From the preparations to the swearing-in to the music, President Barack Obama’s inauguration was by far and away the dominant subject debated and dissected by bloggers, user news sites and other social media last week.

That discussion often diverged from the one in the mainstream press, though the historic nature of Obama’s road to the White House created a week when both the online and traditional media focused on the same story.

In the new media, seemingly every aspect of the ceremony was critiqued often quite passionately, the emotions ranging from euphoria to dread.

In the more traditional press, the inauguration disappeared fairly quickly and the focus moved onto to the politics of the stimulus package and other Administration business.

These are some of the findings of the premiere edition of a new feature by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The New Media Index is an effort by PEJ to monitor the content appearing in new media platforms. The biggest element of this Index is what appears in the more than 100 million blogs and other social media web pages concerned with national news and public affairs tracked by two monitoring sites, Technorati and Icerocket. Both track the commentary online by identifying what news stories bloggers and other websites link to. Each weekday, PEJ captures the top linked-to stories and analyzes their content. It then compares those findings with the results of its weekly analysis of more mainstream media, the weekly News Coverage Index. The Project also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week.

From January 19 to 23, almost two-thirds (63%) of the links embedded in social media sites focused on a single story; the inauguration of Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American President.

Obama’s first week also dominated the mainstream press. But while the old media quickly turned away from the inauguration to the announcements and decisions during Obama’s first frenzied days in office, the online discussion remained more sustained on the implications of the inauguration itself.

The second-biggest topic was another political story covered widely, if somewhat less intensely, in the mainstream press: the on-again off-again possibility that Caroline Kennedy would be named to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Fully 13% of the embedded links were on that topic, versus 5% in the mainstream press.

The third and fourth largest stories in the social media world last week were Obama’s decision to order the closure of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay and the ongoing financial crisis facing the U.S. economy, though bloggers devoted much less attention to the economy than did the mainstream press. The economic crisis accounted for 3% of the linked to stories versus 15% of coverage studied in PEJ’s NCI.

The new media world didn’t deviate in basic subject matter from the traditional media until the fifth biggest subject of the week. That topic (at 3% of all links) was a story about free speech. A Dutch politician named Geert Wilders was ordered to go on trial for making anti-Islamic statements comparing the Koran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

PEJ is launching 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 wanted 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.

As the week began, online anticipation of Obama’s swearing-in was building. Many bloggers linked to a photo essay by the Boston Globe detailing inaugural preparations, from construction of the viewing stands to parade rehearsals to a close-up of the tickets. A good many bloggers focused on two photos of a model of the ceremony built from Legos in Carlsbad, California, which included a Lego Obama, Chief Justice John Roberts, and even thousands of spectators. “Legobama has already begun his inaugural proceedings,” enthused wocka wocka wocka.

As the actual ceremonies got underway on Tuesday, bloggers, linking to a range of media stories (from C-Span video to text of the speech itself), reacted to the event in real time. Their commentary ran the ideological gamut, often with a passion not found in the traditional press.

“This is what I will tell my kids,” Elisha Blaha posted along with a picture of her television tuned to Obama’s speech. “I will tell them that I clapped my hands and stood on the couch as President Obama walked out on to the stage to cheers. I will tell them that I was gitty* with excitement and so proud of the confident man who now represents my country.” Blaha included a link, as did others, to an interactive feature on the New York Times Web site that compared the most-used words in every presidential address since 1789.

Almost every aspect of the event was blogged, virtually moment by moment.

Popular conservative Michelle Malkin reacted in short bursts. She was impressed with the music. “Aretha Franklin just melted my heart,” she wrote. She was not so moved by the new President’s call to remake America. “‘Transform’ this and that. Wallet feeling emptier by the second.”

There were even ideological clashes over who botched the formal swearing-in. “Obama bungles the oath.” Malkin typed. She later added a note that read, “Roberts flubbed, too,” and included a link to an post that described what happened with the oath.

But on Talking Points Memo, liberal Josh Marshall blamed Roberts for the mishap, offering a YouTube video from C-Span and play-by-play description of how Roberts made the mistake first.

