Media Cloud, a joint project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Center for Civic Media at MIT, is an open source, open data platform that allows researchers to answer complex quantitative and qualitative questions about the content of online media.
History of the Project
Print newspapers are declaring bankruptcy nationwide. High-profile blogs are proliferating. Media companies are exploring new production techniques and business models in a landscape that is increasingly dominated by the Internet. In the midst of this upheaval, it is difficult to know what is actually happening to the shape of our news. Beyond one-off anecdotes or painstaking manual content analysis, there are few ways to examine the emerging news ecosystem.
The idea for Media Cloud emerged through a series discussions between faculty and friends of the Berkman Center. The conversations would follow a predictable pattern: one person would ask a provocative question about what was happening in the media landscape, someone else would suggest interesting follow-on inquiries, and everyone would realize that a good answer would require heavy number crunching. Nobody had the time to develop a huge infrastructure and download all the news just to answer a single question. However, there were eventually enough of these questions that we decided to build a tool for everyone to use.
Some of the early driving questions included:
- Do bloggers introduce storylines into mainstream media or the other way around?
- What parts of the world are being covered or ignored by different media sources?
- Where do stories begin?
- How are competing terms for the same event used in different publications?
- Can we characterize the overall mix of coverage for a given source?
- How do patterns differ between local and national news coverage?
- Can we track news cycles for specific issues?
- Do online comments shape the news?
Media Cloud offers a way to quantitatively examine all of these challenging questions by collecting and analyzing the news stream of tens of thousands of online sources.
Using Media Cloud, academic researchers, journalism critics, policy advocates, media scholars, and others can examine which media sources cover which stories, what language different media outlets use in conjunction with different stories, and how stories spread from one media outlet to another.