Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

In the Blogosphere, Afghanistan Emerges as a Hot Topic

PEJ New Media Index August 31-September 4, 2009

For the first time since PEJ launched the New Media Index in January, the conflict in Afghanistan was a major topic in the blogosphere, dominating the conversation last week.

For the week of August 31-September 4, the Afghanistan situation generated 26.3% of the links in blogs, and that discussion was almost entirely focused on an article by conservative columnist George Will advocating a U.S. pullout in Afghanistan. The bloggers seized on different elements of Will’s column in their responses, but the prevailing reaction was critical.

Last week’s spike in online interest in the eight-year-old war corresponds with a recent uptick in coverage in the mainstream press. For the week of August 31-September 6, Afghanistan was among the top stories in the News Coverage Index, accounting for 9% of the newshole. Apart from that topic, the online and mainstream news agendas differed dramatically last week.

The second-largest story in the blogs, at 16.9% of links, was about Disney buying Marvel Comics for $4 billion. This was followed by a story about how every human being has mutations in their genes (9.7% of the links), a story about the 2010 Congressional elections (8.1%), and a story about former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s possible political ambitions got 7.1%.

As part of a pattern that has emerged in the New Media Index, Twitter focused mostly on technology last week.  The lead topic on Twitter was Twitter itself, with 15.9% of the links connecting to twitter features such as business opportunities Twitter offers and a new site that creates archives of personal Twitter feeds.

The second biggest story on Twitter, with 13.7% of the links, was about the Apple iPhone’s relationship with AT&T. And the No. 3 story (7.5% of the links), was the two-hour outage of Google’s email service, Gmail.


In the blogosphere, George Will’s article on Afghanistan was a catalyst for comment. Will, a prominent conservative thinker and columnist, offered a dovish position, advocating that the U.S. pull out of Afghanistan and refocus our strategy on hunting Al-Qaeda.

Will’s column generated considerable attention because it seemed to run counter to the views of many conservatives. Among blogggers, the general response was one of criticism, albeit for varied reasons.

A self-identified Democratic blogger, honest partisan, lamented Will’s argument.  “Part of the argument seems to be that setting up a stable centralized government in Afghanistan is a futile effort, that a troop presence in Afghanistan isn’t necessary to defend against Al-Qaeda, and that we’re killing civilians there…which is both immoral and counterproductive to our efforts to turn the Afghan population against the Taliban.”

Another blogger argued that Will’s timing was off. “But there’s no reason to come to these conclusions now;” writes beinstein, “these arguments should have been made while President Obama decided to send more troops in February or they should not be made at all.”

Other bloggers, however, agreed with Will’s assessment.  “Yes, George F. Will it is time to get out of Afghanistan…” writes gringo lost, “And if our principle mission is-and should be-to ‘disrupt, dismantle, and defeat’ AQ then we can do that mission better by using tactics focused on countering terrorists, instead of diverting attention to fight drug kingpins or battle for “hearts and minds” against an anti-Karzai insurgency.”

Disney Buys Marvel Comics

The No. 2 story in the blogs was about Disney buying Marvel Comics, a merger between an entertainment industry giant and the creator of such famed fictional characters as Spiderman, the X-Men, and Ironman.

Most bloggers discussed the implications of the deal, and occasionally their fears of its consequences, but almost none criticized it. “It’s interesting that comic’s Big Two are now owned by larger multinational conglomerates. Time Warner owns DC and now Disney owns Marvel.” Writes neo_prodigy on his blog The Chronicle, “Like everyone else, I’m curious to see how this will play out. Time Warner opened a lot of opportunities for DC with the movies and the cartoon series, time will only tell what Marvel will do.”

Some bloggers did express concern about the implications of the deal for their beloved Marvel characters.  “Sure, officially the line being towed is that Marvel is essentially gonna be able to tap into the wider business network that Disney can offer but at what cost?” writes part-timepaparazzo, “Are we gonna see clean cut Marvel characters?  The death of some even? Crossovers? So many questions…”*


The most popular news clip on YouTube last week was a Brazilian news story about a teacher who was fired after a video of her dancing provocatively at a nightclub was posted on the internet.

No. 2 was a homemade video of a man at a health care rally with an anti-Obama poster that a police officer tried to take away from him.  The man, who was on school grounds, argues with the officer and a school official about his first amendment rights to display the poster.

The third most-watched video was of a plane crash at an air show in Poland.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

August 24-28, 2009

1. Clip from a Brazilian newscast about a teacher how was fired for a video of her dancing provocatively at a club.

2. Home video of a guy at a health care rally who got his poster taken away by a police officer, argues with the officer.

3. Video of a plane crash at an air show in Poland.

4. Clip from Glenn Beck on Fox News spelling “oligarchy” wrong.

5. Clip of the beginning of Obama’s eulogy for Senator Ted Kennedy.


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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