Journalists never write about … Shhh! Yes they do, and this tool can show you

February 10, 2020
Category: Tech & Tools

What are journalists writing about? It seems like a question with an easy answer. Just go to a news outlet’s homepage and take a peek, or do a quick internet search.

But each of those only offers a glance at what the news has published as a whole. A new tool from MuckRack called Trends offers a universal look at what journalists are writing about.

It works just like Google Trends, the popular tool that displays and compares terms that people are searching for with Google, except that MuckRack Trends looks only at news articles.

MuckRack Trends can tell you, for example, that journalists have written about presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden more often than presidential candidate Bernie Sanders consistently over the past 30 days (though they have come close).

MuckRack Trends displays a Google Trends-like graph of topics and how much they have been covered by journalists over time. (Screenshot, MuckRack Trends)

Unlike Google Trends, MuckRack shares specific numbers and details for each search. You can see, for example, that Biden isn’t just outpacing Sanders in terms of how many articles have been written about him over the past 30 days, but that Biden has been written about 158,414 times (compared to Sanders’ 110,680), and that Lisa Mascaro, chief congressional correspondent at the Associated Press, has written about Biden the most.

MuckRack Trends shows which journalists and news organizations wrote about topics the most. (Screenshot, MuckRack Trends)

“There’s a real hole in the market right now to just be able to get this data really easy to journalists,” said Gregory Galant, co-founder and CEO of MuckRack, in a phone call with Poynter. “We want to make it really easy to see what’s being written about one topic at a time.”

MuckRack is able to do this because it already indexes all news sites on the internet (or at least ones that meet certain criteria, as determined by an editorial staff). As part of its journalist portfolio pages, it looks for and catalogs news studies as they are published.

“What we decided to do with this project was to make that data easily accessible in a product that could be useful for journalists,” Galant said.

Searches can include between one and six topics and cover custom or preset timeframes (last 30 days, last week, etc.), though the data only goes as far back one year (Galant said it will be extended back further “in the near future”). MuckRack also allows users to save trends searches for later.

There are a number of possible uses for MuckRack Trends.

It’s useful as a data point to contextualize a story. Trends shows that articles about the 2019 novel coronavirus dramatically increased between Jan. 19 and Jan. 24, for example, even though the virus was first reported in December. What happened during those five days? The first case of the virus in the United States was reported Jan. 19.

It’s useful when deciding what to write about or determining if a story idea has legs. If a topic appears to be picking up interest over time, it might be worth considering.

News articles about TikTok have surged since June 2019, showing the social media site’s interest to journalists. (Screenshot, MuckRack Trends)

It can be used to determine whether someone else has written about a topic already.

It can also be a cudgel for or against media criticism.

One of the more popular (and loudest) complaints that journalists hear is that they never write about whatever topic is of interest to the commenter. While a simple Google search often proves them wrong, MuckRack Trends can tell you exactly how many times journalists have written about that topic.

On the flip side, if journalists seem to be ignoring a topic, Trends can reveal that.

MuckRack Trends is currently available for free for journalists who have verified MuckRack accounts (create an account to start the verification process here). It’s available to public relations professionals for a fee. MuckRack is also exploring the idea of launching a stripped-down version for the general public, “but that won’t come for a little while,” Galant said.

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Ren LaForme is Poynter’s digital tools reporter. He can be reached at ren@poynter.org or on Twitter at @itsren.