Saturday, November 24, 2012

*I*: The Ignore Index

There are sometimes battles or otherwise newsworthy events which are largely ignored in some other parts of the world, despite their seeming importance. This could result from many things: few reporters on the ground near the area, reporters' or news organizations' biases, lack of relevance of news from that part of the world to another part of the world (fair enough), intentional suppression, or just apathy on the part of the news consumer.

However, it seems that even internet news sites have such blind spots, and irrelevance based on geography has no meaning on the internet. Understandably a local Indiana newspaper might not carry stories about a war on another continent. Not so for the internet as a whole.

Two examples: news from Mexico is consistently under-reported, especially considering its long border with internet-monster U.S., and the proximity of the U.S.'s second biggest population centers. But for the occasional drug violence story (reported as if each occurs in isolation from the rest) there is very little to be found online (reporters are specifically targeted by the cartels, so this is maybe not so surprising, but that can't be it. Even when there was clearly a wildfire burning in the mountains just south of the border a few miles from I-8 in San Diego County - I saw it with my own eyes - there was nothing, in the Mexican or U.S. press). And occasionally a flare-up of an international event draws attention to the phenomenon as well: last week a rebel group in Congo captured Goma, even with U.N. troops directly engaging them with missile fire. The civil war there has been going on since 1998, and casualties including famine and disease are estimated at about a half million per year. The military capture of a city of one million, in the context of a long and deadly war, would seem to merit reporting - and it has been reported, but in the American press, it's certainly not carried universally by news outlets and even then it's not nearly a front page item.

An index of internet news (the I Index in the title) could reveal these blindspots. Not to be morbid, but because violent deaths are easier to quantify than, say, political scandals, let's use that as the basis. First, establish a curve for news stories per death, over the entire globe. (The relationship will not be linear.) Then for stories - two American soldiers killed in Afghanistan, a shoot-out leaving five dead in Chihuahua, another action in Congo killing 200 - you could see whether the number of stories falls above or below the curve. Creating an average for each country would quickly show which parts of the world journalism neglects or over-reports, and then there could be further analysis about why this is in each case.

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