Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Calculating column inches

Calculating the number of column inches, or words, a publication has devoted to a particular subject is a popular journalistic tool. It's a rough and ready way of showing interesting trends in coverage and it's just the kind of job that lands on the news librarian's desk.

In days of yore a ruler would be used to measure each column. In more recently times the job has involved doing a search in a newspaper text archive such as LexisNexis, or Factiva, noting the word count for each relevant story, and then adding them up. It may sound like an imprecise science but if done properly it can throw up interesting results. For example, a few years ago, there was surprise over the fact that the Guardian had devoted so much attention to Celebrity Big Brother (click to enlarge).

(Guardian, February 6, 2006)

However, changes in the way in which newspaper content is archived has made the job a lot harder to do. With the duplication of articles, archiving of picture captions, trailers, adverts etc, it is nigh on impossible to get a true picture of coverage. It was with some interest then that I noticed that outfits like Journalisted can do the job automatically. Just type in a subject and results spill out. To continue with the Big Brother theme, the site revealed that over the past week or so there have been more articles about the contestant Chantelle Houghton, than those about the Pakistan Floods. As explained on the site:

"All the information on Journalisted is collected automatically from the websites of 21 British news outlets (altogether, this means 14 news websites, since many daily papers share a website with their sister Sunday paper). Articles are indexed by journalist, based on the byline to the article. Keywords and statistics are automatically generated, and the site searches for any blogs or social bookmarking sites linking to each article"

Of course it's not actually searching what appeared in paper copies of news organisations so results could be slightly skewed, especially on a site which carries lots of blog coverage. But as the whole point is to get a snapshot of how something is being reported, it's a great resource. There are several other sites offering such a service. Now, if someone could just work a clever way of doing the same thing with printed columns in newspapers...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth, author of Parliamentary Profiles, died last month at the age of 91. For half a century his books have been a treasure trove for political hacks writing about MPs. Roth left no stone unturned in the chronicling of a career - everything from acts of indiscreet youthful rebellion, forgotten attacks on colleagues on late-night talk shows, business links, to scandals were all there in the tightly packed prose.

Compiled from a library of press cuttings, the New York born journalist added his own pithy, and often very funny, characterisations. An early description of Margaret Thatcher was as a "diamond-hard Rightist suburban feminist, cold-water English rose", while Jim Callaghan, her Labour Party rival, was "avuncular, cocky, tetchy, shrewd, cunning, teetotal."

As well as compiling the guides, Roth had a 12-year spell as political correspondent or the Manchester Evening News and 13 years with the New Statesman. From 1996 he contributed obituaries to the Guardian.

Now that he has sadly died, the question is what happens to the great man's cuttings library? He had been trying to sell it but as many journalists now get their information electronically through the likes of LexisNexis or Factiva, not to mention blogs etc, it's value wasn't quite what it would have been a couple of decades ago. That said, it's still of great historical value and it is to be hoped that it finds a home at a university.

More information here and here.