Pew Research Uses Crimson Hexagon to Study Online and Media Opinions Related to Tucson Shooting

Study Performed by Pew Research Centerís Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ)
The aftermath of the January 8 shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, dominated the American news media last week in a way events rarely do: the tragedy registered as the third-biggest story in a single week since PEJ began tracking coverage in January 2007.
Aside from the sheer volume of media attention, what have the traumatic events in Tucson meant, as transmitted in the media narrative? This special report, combining PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index with social media analysis technology from Crimson Hexagon, finds several key elements emerging.
The Argument over Political Rhetoric was the No. 1 Storyline in the Tucson Coverage
The single biggest shooting-related topic involved a discussion of the tenor of political discourse in America, including its role as a potential catalyst for the tragedy. That theme proved to be the biggest component of the coverage both in mainstream and social media alike.

According to the PEJ’s News Coverage Index (NCI), which focuses on the mainstream press, the often-heated debate about public political discourse accounted for more than a quarter (27%) of all coverage devoted to the shootings last week. That was more than the coverage about the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner and his family (20%), the No. 2 Tucson storyline. And it more than doubled the coverage devoted to the third-biggest narrative, straight news accounts of the shooting and its aftermath, at 12%.
But the tone of public discourse was a more significant focus of the discussion in new media. According to a Crimson Hexagon analysis that began two days earlier than the NCI data (on January 8), 29% of the conversation about the Giffords story measured on blogs and Twitter focused on public discourse. Crimson Hexagon technology analyzes online media by identifying statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics.
Using Crimson Hexagon, PEJ was also able to analyze the tone of this conversation. Here, considerably more of the discussion about political rhetoric featured the left blaming the right rather than the other way around. According to the analysis from January 8-16, a full 59% of the commentary in blogs, Twitter and social media involved liberals blaming conservatives for their tone. That was more than twice the amount of the discussion – 28% – that involved conservatives criticizing the left or defending themselves.
In social media, the subject of public debate was followed closely by a discussion of the shooting incident itself, the aftermath, and the mediaís coverage of it. That filled 27% of the social media conversation. The No. 3 topic in social media was Obama’s response to the incident, including his January 12 speech and the memorial service to the victims (22%).
Obama’s Speech Helped Cool the Debate over Angry Words – to a Degree
In a January 12 speech witnessed by an estimated 30 million Americans, Barack Obama called for a change in the tone of political debate, asking citizens ‘to listen to each other more carefully’ and ‘to sharpen our instincts for empathy.’
The speech, and the reaction to it, proved to be significant newsmakers. In the mainstream press, that accounted for 9% of the coverage devoted to the shooting story for the week, making it the No. 4 storyline. It was a bigger story in social media, where the president’s role, his speech and the memorial service accounted for 22% of the conversation.
A Tough Week for Sarah Palin in both Social and Mainstream Media
Almost as soon as news of the January 8 shooting surfaced, former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was drawn into the narrative. At first, that was largely by critics who blamed her – and her now famous map with its crosshairs imposed over Giffords’ district – as contributing factors to the violence.
And in both the mainstream media and the online conversation, much of Palin’s coverage was unflattering. The Crimson Hexagon analysis shows that from January 8-16, bloggers and Twitter users were considerably more critical than supportive of her – by almost a 3-1 margin.
Indeed, 58% of the social media commentary that involved Palin was negative, compared with 21% positive and 21% neutral. And a substantial portion of that was fueled by the response to her ‘blood libel’ video.
The Gun Control Debate Gets Little Traction
Amid the many storylines that emerged in the past week, one was notable mostly for its absence. While some lawmakers talked about new legislation, the issue of gun control generated only modest coverage.
A day-by-day breakdown of both social and traditional media coverage reveals that the gun control debate never had a real spike, never exceeding 7% of the shootings news on any given day.
Access the complete Pew Research report here.
As always, we’ll continue analyzing the space for interesting trends. In the meantime, feel free contact us at with questions or to learn how your market, brand or product could benefit from leveraging the Crimson Hexagon ForSight™ platform for social media monitoring and analysis. Want to see the Crimson Hexagon platform in action? Request a Live Online Demo.

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