Media Cloud Tool Launched

Berkman just rolled out one of its newest and most innovative projects: Media Cloud. The idea is that by scouring massive data sets with content analysis, it can quantitatively study the flow of news. Now, what the hell does that mean? In layman’s terms, Media Cloud crunches statistics on how different media outlets, both large and small, report on a given story over time. It can chart, for instance, which keywords are most frequently associated with a specified keyword (say “Katrina” or “Obama”) in articles by a specific source like The New York Times.

Josh Benton, over at the Nieman Journalism Lab recently interviewed Berkman guru Ethan Zuckerman about the project. I thought this conclusion was particularly striking:

As Berkman Fellow Ethan Zuckerman put it, it’s an attempt to move media criticism and media analysis beyond the realm of the anecdote — to gather concrete data to back or contradict our suspicions.

This, as I have recently suggested in my coverage of fact checking and the Santelli conspiracy, is a problem of the highest order. Each side of the political spectrum has a corresponding media boogeyman, whose conclusions are suspect or misleadingly framed. For the right, it’s The New York Times ; for the left, FoxNews. These distinctions continue down the row of lesser blogs and publications.

Media Cloud might be able to cut through the fog of this anecdotal reasoning by using the churning engine of keyword analysis. Although the frequency of keywords cannot tell us everything about context, intent or possible slant, it might give us broad-based statistics and clues as to which ideas were emphasized in connection with a story. Thus, Media Cloud represents a more neutral standpoint from which to digest news coverage and, it strikes me, to discuss the larger questions of bias or framing (see also the current bloglemic about Obama’s Wikipedia page).

Though still in development, it would be wonderful to see Media Cloud expand to include as many blogs and blogospheres as possible. The richer the data dump, the less rough-hewn subsequent analysis can be, even if it means including less established blogs. For the Santelli story, a Playboy.com investigative piece (now removed) sparked a wildfire in liberal circles, backlash in conservative one, and was then picked up again by the NYT. The lower rungs of the blogosphere are thus becoming more vocal and influential. Media Cloud, I hope, will inject a little (dispassionate) social science into discussions and cries of media bias. Check it out.

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One Response to “Media Cloud Tool Launched”

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