26 April 2010

What Cable News Looks Like

What Fox News covered this weekend
A few years ago my friend Brad Levinson and I were talking about how one might use text clouds as an analysis tool rather than an organizing tool.  Social media in public relations and issues management was a relatively new concept at the time, and we felt strongly that companies in our industry focused far too much on things like "your company needs to build a blog" and not nearly enough on online communities and the opinion leaders in them.  So when we set about developing the ideas for Virtual Vantage Points, the blog at our company, we thought it was important to put the focus on what other communities were talking about, and we came up with the "community cloud" idea.

All we did was mash up the RSS feeds of leading blogs in specific communities - environmentalism, medicine, education, and so on - and pushed the combined feeds through a cloud generator that we had one of the developers at our company build.  We paid particular attention to political blogs - liberal blogs and conservative blogs in the US, and four communities of political blogs in the UK - Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Greens.

What MSNBC covered this weekend
After a few months we weren't surprised to see that the various online political communities used very different terminology to discuss things - but we were a bit surprised to see how little the discussions changed over time.  While there are a few exceptions, the most prominent American political bloggers generally talk about their adversaries more than anything else.  Even when the topic is a particular issue, that issue isn't described in depth nearly as much as the outrageous thing someone on the other side said or did.  Using our company's blog to say "bloggers are talking about the other side again today" grew old quickly, so we decided to expand the roster of contributors there and focus on more substantive things.

Now we live in the world of increasing "media convergence." Bloggers are more involved in the news as pundits, reporters, and sources, and news networks are using social media tools more often.  Nowhere is this more obvious than on cable news - the 24 hour news cycle forces networks to leverage the blogosphere and social networks for content.   And of course, politics (and political viewpoints) dominates cable news.

So are cable news networks acting like political bloggers?  Are they just talking about their perceived adversaries?

What CNN covered this weekend
I've pulled the "top news" rss feeds from Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN and pushed them through Wordle's cloud generator.  The pictures in this post represent the "top stories" each network covered over the weekend.  I'll be checking the clouds from time to time to see what kind of news they're reporting from the 30,000 foot viewpoint to see if convergence has bled into perspectives as well as tools.   I have some technical kinks to work out (notice "undefined" and other silly words in the clouds right now), but this could be interesting.

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