Ethan Zuckerman is talking about his work on Global Attention Profile (GAP) today in Digital Democracy class at HLS. The GAP is, in part, “a portrait of a news media outlet’s attention to various nations. GAP
software automatically crawls a news media outlet’s website and
calculates country-by-country story counts over a period of time. This
paper reports these story counts and correlates them to a wide range of
country data sets provided by the World Bank. GAP research
demonstrates that the most accurate predictor of a media outlet’s
attention is the size of a nation’s gross domestic product. This
correlation is significantly greater than the correlation between media
attention and the size of a nation’s population, and appears to be the
strongest correlation between media attention and 21 factors examined.
Generally speaking, violent conflict seems to have less effect on media
attention than the size of a nation’s economy does.” Ethan’s active research project is incredibly cool.
Everyday you can see what a variety of news outlets are covering and
mapping those stories on a picture of the world. He’s going to
move from mainstream media to the blogosphere soon, which will be a
terribly interesting addition to his work.
So Digital Democracy
is a law school class (and the Berkman
Center, where Ethan is a fellow, is a part of Harvard Law
School). Is it a legal issue if a certain part of the world —
say, sub-Saharan Africa — gets less news coverage than countries with
fewer people but higher GDPs in the relevant countries? Stipulate
that Ethan’s right, and the best single factor to determine whether a
given country will get news coverage is whether than country has a high
GDP and a willingness to import goods and services. Is there a
global right to be heard? (Consider the Cass Sunstein “Daily Me”
concerns in republic.com and the First Amendment arguments related
Who does better than other new outlets, using Ethan’s model, to cover
news without looking at GDP as a determining factor? The
BBC, it turns out, does much better than, say, CNN or the New York
Post, particularly with respect to Africa (but see Britain’s colonial past). Surprised? And so what?
Ethan says there are three good reasons why one cares. Most fundamentally, the
answer is “trade and aid”. 1) If you’re Mali, you care about
getting mainstream global (read: Western?) media attention because
you’re after trade. If you don’t show up on anyone’s “mental
trade map” you’re not going to get involved in a joint venture, foreign
direct investment, etc. 2) You care also about international
aid. Media attention may help you in the aid sweepstakes.
3) Intervention in the event of genocide and civil war.