Meg Heckman


Women working in office.

Software seeks to measure women’s participation in journalism

Measuring women’s participation in journalism once meant sitting down with a stack of newspapers and counting bylines by hand. That’s no longer the case, thanks to computer programs that use big data to examine gender biases in sourcing, story placement and even retweets.

The results so far are grim, with women remaining chronically underrepresented in many aspects of news. But the creators of the new tools hope the information they collect will help journalists assess their habits, and perhaps change them.

Each piece of software works a bit differently, but the basic concepts are similar: Computers comb through online articles and compare the names of authors and sources with databases that determine if those names are likely male or female. The results aren’t perfect, but they can reveal broad patterns.

“They might not be as accurate as thousands of people looking over articles by hand over a period of five years, but they can give you a rough check before you hit that publish button,” said Nathan Matias, a graduate student at MIT’s Media Lab and Center for Civic Media. Read more

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5 questions to ask when deciding whether to use Drupal or WordPress

The Concord Monitor and the Bangor Daily News have a lot in common. Both are daily papers serving small cities in rural New England. Both want to continue traditions of high-quality local news in a digital world. And both recently built websites using open-source code.

The difference rests in the systems we chose. The Monitor, where I work as Web editor, has been running on Drupal for two years. The Daily News finished relaunching its site on WordPress this summer. Neither newsroom has any regrets, but there are big differences between the two platforms, as Allan Hoffman illustrated in his recent Poynter.org post about switching his blog from Drupal to WordPress.

Benefits and drawbacks of using Drupal, WordPress

After reading Hoffman’s piece and the comments that followed, I reached out to my counterpart, Daily News Web Editor William Davis, to find out what those differences mean in our newsrooms. Read more

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Girl versus virus: The 4 things I learned about journalism when I became the story

Nearly two years ago, my boss suggested that I turn myself into a story.

I was halfway through a grueling round of experimental treatment for hepatitis C, a potentially-fatal liver disease I contracted as an infant. My experience had all the trappings of compelling journalism. There was a simple central tension — girl versus virus — and a simple, central question: Will she be cured? Plus, HCV is a sweeping, under-reported epidemic with the potential to cost billions of dollars and millions of lives.

The journalist in me knew all this was newsworthy, but it was Concord Monitor Editor Felice Belman who urged me to use myself as a source.

Over lunch one day, she sketched out her idea: a heavily researched, first-person narrative told in short, serial installments. The piece would explore the epidemic, the idea of medical research on humans and the reasons why so few people know about a virus that affects four times as many Americans as AIDS. Read more

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