Ryerson profs developing app that tracks variety and placement of sources in stories
By ILINA GHOSH
An app that will allow newsrooms to monitor who journalists go to for quotes in stories is being developed by two journalism professors at Ryerson University.
Gavin Adamson and Asmaa Malik, assistant professors at the Ryerson School of Journalism, say the goal of their project is to help newsrooms produce more balanced content. The pair recently received a $10,000 grant under the Faculty of Communication and Design Creative Innovative Fund to build the prototype of JERI: Journalism Representation Index.
JERI, a software application, will extract and categorize the types of sources quoted in news stories. By delivering a score on the type and placement of sources used, it will offer newsrooms and watchdogs a rare view of how journalists fare in representing stakeholders in each story.
JERI’s significance is in its potential to help journalists produce better and more balanced content, Malik said.
“It’s important because as journalists, we don’t have progress reports… [JERI] is a tool that can be used by newsrooms to look at their own coverage of [a] particular issue and to see where there’s room for more perspective.”
Over the course of the next year, JERI will be tested in a pilot project that focuses on local news coverage of race, specifically police carding and profiling.
“The idea is that you would take 20 stories from the Toronto Star over a certain period of time and you would put them through the application,” Malik explains.
“Then the application would pull out who the sources were in that story… and it would weigh the sources and come up with a number out of a hundred it would give [based on the types of sources used and how they were used in the story.] The closer it is to a hundred, the more evenly weighted a story is usually.”
Malik noted that simply changing who is quoted first in a story, for example, can change change the way the story is told and the reader’s perspective.
“If you lead with a police officer, then you’re setting the tone of the story and framing it in a certain way, as a law and order story. Or if you start with a politician, you’re framing it as a political story, with an activist, you’re framing it a different way.”
Malik says JERI will incorporate academic research and theories on sourcing and framing and make it more accessible to journalists in the form of a single number.
“[It] is taking a theory and the ideas behind framing and behind sourcing and making them more actionable, it bridges that gap [between theoretical principles and real-life application].”