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Business - Written by on Tuesday, March 25, 2008 13:21 - 1 Comment

What matters, where, and to whom


Here’s a fantastic application created by Gilles Bruno, a French media and IT buff, that maps media attention from some of the world’s largest newspapers. The result is a series of distorted cartograms that measure how much attention various newspapers from around the world are paying to individual countries. Moreover, it creates an interesting discussion about what matters in today’s world, and why.

For example, the image below highlights media attention from La Croix, a French catholic daily. If you compare this to a North American daily you can see a significant difference in the attention paid to French speaking countries and former colonies. The one constant seems to be attention on trade partners.


These cartograms are quite similar to work being done by Harvard/Berkman Centre fellow Ethan Zuckerman. Back in 2003 he led a very interesting analysis of media trends, “First steps towards a quantitative approach to the study of media attention.” The following quote from that paper drives home this concept of what matters:

“For an “apples to apples” comparison, it is useful to consider whether Japan or Nigeria is more important. Their populations are roughly equal – 130 million in Nigeria, 127 million in Japan. Neither is short on possible news stories. Nigeria, in particular, seems to have all the factors we commonly associate with headline news: crime, violence, ethnic strife and religious conflict. If we define “media attention” as “the number of stories on a given subject”, the statistics give us a clear answer: Japan is roughly seven times more important than Nigeria. Searching the archives of seven media sites and two media aggregators, we find between 2 times (BBC) and 16 times (CNN) as many stories that reference the search string “Japan” as those that reference the search string “Nigeria”, averaging 7.28 times as many Japanese stories across the sources sampled.”

His research found that the economy, above racial, ethnic or lingual affinity, is the cause of such disparities. Fair enough but it makes you wonder about the “news” that were missing when constrained to economic or geo-political lenses.

1 Comment

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Eric Blair
Mar 31, 2008 23:06

I get the eerie feeling I shall see the application soon as an ad in the Economist.

What would a more dynamic version of this application look like? I’m thinking of a hybrid
between some of the visualizing tools present in Digg Labs (http://labs.digg.com/) linked up to a map of the world. This would be a practical way we can monitor the urgency and relevance of international news. That said, could such a tool alleviate the problem Zuckerman has observed regarding what the media covers? With a tool like Digg, the biggest news stories would include what the majority of people want to see. Since the majority is so international, would the stories they Digg represent this internationalism as well?

(On a side note, I was directed to an interesting site that uses a similar map to illustrate various demographic trends. Let me know what you think. http://www.sasi.group.shef.ac.uk/worldmapper/index.html)

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