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...