The Numbers Crunch: Schalit coverage unifies Israelis

Across the Internet - on traditional news sources and social media alike - the homecoming of "Everyone's son" kept us all glued to the news.

Numbers Crunch 311 (photo credit: Mrkay Design)
Numbers Crunch 311
(photo credit: Mrkay Design)
News in the Middle East is never boring, but this past week was massive for Israelis, arguably the most compelling local news story of the decade.
From the moment that the Internet first received a tip that a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit would be announced, early in the evening of Tuesday, October 11, the flow of news at was steady and strong, building up to a huge day in terms of both traffic and news volume a week later on October 18.
RELATED:Gilad Schalit's release trending on Twitter
It was definitely the biggest story that the current Internet desk staff has covered, topping even the IDF interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010, which pulled record figures at the time. Naturally this week’s Numbers Crunch focuses on the story and its ripples over the Internet, on The Jerusalem Post’s site, in Israeli media, and across the world. 
When the prisoner exchange deal was announced, a special section was put together to bring together the Post’s coverage of the story, which saw almost 80,000 hits in the week that followed. Visitors to the site overall on the day of Schalit’s release were double the recent average.
Click for full JPost coverage on Gilad Schalit
Click for full JPost coverage on Gilad Schalit
In terms of individual stories, no surprises. The Top Ten most-read articles of the past week all related to the Schalit story, and in fact all were from the day of his release. The next 10 most-read stories had some minor variation – stories from the days leading up to and the day after the soldier’s release were scattered through that list.
Top Ten Most-Read stories:
1. Schalit family reunited after 5 years 2. Schalit: I thought I’d be held captive for years to come 3. Analysis: Schalit on Egypt TV: Exploitative, abusive, cruel4. Report: US concerned over some Palestinians freed in swap5. Live blog: Schalit returns to Israel6. Netanyahu: Freed terrorists who return to Israel do so at their own risk7. Schalit’s captivity: No sunlight but given radio, TV8. Noam Schalit: We’ve experienced the rebirth of our son9. Gilad Schalit’s release: The stage-by-stage timeline10. The Gilad Schalit prisoner swap in pictures
With the exception of a timeline of events leading up to the release, a photo gallery of the day of the swap and a live blog which was updated minute-to-minute throughout  the day, the Top Ten stories were all hard news: the story of the Schalit family’s reunification, IDF statements, and Noam Schalit’s comments after greeting Gilad at Tel Nof Air Force Base. An analysis of the Egyptian interview with Gilad, which was aired as he finally stepped back onto Israeli soil, written by JPost Arab affairs reporter Oren Kessler, also received record hits.
Zooming out, Wednesday’s Post ran an article by reporter Nadav Shemer which looked at international coverage of the story. According to Jerusalem Capital Studios, a private company that hosts foreign news broadcasters, the Schalit release received more international attention than any other single event in Israel since the 2010 flotilla incident.
However in the US, according to the Pew Research Center’s News Interest and News coverage indices, readers were largely focused domestically, with news of the deal pushed low under coverage of the economy, Occupy Wall Street protests and the 2012 election campaign. Data for the day of Schalit’s release, however, was not yet available at time of writing.
On YouTube’s newsroom, too, the top videos posted were from Occupy protests in the US and elsewhere.
In the minutes and hours after the first video footage of the freshly released soldier was broadcast on news stations around the world, clips were uploaded to the video-sharing site. The IDF Spokesman’s Office ran all local media during the day, and sent out clips along the way – from Schalit’s first meeting with IDF representatives after crossing the border from Egypt, the base in the South where he underwent preliminary medical checks and Tel Nof IAF base where he reunited with his family after over five years in captivity.
This first clip released by the IDF last Tuesday, carried by media outlets across Israel and the world, received over 130,000 hits on YouTube alone. The video itself, which was shown repeatedly on television stations and websites alike, was presumably seen millions of times.
And not surprisingly, the YouTube clip posted by the army showing Gilad’s reception at Tel Nof, where he met with his family as well as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, was viewed more than 60,000 times.
The JPostTV wrap-up of these first few IDF videos also saw significant traffic, racking up over 10,000 hits. Intermediate versions of the videos were edited and captioned by JPost video reporter Ben Spier continualy throughout the day. This was the final version:
The variety of languages and sources of the clips – English, Hebrew, Arabic, French and so on – make it difficult to find exact numbers. A search in English found this clip of Schalit’s interview with Egyptian TV, for example, posted by Russia Today, with almost 70,000 hits in a few days. However, countless versions of the same interview can be found online.
Moving over to social media, #shalit Tweeter mentions were high across both North and South America, and of course in the Middle East,  according to Trendsmap. In the US, the hashtag was most visible in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Tri-state area, and in the Middle East the mentions were centered around Israel as well as Egypt and the Persian Gulf.
The content of the tweets ranged considerably  While on the day of the release most of the tweets shared straight information or news links, in the following days the scope broadened. Many users quoted freed prisoners making statements in Gaza and the West Bank, and voiced concerns about future attacks. From the other end of the scope, tweets called for the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners, and for the kidnapping of more IDF soldiers.
On Facebook, Israelis were looking squarely at the news, after weeks with no sign of current affairs-related topics in the top trends. Israel’s Channel 2 News took the top spot, followed directly by Gilad’s Facebook page. The top Hebrew news site, Ynet, also made it to the top 10 Facebook trends (in 6th position), an the IDF was in the 8th spot.
Back on JPost.Com, a poll posted in the hours after the deal was announced, but before the cabinet’s late-night vote, found overwhelming support. Some 65 percent of respondents said it was “about time,” 25% were undecided, and less than 10% thought that Israel should not go through with the deal. Once the cabinet had approved the agreement, almost half of over 5,000 respondents in a JPost quick vote said they agreed with the decision, though 37% disagreed. After the swap was approved and under way, JPost readers remained torn, with an almost even split between being glad for his return, and fearing that terror attacks will come as a result of releasing Palestinian prisoners.
Click for more JPost poll results
Click for more JPost poll results
These figures echoed two public opinion polls published in the days after the deal was signed and approved by the cabinet, which both found that a  large majority of Israelis were in favor of the deal, despite fears that it would lead to increased terrorism. A poll published by Yediot Aharonot cited data which found that 79% of Israelis backed the deal and 14% opposed it, while a Channel 10 poll found 69 for and 26 against.
Israeli media outlets have agreed to give the Schalit family its space, so that Gilad can begin to recuperate from his ordeal, but the story itself is unlikely to slip from Israeli headlines in the coming weeks and months. Politicians will continue to discuss the deal, arrangements for the release of the second batch of Palestinians prisoners to be freed will begin, international leaders will discuss the deal, analysis and commentary will be widespread and The Numbers Crunch will keep following the news item as it plays out online. One thing is certain – the story was a unifying factor for Israelis this past week – with everyone glued to the news as “Everyone’s son” finally came home.

Gil Hoffman and Nadav Shemer contributed to this report

From news sites to blogs, tweets to videos, The Numbers Crunch is a biweekly column which zooms out and brings you the big picture online, from Israel, the Middle East and around the world, and poll results from JPost.Com.

The writer is the Internet desk manager at The Jerusalem Post