Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Crime and Punishment Lead on Blogs

PEJ New Media Index May 23-27, 2011

Bloggers displayed a strong law and order streak last week as two crime and public safety topics combined to account for nearly half (47%) of the news links studied by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

From May 23-27, the top story on blogs (34% of the news links) was the May 23 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering California to release thousands of prisoners due to overcrowding, making it the No. 1 subject, according to PEJ’s New Media Index.

The Court’s 5-4 decision found that the overcrowding led to “needless suffering and death” among prisoners. But that position held little sway with most bloggers who were upset with the ruling and far more concerned about a threat to public safety than any dangers posed to the inmates.

Another California crime story, the May 22 arrest of a suspect accused of severely beating a San Francisco Giants baseball fan at Dodgers Stadium in March, was the No. 3 story on blogs, at 13%. It had been almost two months since the initial highly publicized incident occurred, and bloggers expressed relief that an arrest was finally made in a case that has left the victim fighting for his life.

Crime-related issues do not often top the weekly roster of blogosphere subjects. Indeed, since PEJ began tracking social media in January 2009, this is only the eighth such story to register as No. 1. (The last one to finish first, March 28-April 1, was also a Supreme Court decision-that one overturning a verdict awarding $14 million to a man formerly on death row.)

But clearly, the prisoner ruling and heinous nature of the Dodger Stadium case elicited strong reactions last week from bloggers, who expressed visceral concerns about safety and crime.

The second-largest subject on blogs, with 21% of the links, was an event that didn’t happen. Harold Camping, head of the Christian Family Radio broadcast network, predicted that Saturday, May 21, would be Judgment Day and the Rapture would occur according to Biblical teachings. Camping’s prediction received significant media attention and his followers spent significant time and money to spread the word.

Many bloggers viewed the incident as laughable and characterized Camping’s followers as naive, but a number of religious bloggers also discussed the incident. A few commenters also felt badly for those who had devoted so much time and energy to the cause.

The story that dominated the mainstream media last week, the devastating May 22 tornado that killed more than 100 people in Joplin, Missouri, was a far smaller topic among bloggers, registering as the week’s No. 4 story at 6%. Those who did comment on the tragedy expressed sympathy for those suffering.

A three-year-old op-ed column-written in 2008 by current presidential candidate Mitt Romney opposing the bailouts of General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford-was the fifth subject, also at 6%. After the Romney campaign recently claimed that the former Massachusetts governor advocated a form of the Detroit bailout before President Obama and deserved some of the credit for its success, bloggers posted his 2008 remarks and criticized him for hypocrisy.

On the social networking site Twitter, the five top news topics all involved social media and how people or companies can expand their influence online.

The most popular story, at 7%, was a set of recommendations on Mashable for entrepreneurs to build their brands online. Among the suggestions were creating a custom URL shortener, setting up meetups, and creating a monthly newsletter.

Also at 7%, the second biggest story was a report that Facebook was partnering with media companies for a new feature that will integrate video and music into users’ profile pages. The goal is have Facebook become a “central hub” for multimedia online.

Lady Gaga was the third largest subject at 6%. This marks the second week in a row when the pop singer was among the most Tweeted subjects. This past week, the focus was an article about how Lady Gaga created a large online marketing presence for her new album entitled Born This Way by partnering with companies such as Starbucks and popular features of social media such as the game FarmVille.

News that Twitter has created a new function called ‘Following’ which allows people to click on someone else’s profile and see Twitter in the same manner that they do, was the fourth story (at 6%). And fifth, also at 6%, was a list of eight brands that had found success promoting themselves on Facebook-including companies like The Pampered Chef and Oreo.

Supreme Court Ruling on Prison Overcrowding

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision ordering the state to release prisoners, Governor Jerry Brown and California officials have declared that they had already instituted a plan to shift low-level offenders to county jails and other facilities.

But most of the bloggers who discussed the decision to order California to release prisoners due to overcrowding worried about the consequences for the public.

“The real tragedy, however, is yet to come, when we start seeing lives and families torn apart by thieves, rapists, and murderers who were released by this terrible decision,” wrote BJC’s Blog. “If you support this decision, just ask yourself: would you still support it if your spouse or child ends up being one of these future victims?”

“The flood of violent felons are about to be released, in a state that has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Not a good combination for the law abiding citizens,” warned Gun Shy Tourist at Around O-Town.

Many showed no sympathy for prisoners living in crowded situations.

