Sunday, January 30, 2005

On the other hand ... don't even listen

The point of this blog is to investigate approaches to the automated anaylsis of text, so that a picture of "the color of the spin" can be seen by anyone.

But sometimes the fog gets so thick ...

Think of the first time someone colors some piece of information, or hides something, and justifies it. These behaviours mark the beginnings of a career in public relations. There have been guidebooks on how to behave dishonestly, in this way, since writing was invented. What you hear, when you hear George Bush, or John Kerry, or Vladimir Putin, or Tony Blair, or either candidate in the Ukrainian elections ... is a creature adapted to put the best possible face on what they do. To do that, they don't say what they do, or what their priorities are. Unless forced to. And when forced to, they're expert at spinning the questions away from what matters.

The arrow which penetrates the truth is simple:

Never listen to a politician. Always watch what they do.

Believe action over rhetoric.

Now, let's be practical. The current media operates in almost exactly the opposite way. There's a media rule about sourcing: if a comment isn't sourced, then it's an editorial. It's not followed strongly -- convenient shorthand is used by the press, based on certain beliefs and certain world views. Even if it weren't, the sourcing rule still gives prominence to prominent sources of news: members of the ruling class in business or politics.

The only way to make action visible is to make the institutions transparent. And that will only happen if they become democracies. That's true whether they are corporate or political institutions.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Rank news

Today it's hard to find a publication, either mainstream or alternative, which is not covering the inauguration. If you dig a bit, there are much more important stories about human suffering, which deserve far more attention and action.

But people focus instead on the presidency. This lets Bush's folks set the agenda, and the framework.

We really need a news site that weighs world news based on, for example, death. That's awfully morbid. But disease, starvation, war, genocide, mass poisoning, accidents, disasters etc. are surely where we need to focus attention. Not on the people in power. If we concentrate on creating a truly global view, the crimes of the rulers will be more obvious.

This news tends not to be timely. See Google News searches for massacre, genocide or famine. Or they are watered down to irrelevance, because they are cliches or metaphors, such as plague.

But it is interesting to combine all these terms in a Google news search. This gives us a kind of "disaster trends" index. For example, when I posted this, "torture" and "disaster" were way ahead of "massacre", "genocide", "famine" etc. Interesting for news analysis, which I know is the point of this blog. But not that interesting from the point of view of getting a real picture. We'd have to compile the top stories in each subject.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Distraction & opportunity

A White House news briefing starts with detail about the Tsunami. Obviously, this disaster is not their biggest priority. But it's well understood by publicists that a natural catastrophe is a gift from heaven for the mendacious and powerful. With a tracking analysis, we could calculate the resulting shadow effect, that is, the effectiveness of the distraction.

It's just as interesting to measure the attempted distraction, the effort to focus attention elsewhere. The attempt is not necessarily as effective as the PR staff would like it to be. But you can measure the effort, separately from the effect.

In this briefing, the publicist manages to discuss the tsunami for roughly 3/4 of the time. In addition, he relates some trivial news, dances around a minor scandal (the subject is publicity), and repeats some talking points about Iraq. This doesn't give the reporters anything of interest, but it lets them file a story or two about the disaster, and finish their day's work. Most importantly, for the publicity strategists, it gives reporters some material about the tsunami efforts, and nothing about military policy. And nothing about health, work, happiness and other major issues effected every day by Federal policy.

Look at the spread of activity as measured by the federal budget, and the white house budget. The proportional dedication to those activities, and the proprtional discussion at press briefings, is hugely mismatched. This is measurable, and important. It shows that the activity of government is basically unrelated to public presentations. An index of this difference could be made for each press briefing, automatically. Announcing the differences, in a timely manner, might have an effect.