Some blogged from the event itself, though the experience was not always so pleasant. On the liberal, Gregg Levine offered, “After five hours of standing in the bitter cold, getting pushed and shoved to the point where you start to feel for your safety, and being herded to and fro, the most I can report about the inauguration is that the 21-gun salute is really loud.”

More than anything, the event offered a moment for people to share emotions from differing ideological perspectives, from hope to fear.

Matt Carden of the Carden Chronicles linked to the text of Obama’s speech on and felt impending disaster. “Although I wish the President and his family good health and safety, and I want to see a safe, secure, peace in the Middle-East, especially for Israel, I do not wish the President success. I do not want him to succeed. The success of this President and Congress will be disaster for this country.”

As the week moved on, one of Obama’s first major acts, the directive to close the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, became a firestorm online, accounting for 4% of all linked to stories.

The argument seemed to echo the one that tracked the ceremony. Often citing the New York Times report about the decision, those who decried former President Bush were cheered, while Obama critics saw his new successor as naïve.

“Closing these prisons isn’t merely just, it is also an easy way to boost America’s image and popularity,” wrote Michael van der Galien, a self-described “conservative liberal,” writing on PoliGazette.

On Patterico’s Pontifications, a writer named Ed thought the closure would lead to more terrorism and innocents murdered. “This action by BHO [Obama] is a classic response by one who does not see the world as it is. The first of many such responses.”

In short, in the new media the President’s first week offered something of a Rorschach test.

The other political story to play out in real time among bloggers and other sites online was the saga of would-be Senator Caroline Kennedy.

Early Monday, January 19, the New York Post reported on its Web site that Caroline Kennedy was “certain” to be the pick by Governor David Patterson to replace Hillary Clinton. Online, though, Caroline Kennedy seemed to have few supporters.

“It is a shame,” wrote a blogger on PUMAbydesign001, “David Paterson is the one politician that I would have thought would rise above the pay for play and shennigans of the New York political scene.”

When, two days later, Kennedy dropped out of the running, the criticism continued, with many bloggers referencing a later New York Post account. "Caroline Kennedy is surely a nice lady who knows many things," political gossip blogger Wonkette wrote. “And now she’ll have some time to actually prepare to run for public office, if she decides to continue this weird pursuit.”

Top YouTube Videos

The PEJ New Media Index also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week. Here, too, the new President was the star.

Of the top five most viewed news videos last week, two of them were of the ceremony itself. The most viewed was Obama’s address. The fifth most viewed video was of an unwelcome reception for outgoing President George W. Bush prior to the ceremony.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

January 17 – 23, 2009

1. Barack Obama’s inaugural address as broadcasted on C-Span

2. Live NBC footage of the plane that crashed into the Hudson River on January 15

3. Coast Guard footage of the plane crash and rescue

4. Breaking MSNBC footage after the plane crash

5. George W. Bush gets booed prior to Obama’s inauguration


Three of the top five videos, however, were of an event that took place prior to last week. On January 15, a US Airlines plane crash landed in the Hudson River in New York and remarkably, all passengers and crew were safe. Footage of the landing and subsequent rescue was captivating enough that those videos were still among the most popular on YouTube more than a week after the fact.

One video was particularly unique. The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board released raw footage of the crash and rescue, and despite the fact that there is no sound and little explanation, the unedited footage gave users a unique chance to see events unfold as they actually happened.

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 is launching 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 wanted 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.

Two prominent Web tracking sites, Technorati and Icerocket, monitor more than 100 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of social media, 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 each day, Monday through Friday. Staff captures the top five linked-to stories on each list (50 stories in all each week), 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 Technorati and Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press.

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.

While the News Coverage Index is comprised of primarily U.S.-based media outlets, the aggregators of blogs and other social media include both U.S. and non-U.S. blogs. In addition, stories that are linked to can be from non-U.S. sources. However, according to PEJ’s research over the last two months, the only non-U.S. news stories included in the top lists for Technorati and Icerocket have been the BBC (whose Web site is part of the News Coverage Index) and the Guardian.

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 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.