For only the second time since PEJ began measuring social media in January 2009, the same story was the No. 1 topic on blogs, Twitter and YouTube.

Social media users last week responded in huge numbers to the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Japan, including the growing concern about damaged nuclear reactors. For the week of March 14-18, a full 64% of blog links, 32% of Twitter news links and the top 20 YouTube news videos were about that subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The only other time that one topic led the news on blogs, Twitter and YouTube was June 15-19, 2009, when unrest following the disputed elections in Iran-also known as the “Twitter Revolution”-was the No. 1 story.

While all three social media platforms focused on the earthquake last week, each performed distinct functions. The blogosphere offered a place to release and share emotional responses to the disaster and calls for support for the Japanese people. Twitter became a place to seek out and share breaking news as users retweeted stories from news sources. YouTube, the visual medium, captured the astonishing visceral power of tsunami waves that destroyed virtually everything in their path.

In discussing the repercussions of the earthquake many bloggers shared optimism that Japan would recover from the disaster and asked their readers to think of those in that country.

“Japanese society has been well prepared and well rehearsed for such disasters; one of the lessons learnt from the aftermath of the 1995 quake-although the sheer scale of this earthquake and tsunami would have to fall into ‘worst case scenario’ in many ways,” wrote fnersh rambling, “Like I said, life will never be the same again. But Japan will pull through. Of that, I am sure.”*

“The people of Japan are not looting, stealing, wasting, violating orders, or complaining,” noted Mark Warschauer at Papyrus News, “They are putting the noses to the grindstone to save their families, their communities, and their nation.  They deserve not only our sympathy, but our deep admiration.”

“This is a time of incredible stress but also a time for Japanese society to re-evaluate who they are and what makes them special. I have great hope and optimism for the people of Japan,” wrote Ian Kennedy on

Other bloggers expressed shock at the magnitude of the disaster (or disasters) that struck the island nation.

“One big earthquake is bad. One big earthquake plus one big tsunami is really bad. One big earthquake plus one big tsunami plus one explosion at the nuclear plant is really, really bad. One big earthquake plus one big tsunami plus one explosion at the nuclear plant plus a second explosion at the nuclear plant and you’re talking real trouble,” wrote El Hornito at Scattershot.

And some bloggers noted how modern media coverage can bring the horror of such events to everyone across the planet-the shrinking of the global village.

“Events like this are no longer just stories that happen to foreign people in a far foreign land. They happen right here, right now, in our own living rooms in every place on Earth,” said Andy Mayhew at Weather & Earth Science News.

“Watching everything that’s happened [in Japan] since the massive earthquake that struck near Sendai has been heartbreaking,” wrote TrooperBari at Have Notebook, Will Travel, “Being here and only able to watch the scenes of seemingly endless scenes of devastation is frustrating. I’m not a control freak, but I hate feeling so powerless. It’s not as though I can ditch the job, fly to Japan, slap on a hazmat suit and lend a hand, so like so many others, all I can do is lend my financial and moral support.”

Those on Twitter devoted more attention to news as it happened than to the broader picture, many of them focusing on the changing conditions at the crippled Fukushima plant.

In response to a March 17 BBC article on how engineers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were able to lay a cable to reactor two in order to cool it, Marc Love wrote, “First good news out of Japan…”

“What? Earthquake & tsunami not enough?” tweeted dengshot, linking to a BBC article on Fukushima workers withdrawing after radiation spikes.

“two hopes; for enough supplies to reach in NE Japan where facing bitter cold weather, Fukushima nuke plant to come under control,” tweeted Pok Mu in response to a March 15 BBC article about radiation rising at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“What about the Japanese people?” Jonathan Poile asked when tweeting a March 16 BBC article about radiation fears prompting foreign firms to move employees.

Every one of the 20 most popular news-related videos on YouTube last week showed footage of the tsunami waves overtaking Japan. The horrific images of cars, homes and entire towns being overrun by walls of water garnered millions more views than the top videos get in an average week. The No.1 video had 12.7 million views and the second, 8.1 million, compared to a normal week’s average of between one and three million views for the leading video.

Many of the clips were from NHK World, a Japanese news channel, but were posted by other news sources, including Russia Today and the Associated Press.

The violent videos showed the power of the tsunami, and since many were short clips, lent themselves to the YouTube format, giving people a powerful snapshot of the disaster as it happened.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of March 14-18, 2011

1. Tsunami wave hitting

” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Sendai airport on closed circuit television.

2. Tsunami

” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>slamming Northeast Japan.

3. Tsunami

” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>battering ships, homes and cars.

4. Tsunami

” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>wave eats boats as earthquake hits Japan.

5. Helicopter

” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>aerial view of giant tsunami waves.

The Rest of the News on Blogs

The focus on the disaster in Japan last week was the second-biggest story on blogs since PEJ began tracking social media two years ago-trailing only the economic crisis (65% of links) the week of March 16-20, 2009.

This attention relegated another major international story to very secondary status in the blogosphere.

The No. 2 subject on blogs was the fighting in Libya and the U.S. entry into the war, with 4% of blog links. Many bloggers linked to an opinion piece by General Wesley Clark arguing against U.S. military action. The majority of posts discussing Clark’s op-ed were complimentary, even for those who did not concur. “While I disagree with his conclusion…Gen. Clark raises some excellent points,” wrote Ben at D.C. Exile.

Next, at 3% of the links each, were three separate stories in the Los Angeles Times.

One was about a 103-year-old man who rides a tricycle almost every day. The centenarian inspired bloggers: “I’m not sure if he knows this or not but as he pedals along, he’s testament to one of Satchel Paige’s most enduring of the ‘Rules For Staying Young,’ which is, ‘And don’t look back-something might be gaining on you,’ ” Wrote lawmrh at The Irreverent Lawyer.

The other two included the story of a CIA contractor who was released from a Pakistani jail after being acquitted of murder charges and an article on Republican lawmakers in California threatening to withhold votes on Governor Jerry Brown’s budget unless environmental rules were rewritten to curtail lawsuits, grant waivers to telecommunications firms and exempt urban developers from environmental review.

The Rest of the News on Twitter

Last week’s No. 2 subject on Twitter was a Mashable story about PEJ’s annual State of the News Media report, with 9% of links.

The rest of the top stories (all coming from Mashable) included one about measuring social media (6%) that discussed the limited access to social media that data professionals in that field face. There was also a piece about the iPad 2 selling out (6%) and a story about Netflix distributing an original TV series starring Kevin Spacey (also 6%).


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.