Commentary, Research

Without a past, what do I do in the future?

I have completed my first very rough text analysis on my first section of my first newspaper for my first event. There are myriad ways to improve and new directions to go, but I am at a stifling disadvantage compared to other DH projects. As far as I know, this project is the first of its kind.

I am thus confronted by unchartered territory. I can approach a large-scale DH news article analysis any way I like. I can decide that structure of news articles is more important than the number of notable figures in a piece. Or that the presence of a picture deems a news article more important than others and should be considered with proportionally more weight.

But the potential for crippling limitations is intimidating. Any one of the assumptions I’m making can throw my project down the drain. I probably don’t know half of the assumptions I’m making. What if the personal style of authors plays a much larger role than I recognize?

Just the guidance that a previously published paper on irrelevant historical newspapers analyzed for headlines, ledes, bodies, pictures, dates, etc. would provide a little more of a pushing off point. But i’m overloaded with questions and I’m unsure which to pursue. Below is a list of any number of directions I could take, but all of which I believe I need to take.

I know I will need to make concrete this abstract methodology I have floating around in my head. What am I really looking for? My guiding question is “How does press freedom affect the ‘quality’ of journalism?” And I’ve clarified the relevant variables and measurements I need to take, but particularly in the text analysis, how can I focus all my efforts exclusively on those factors which can help reveal these changes?

So stay tuned for that reification of my methodology and structure. Hopefully it will be able to guide other DH projects that view newspapers in these ways. Until then, here are the ways in which I want to improve and the directions I want to take from here. These steps are absolutely required to justify this project as having any kind of rigorous method.

1. More corpora – I have to look at other newspapers. One newspaper does not determine the state of the press in a country (much less when it is in a foreign language) and a large part of my question concerns how different newspapers react to press freedom violations. Papers closer to the perpetrators of violations may react less strongly. I currently have in mind the news sources Hürriyet Daily News, Daily Sabah, Al Jazeera, and other international sources.

2. More sections – I must also look at more sections of Today’s Zaman, especially the World News section. I currently have only selected from the National section, which to my knowledge accurately includes all articles that occur and have direct relevance within the country. Whether the World News section changes over time as well may reveal how the paper as a whole chooses to publish on topics outside of Turkey to shed light and give perspective to domestic events.

3. More search terms – I have of course only looked at words like ‘police’, ‘media’, ‘turkey’, and other major frequent and potentially controversial words. I can undoubtedly go further. In addition to looking into more topics (‘freedom’, ‘journalist’), words that reveal more than just the topics written about should be considered. Adjectives are not common is rigorous, methodologically objective journalism. To few ‘according to’ phrases, quotation usage, or ‘experts said’ indicate a untrustworthy range of sources. These are the things, in what I have seen, that scholars use to judge the “quality” of journalism. Even using ‘Today’s Zaman’ may indicate which topics are brought up (own employees are the topic) or the sources used.

4. Tools Tools Tools – There are countless tools on the web, most of them free, that provide various qualities of text analysis. Within AntConc, a tool I’ve used already, there are more tools that view corpora in different ways. One, called concordance plot, visualizes the placement of terms in each article, and because journalistic pieces often follow a inverted pyramid or similar structure, this can be revealing. Ledes and headlines are very important in news articles, but I have yet to find a tool that distinguishes between those and the body (Voyant’s Mandala tool comes close to comparing two separate sections of text to each other). Again, I’m at a disadvantage because the tools have not been developed for this kind of reading.

5. Timeline – Neither have appropriate timeline tools been developed for what I want, at least to my knowledge. My vision still places the timeline as a big part of the project because it will be able to show change across many variables, and hopefully correlations between these measures and indicators in my journalistic environment definition.

6. Topics and Tone – I’ve been focusing largely on topics that appear in my corpus, mainly because that is what the tools I’ve used allowed me to do. In addition to using other tools, I should make a conscious effort to focus just as strongly, if not more, on the tone of news articles, even if it may require deeper investigation.

2 thoughts on “Without a past, what do I do in the future?”

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