrote in German, French, Spanish, Finnish and Latvian.
The bloggers who opined on the dissolving of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger's marriage were mostly celebrity blogs that used the word "shocked"-even when they weren't. But political blogs dove in as well.
Celebrity bloggers, who tend to focus on the ins-and-outs of Hollywood personalities, movies, television, and rumors, leapt on the story quickly.
"I'm a bit surprised by the news but the more I think about it, it's not really shocking at all. Expect this breaking story to blow up over the next few days, it's a big one!" wrote Popbytes.
"Is anyone really shocked by this announcement?" wrote DivaJulia at Dipped in Cream.
"I am actually shocked the marriage lasted this long," countered Crazy Days and Nights, "They never seemed like a good match, but there must have been something. I think the past few years though they must have been counting the days until the end of his term so they could end the marriage. I don't think it is a coincidence that his term ends and Maria is out the door a few months later."
Political bloggers joined in as well, focusing more on connections to their two careers.
"But both Shriver and Schwarzenegger appeared headed in separate directions after his governorship ended earlier this year, according to reports-Shriver wants to get back into journalism and Schwarzenegger is eager to jump back into acting," wrote Jordan Fabian on The Hill's blog.
"I have long wondered what Shriver saw in Schwarzenegger and why she stayed with him," wrote a liberal blogger, Pamela Leavey at The Democratic Daily, "Now it seems that after 25 years she's saying enough is enough. Something tellls me that with Shriver free from the constraints of her marriage to Republican Schwarzenegger, we'll start to see some great things from Maria."
And a conservative blogger had a differing opinion. "I for one hope that they can get over their problems," wrote Righty64 at Right View from the Left Coast, "If they can resolve their problems and remain a married couple, that tops any professional and or political accomplishments."
"No word on what political differences caused it. Good riddance," wrote Tarpon's Swamp.
And a handful of bloggers could not help but draw allusions to Schwarzenegger's movie career. "There was no truth to the rumor that Arnold was quoted as saying, "I'LL BE BAACK," wrote Scared Monkeys.
Twitter focused on technology-related topics and the top story for the week was about the purchase of a major web service.
The No. 1 story was about Microsoft's purchase of the internet phone service Skype, with 12% of links. The week before, rumors that another major tech company, Facebook, would buy Skype made it the No. 2 story on Twitter, with 10% of links.
People on Twitter reacted to two stories about the Microsoft purchase, from Engaget and TechCrunch, which both focused on the price of the $8.5 billion purchase. They mostly bemoaned the acquisition, decrying Microsoft.
"Dear Microsoft, please do not screw up Skype. Love Me," wrote Michael Doornbos.
Three of the top five most-viewed news video on YouTube last week focused on President Obama.
The most-viewed video shows Obama talking at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington D.C. on April 30. During his speech, where it is customary for the president to roast his friends and foes alike, Obama took shots at the birther movement, Donald Trump, National Public Radio, and potential GOP presidential candidates. He then ended with serious issues where he thanked the troops for their service, mentioned the people affected by the deadly tornadoes that ripped through the South, and recognized journalists who lost their lives while covering the news.
The No. 3 and No. 5 videos are also of the president addressing the country, but in a very different context. The videos show President Obama addressing the nation on May 1 to announce that the United States has killed Osama bin Laden.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of May 7-13, 2011
1. President Obama speaking at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner
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.)