Conversations about bias and framing can be difficult in the journalism community, as bias is often a loaded term. Setting out to analyse how stories are covered and the part media bias plays in the process, a project called NewsFrames is building a community and tools for collaborative media analysis.
NewsFrames is an initiative from GlobalVoices, a network of more than 1,400 writers, analysts, translators and online media experts from all over the world, who have come together to foster a discussion on citizen media reporting.
With funding from Google's Digital News Initiative Fund, the team behind NewsFrames is focused on building high-powered tools for media analysis, but also providing the workflows, community and support required for journalists with no experience of data analysis to access the tools.
"Not everyone in the journalism community is familiar with the term [framing]," said Connie Moon Sehat, director, NewsFrames.
"We might have a high-level feeling of what that means but it's very hard to have one specific definition of framing. And there are so many takes on it, if you come from communication theory or if you come from history or linguistics, you have a different sense of what that means.
"Sometimes framing in terms of that interpretive limited view of a situation has been understood as just bias, that this is a way news organisations are not giving people the full picture or all the information. We think every story involves framing, or is part of a larger framing. That's part of the difficulty, when we interpret it we make choices and we make it meaningful for ourselves."
The NewsFrames platform, currently at a minimum viable product stage, brings together checklists and tools journalists can use when working on stories, including data on media analysis available through Media Cloud, a project from the MIT Center for Civic Media and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
The team is also currently working on developing a bias detector tool, that journalists can use on their own stories to find out whether fragments of their reports are too vague, or how positive or negative the article reads, but also on other articles to come up with a more comprehensive picture of media coverage on a particular subject.
NewsFrames users can choose to set their profiles as public or private, but the team behind the project considers collaboration to be one of they key approaches to tackling the conversation around framing.
"We are trying to use the data to help us understand and have a way to measure something outside of our own perspective of what the situation might mean, but equally important is this collaborative aspect of having different people working on a story," said Sehat.
Two degrees of collaboration can be promoted through the platform. The first is the methodological aspect, such as checklists encouraging journalists to diversify their sources on specific stories. The second is using the tool to find others with interests or expertise in certain themes, and team up.
NewsFrames is planning to highlight existing partnerships as an example of the type of work that can be achieved through the platform. One of the projects undertaken this spring is focusing on reaching out to first nations communities and helping indigenous communities understand how their stories are being reported, as well as helping them gain data and writing skills in order for them to be able to respond in their own voice.
This initiative has already taken place in Ecuador and will be expanding to Canada over the coming months, in collaboration with MIT Media Lab. Giving prominence to the existing projects will help inspire others in the NewsFrames community to become more creative with their collaborative projects.
While NewsFrames does incorporate specific tools, Sehat told Journalism.co.uk that the core aim is to teach users an adaptable workflow and mindset in order for them to understand the methodologies behind media analysis and be more aware of the framing of their own stories without relying on any specific tool.
Through the Framespotters series on the website, the team is also hoping to provide different perspectives on the concept of framing itself.
"Part of it is data and part of it is an approach. So through the series what we wanted to do is highlight the ways that different researchers right now are trying to approach this very complicated problem and provide models and resources for people that are just trying to understand even how to think about it, different metaphors and ways."