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Visualizing Interpretation Using the Newscape Archive

Can we show point of view or perspectival systems in a data visualization? Can we demonstrate that data is observer dependent? Can we likewise show that engaging with data is temporally dependent? Information visualization projects, which typically have a devotion to representing data about the ʻrealʼ, have paid less attention to a critical treatment of perspective, including factors of temporality and space.


To test these questions, we explored how to model perspective in the media using video transcripts from the UCLA Newscape Archive. Do news stations express differing perspectives on the causes of an event? Can we conduct a preference analysis for certain assertions they make about causality? If we could, can affective weight or influence become a visible dimension, showing how one data point becomes a magnet for other terms? How is that weight produced? Can we show how explanatory factors are attractors that organize meaning production around a central node? Can we explore the consequences of different explanatory practices? Where is the greatest amount of consensus and when does causal attribution deviate?

Three possible metrics of point of view systems in broadcast news:

1. Deviation from the norm. Start with a single reference frame, then examine how other stations represent or explain events differently.
2. Comparative causal reasoning. Can we map presentation of evidence over time, then compare across stations?3. Story traction, does a story or causal explanation finds ʻfertile soilʼ in certain stations?

The news does not simply cover what happens. It also talks about what did, could, should have happened and who may be responsible or who ultimately is attributed with responsibility. This is important because the way you explain something defines how you can intervene, what possibility spaces open up, creating a series of affordances for action. Centralized ownership of media can shut out possibility spaces, truncating how people intervene and posing limitations over societyʼs rationality and understanding of complex situations, exposing the relationship between information and control.

We are trying to visualize this interpretive experience.

Project Details

We worked with news coverage of Anders B. Breivik’s attacks in Norway on July 22, 2011. We are looking systematically at CNN, FOX, and MSNBC news reports from the first five days of coverage: from Friday morning (July 22, 2011) to Tuesday evening (July 25, 2011).

To analyze our data, we first had to find each news segment that mentioned Norway–which ranged from a few seconds to several minutes per segment, and 1 to 4 segments per hour-long program. We used the Communication Studies Archive to find the closed captioning of Fox and MSNBC, and the transcripts of CNN.


[Most frequent temporal verbs per station over the five days under study]


Project leads: Johanna Drucker and Francis Steen. Data gathered by: Morgan Currie and Abigail Magalong. With thanks to: Libby Stephenson and Tim Gallati, UCLA Spring quarter 2013.