Environment

The Meme Tracker

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMar 23, 2010 11:08 PM

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Now this is an interesting new job for the right kind of journalist. The idea behind it is expounded on here at Nieman Journalism Lab. I'll be curious to see what news the Sense-Making Project will be tracking. Seems like you could do this sort of thing for many kinds of stories that receive sustained coverage, from the recent health care reform debate to climate science. What's intriguing is that the tracker will be part of the conversation s/he is curating. Here's Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride, explaining:

The whole idea of the project is, "˜What if you had someone whose only job it was, every day, to be looking at information? And this person gets the new world and the old world, and isn't writing to an audience of professional journalists, and is writing to Joe Citizen, saying, "˜Hey, this is kind of interesting.

One of the problems I can see arising are questions of bias. So for example, let's say this "curator" is advising Joe Citizen to check out the latest climate science controversy. Will the curator be assessing the sources that are driving the story's meme, or just making the connections? McBride says both:

What we've found is that when you start taking a single piece of information, you can actually look at the history "” where it came from, who linked to what, who transformed it, and how it got to you. And then you can look at how it went out from there.

She tells Nieman that the curator's analysis might require "diagnosing language," or "asking about the motivation of the person who delivered the information." That's going to require a lot from the person doing the diagnosis. For instance, it sounds like a generalist--perhaps somebody with little science journalism background--will potentially be tasked with recognizing not just the swirling cross-currents of the latest climate story bouncing around the web, but also the motivations of those who are advancing it. If this pilot project is successful, I can envision it being expanded to include a host of topics curated by individual journalists whose background matches the subject matter.

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