“Oh NOES! The poor prisoners are forced to share sleeping space in a GYM? They have to share a TOILET? The HORROR! I wonder if the victims of their crimes were afforded the same decency that the SCOTUS is demanding they be given,” posted Chris at MangrumsNet.*

Some connected the problem to the state as a whole.

“The sweeping social experiment that California has embraced over the years has now reached a peak that, conversely, could prove to be its bottom,” concluded David J. Hentosh at Thomas Jefferson Club Blog. “Pandora’s Box is now open in California and the social experiment is in full swing. The Supreme Court has given us a taste of its ideology that will surely surface again when illegal immigration comes before it and amnesty is granted.”

While much less common, a few people focused on the issue of overcrowding and discussed ways to improve the situation.

“We have already shown the world that incarcerating large amounts of people for long periods of time won’t solve the problems of either crime or drug use (or any other social problems),” explained Ted McLaughlin at jobsanger. “It is time to find real solutions. A good place to start would be to change laws to create more reasonable prison sentences and to legalize drug use and possession (and fight its use through education and treatment).”

Arrest in the Baseball Beating Case

After the Los Angeles Police Department spent months trying to identify the two suspects in the March 31 beating of a Giants fan named Bryan Stow, the news that a SWAT team had made one arrest was greeted with cheers from the blogosphere.

“The campaign to find those responsible for the brutal beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium on opening day-which included hundreds of billboards in Los Angeles -is finally bearing fruit, according to the Los Angeles Times,” shared Glenn Davis at Sports Grid. “No apparent news on the other suspect, but certainly, if the man taken into custody today is who the police think he is, today’s is a good piece of news.”

“Admit it, you had probably begun to wonder if the Los Angeles Police Department would ever nab the two suspects who had brutally beaten Giants fan Bryan Stow on opening day,” wrote Steve Dilbeck on a Los Angeles Times blog. “Yet it should spark hope for the Stow family, and all those in Los Angeles and elsewhere pained and embarrassed by this crime, that these criminals will be brought to justice.”

Others pointed out that while the arrest was positive, it would still not help the victim who was still recovering.


The Rapture Fizzles

Once the world was still there after Camping’s May 21 rapture prediction, some bloggers reveled in the radio evangelist’s error.

“As I’m writing this, the rapture after party is winding down, and the birds are singing outside,” celebrated Alex at Reason and Liberty Central. “Yet life is not good for the fundies Harold Camping defrauded…Because of those delusions, people quit jobs, wasted their last money, and what is worst, ruined their kids’ social lives.”

“Harold Camping is responsible for what he says,” posted Diane at Preserve Our Constitutional Freedom Now. “He should be ashamed of himself for all this. That’s why he’s in seclusion. But, his final judgment is not up to me or anyone else. He has to face God Almighty whenever that day comes for him.”

There were differences about how to feel about those followers who worked so hard to spread Camping’s prediction.

“I don’t feel sorry for people who quit their jobs, packed their cars and left to be with Camping for the rapture. They are fools,” shared The Cajun Tomato.  “Christianity’s holy text, The Bible, warns against false prophets in the final days…If a Christian minister defies the teachings of their religion’s holy text you might want to keep your job, your house, your money, your dignity, etc.”

“I hope Harold Camping and those who believed in him recover well,” admitted sod2008 at Spirited Abductions. “We are facing Earth’s process of change … many are feeling it and actually wanting this process to come and go.”


A conversation between two of cable TV’s most popular personalities and semi-regular sparring partners was the biggest news draw on YouTube last week.

On May 16, comedian and host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on his Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor. In the first part of the video, Stewart and O’Reilly discussed the recent controversy over the White House’s decision to invite rapper Common to a poetry event. Stewart claimed that Fox News was manufacturing a controversy while O’Reilly insisted that the inclusion of Common showed bad judgment on the part of the White House, citing what critics say are the rapper’s controversial lyrics and statements about crime.

In part two, the conversation continues and Stewart criticizes the lack of diversity of opinion on the Fox News cable channel.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of May 21-27, 2011

1. Part 1 of the May 16 interview on The O’Reilly Factor with Jon Stewart
2. The May 16 edition of the Philip DeFranco show where the host talks about a number of topics including basketball star LeBron James.
3. Footage of a contentious exchange between police and a motorist in Rio de Janeiro caught by a Brazilian TV station
4. A video of a tragic incident involving women swimming in a Brazilian river that may have been attacked by a cobra (Warning: this video contains graphic images)
5. Part 2 of the May 16 interview on The O’Reilly Factor with Jon Stewart


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.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos 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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