4thEstate.net analyzes election stories to improve quality of journalism

A new site, 4thEstate.net, is tracking media coverage of the 2012 election in hopes of making journalists more aware of the gaps in their reporting.

The site collects data from a variety of news stories, analyzes it and breaks it down by topic, newsmaker and sentiment.

“We’re really trying to have an impact on the quality of the reporting during the election in a nonpartisan way, and make people think more carefully about the ingredients that are going into their stories,” said Bryan Rich, a former TV and radio producer who helps run the site. “We also want to spark conversations in the newsroom.”

Rich founded Global News Intelligence, a company that analyzes data for corporations, governments and military clients. This is the first time the company has opened its database to the public on a major policy issue, Rich said.

4thEstate.net has published data that contrasts coverage of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, how partisan newsmakers are gaining influence, and the most common words that the Obama and Romney campaigns have used when talking about the economy. Rich said the site’s posts on the role of gender in election coverage have been especially popular.

The most viewed item on the site is a graphic showing that news organizations have consistently quoted more men than women in stories about abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights.

In our analysis of news stories and transcripts from the past 6 months, men are much more likely to be quoted on their subjective insight in newspapers and on television. This pattern holds true across all major news outlets, as well as on issues specifically concerning women. For example, in front page articles about the 2012 election that mention abortion or birth control, men are 4 to 7 times more likely to be cited than women. This gender gap undermines the media’s credibility.

Most recently, 4thEstate.net found that the gender gap has narrowed slightly since Rick Santorum dropped out of the GOP race.

Rich said by phone that he’d like to see more journalists use the data as a reporting tool. Some news sites, such as The Huffington Post, have already done so.

“We’re really trying to make it digestible,” Rich said, noting that much of the data is illustrated through charts and infographics. “Data is news. if it’s well-visualized and authoritative, then it is perceived as content.”

Years ago, when Rich approached different news organizations about using technology to analyze their stories, journalists told him it was too “Orwellian.” He thinks they missed the point.

“The data’s not meant to impugn news organizations and reporters,” he said. “It’s intended to improve the quality of journalism.”

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