This weekend, I built a prototype for a kind of news aggregation I’ve had on my mind for a while, which I’ve called Panorama.
The idea is fairly straightforward: look for all possible articles on a specific story, across many different sources, then put all the headlines in one place, in chronological order. That’s pretty much it.
For my proof of concept, I picked Michael Flynn, for a few reasons:
1. His brief tenure made it easy to scope down the time range
2. It’s not an ongoing controversy (Turkey lobbying aside), and a relatively self-contained story with a beginning an end is easier to grok
3. Responses to the scandal are mostly polarized
The notion is that, by placing all news sources together, trends will emerge. It should be possible to identify an agenda, for bias to be (more) self-evident when placed in the context of news as a whole.
In terms of methodology, some things worth making note of:
- This was all collected by hand. There are certainly errors.
- I did a lot of googling and did my best to find every relevant article on the Washington Post, Breitbart, and the New York Times from the election until now. Other sources are just articles I found along the way.
- I did not include syndicated articles – AP, Reuters, UPI, etc.. These articles don’t really represent what I’m interested in. Also, it turns out that Breitbart buys almost every syndicated article, no matter how redundant, so there are hundreds of these articles just for the last month of news on Flynn. I assume this is for SEO purposes, since it makes Breitbart much more likely to show up on any given search on a topic.
- Just getting reliable publication times can be a huge pain. For all of these, I had to open up the source for a timestamp – sometimes I could get an ISO string, other times I’d have to convert from a plaintext time.
- Some articles just don’t have accurate publication times recorded, e.g. there are articles about Flynn’s resignation showing up before he’s actually resigned.
Deeper thought on this experiment to come later.
One of my ponderances of late has been how our exposure to the news shapes our perception of the world.
I read at least 100 headlines a day, knowingly or otherwise. I scroll through facebook, reddit, twitter, and my RSS feeds a few times a day. It’s all filtered through the people and organizations I like or trust, building into some vague sense of what the state of the world is, what the nearest possible futures look like. But that whole sensation of knowing what really goes on in the world is just a complicated lie, a house of cards built from countless availability heuristics.
I try to counter that by searching for data and statistics, but this is just a fart in the hurricane. For instance, there’s no way to test the idea that global xenophobia is actually getting worse; I can only make a guess based on the number of bigoted statements that make it into the headlines over the last month. And the certainty of that guess is always haunted by the very plausible notion that the world is the same as it has always been, and I just happen to hear about more of the awful things that occur.
What is the true value in this increased awareness? There’s so much anxiety to be found in keeping up with the goings-on of humanity, but I feel a responsibility to keep trying, lest I unknowingly perpetuate the sins of my ancestors or participate in the errors of my own generation through my ignorance.
Some of these matters, I tacitly know that I lack the discipline to contribute to the solution. Knowing full well the horrors of industrial farming, I really do just love beef, even the stuff they dole out at Taco Bell. Meanwhile, my outrage over racial injustice seems to be limitless. My heart ached in very literal pain and anger as I read of the latest shootings last week, even though these incidents are total deja vu.
There is a temptation towards nihilism as I add all of the latest crises together. There are so many, and none of them can be considered unimportant or irrelevant. Is it possible to care about everything that much? Can our hearts stretch infinitely so that we become capable of empathizing with all the important goings-on of the world? Or are we forced to pick our battles and hope that, between the lot of us, someone else cares enough about the other problems – climate change, education, sexism, poverty, health care – to take care of them? Don’t most of these problems require effort and attention from everyone to truly solve? Is humanity really capable of solving its own problems, or have we built a society more complicated than our meager brains can manage?
Happy Monday, friends.