Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Bipartisan Kennedy Condolences Dominate the Blogosphere

PEJ New Media Index August 24-28, 2009

The blogosphere last week was even more devoted to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy than the mainstream press. And in a sign that social media is not all twenty-somethings whose political memory dates back only to the mid-90s, the posts were filled with personal tributes and remembrances-from both sides of the ideological spectrum.  

The death of the long-time senator received 38.7% of the links in blogs, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This outpaced the 27% of the mainstream media newshole devoted to Kennedy, according to PEJ’S News Coverage Index, and made it the biggest weekly story in blogs since the Iranian elections the week of June 15th-19th .

The emphasis in the blogs and mainstream press was also quite different. Coverage in the mainstream media ranged from the logistics of the memorial and funeral services to retrospectives on the senator’s public accomplishments to his family history and personal trials. 

But in the blogs, postings were predominately about sharing emotions and memories.

Many bloggers, linking primarily to CNN and Washington Post reports, offered thoughts on how Senator Kennedy’s legacy and life affected them as individuals.  Even among those who strongly opposed the Senator’s politics, his death brought a moment of respectful reflection.  Together, the postings created a sense of collective grief and tribute, demonstrating how this medium can be both intensely personal and public.

The second most popular story in the blogs was about Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that he was appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the possible use of torture by the CIA.  This story garnered 12.4% of links in blogs. (It came in fourth in PEJ’s News Coverage Index, at  9% of the newshole.)

Coming in third in the blogs was the healthcare debate at 9.8%, in the mainstream media it was the second biggest story at 11%.

On Twitter, the death of Senator Kennedy ranked second, at 11.5% of the tweets with links. As we’ve seen in past weeks, Twitter, when linking to news stories, is less used for posting personal views and beliefs than it is for passing along information.  Reflecting that tendency, the top subject, at 15.7%, was once again a technology story that could directly affect the Twitter community.

It was a story from Cnet news that discussed a proposed U.S. Senate bill which internet companies and civil liberties groups allege would give the President the power to disconnect any computers or servers and take control of any network in an emergency. 

The Death of Ted Kennedy

In the blogs, the majority of reactions to Ted Kennedy’s passing were ones of sincere loss and remembrance.  My PR Feed writes about Ted Kennedy’s ability to survive a political crisis: “He will always be remembered as the Lion of the Senate, and perhaps the last member of Camelot, but his ability to survive a political crisis will always define his legacy.”

Some of those on the other side of the aisle took a moment to remember Ted Kennedy without criticism.  “If politics means that anyone who disagrees with you is either stupid or evil, then someone like me should celebrate his death,” writes Michael Sonby on his LiveJournal blog, “But politics shouldn’t be that way. So we should celebrate his life, and remember him well.”

One popular post criticized not Senator Kennedy, but the media’s coverage of his death. “I found myself vacillating on how to treat Teddy in death because of my contempt for him while he was alive,” writes Blank Slate, “Most of my venom, instead, has been directed at the glowing obituaries that mention his most tragic act as nothing more than a political misstep for him…”

Many of the posts were short and reflected a simple sentiment of loss. “My sincerest thoughts go out to the family of Senator Edward Kennedy who passed away Tuesday night after losing a battle the with brain cancer,” writes Jess on GovGab “After spending five decades in Congress, it’s hard not to be a little bit amazed by the length of his tenure, no matter what side of the political spectrum you land on.”

Investigating Torture

In the days before the death of Senator Kennedy, the top story in the blogs was about Attorney General Eric Holder’s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA for the alleged use of torture.  Attention then turned to the loss of Kennedy, but for the week this story was still ranked second with 12.4% of the links.

The reaction from the blogs was predictably along partisan lines.  Some on the right saw this as a chink in President Obama’s armor with many insinuating (and some flatly stating) that it was an effort to divert attention from the healthcare debate,  “For all Obama’s rhetoric about ‘looking forward’ and ‘not looking back,’ his Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision has just accomplished the opposite,” writes Andrew Berman on his blog Berman Post, “. . .  this could present another problematic discussion regarding if people should take what Obama says seriously as he breaks another pledge.”

Another common attack from the right was that torture is necessary and the investigations are therefore pointless. “These CIA interrogators were getting information that helped save an untold number of lives here in the USA and around the world.  But they had to get their hands dirty to do it,” writes By All that is Necessary.

From the left the move was met mostly with praise, but also with a smattering of disappointment in Holder for not taking a stronger position in the investigations. “Let’s  be clear: it is good that Holder has decided to take a more serious look at the use of torture during the Bush-Cheney years.” Writes John Nichols of The Beat, a blog at The Nation magazine, “But he has done so in a disturbingly cautious manner that is described by the American Civil Liberties Union as ‘anemic’.”

Top YouTube Videos

For the fourth week in a row the most watched YouTube video was of a healthcare town hall meeting.  In this clip a Marine veteran makes a statement to Congressman Brian Baird (a Democrat from Washington state) equating Nancy Pelosi and the health care plan to the Nazis.


The second most watched video was of Kate Gosselin, the reality TV show star of Jon and Kate Plus 8 fame, speaking with Larry King about her estranged husband Jon. She explains that she thinks Jon is a good father despite their marital issues.

The third most watched video is allegedly a video of people breaking into Lindsay Lohan’s house.


Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

August 24-28, 2009

1. Town hall meeting for Congressman Brian Baird, man asks a question about healthcare, comparing it and Nancy Pelosi to the Nazi party.

2. Kate Gosselin, of Jon and Kate Plus 8 fame, says that Jon is a good father.

3. Allegedly a video of people breaking into Lindsay Lohan’s house.

4. Helicopter rescuing a hiker that fell off of a ledge in Utah.

5. President Obama’s message for the beginning of Ramadan.


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 has launched the New Media Index as 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, using 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 (50 stories in all 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. This process allows us to compare the New Media commentary, based on the Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press.  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 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news video on YouTube each week.  

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.

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