It’s tough to talk news media and politics without taking shots at Fox News. And to some extent, these reputations are well-earned. At the end of the day, much of the media is at least slightly partisan. (Just as, in a huge conflict of interest, newspapers have historically backed political candidates and no one questions it.)
So I would think that inArticle, a powerful news visualizer from NYU grad student Jeremy Scott Diamond, would be all about spotting bias. After all, it analyzes several takes on the same story at the word level. It guages sentiment (positivity and negativity), counts meaningful words and compares stories side by side.
But using inArticle for a few minutes, I’m just shocked by how efficiently it can cut to the gist of any story.
Without reading a word about Iran’s recent refusal to back down on nuclear enrichment, I can learn a lot about the situation.
The “quotes” tab picks a few choice one-liners like, “giving up 20% enrichment levels for spare plane parts is a joke” and “we have an ample amount of time, at least until the end of this year, to solve this problem.” It’s a pair of points that immediately summarizes the negotiations and also diffuses any worry one might have from a headline. Yes, we’re dealing with a rising nuclear power. No, common ground hasn’t been found. Yes, there’s still time to negotiate alternatives.
But the tool’s pièce de résistance has to be the “entities” button. It charts out the frequency that people or places are mentioned in a story to show us the most important parts in a huge radial graph. Through this, I see that it clearly involved the P5+1, also called the Security Council, which finds itself listed redundantly (and quite helpfully) in its participating countries around the graph. And as you radiate out around the graph, you get tangential snippets, like “Catherine Ashton” (the EU’s foreign policy head, who is playing a coordinating role in negotiations) and “oil” (the trade embargoes the world is using against Iran to end their enrichment program).
That entities tab is just as handy on the story about Zuckerberg’s surprise post-IPO marriage. Obviously he and Facebook are the cornerstones of the story, but I can quickly make out that the marriage most likely occurred in California, probably Palo Alto, rather than some exotic island. And he married Chan, Priscilla Chan. I lose the context of the humble backyard ceremony, but I learn a bit more than I did from the headline.
inArticle is playing with relatively simple ideas based upon word counts across articles, but it’s not hard to imagine where this sort of idea can go. You could build a standalone news browser that summed up everything everyone in the media was talking about all day. You could spot the key players in the world at any given moment in a news cycle. And as a supplement rather than a replacement for good old-fashioned text, it seems like a useful tool to consume the most important news quickly.
You’d think that a side-by-side analytic news visualizer would be about bias, but it’s really not. inArticle is more about downing news as quickly as possible. And besides, when all that news is sucked from multiple sources anyway, the bias will be watered down with pure content.