The numbers crunchers at the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found in its latest study that while the traditional media was focused on the nomination of Judge Sonya Sotamayor and North Korea, the new media conversation was on something completely different: same-sex marriage.

Over the past two months, one issue has emerged as the leading catalyst for online conversation. While debates over harsh interrogation methods and the economic crisis have repeatedly attracted interest in the social media, the subject of gay marriage has bubbled up again and again, in a debate often missing from the mainstream media.

The study found that during the week of May 25-29, 35 percent of all the linked to news stories in the new media dealt with same-sex marriage, while only about 5 percent of the mainstream media news coverage focused on same-sex marriage. Over the past two months, Pew said same-sex marriage generated 11 percent of the links in the blogosphere but filled just 1 percent of the newshole in the traditional media.

That disparity in coverage illustrates a basic difference between the traditional media’s more hierarchical structure and the online world’s self-motivating communities of interest.

More mainstream media editors must weigh an event or issue against the day’s other news when allocating resources and space, often creating a substantial threshold for stories to gain prominence. In the blogosphere, on the other hand, any event tied to an issue that mobilizes a segment of the social media universe can quickly gain attention and dominate the conversation.