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Artificial intelligence techniques map European news content

09 December 2010

More than one million news articles in 22 languages have been analysed using the latest technology to pinpoint the factors that influence and shape the news agenda in 27 European countries.

The research is the result of a collaboration between Professor Justin Lewis, Head of Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Bristol. With an international team of researchers they conducted the first large-scale content analysis of multi-lingual texts using artificial intelligence techniques - automated smart computing.

Every day hundreds of news outlets across Europe choose which story to cover from a wide and diverse selection. While each outlet may make news choices based on individual criteria, clear patterns emerge when these choices are studied across many outlets and over a long period of time.

By using automated methods from artificial intelligence and because of recent advances in machine translation and text analysis the team was able to analyse 1,370,874 articles – a sample size well beyond existing research techniques.

They discovered that chosen news content reflects national biases, as well as cultural, economic and geographic links between countries. For example outlets from countries that trade a lot with each other and are in the Eurozone are more likely to cover the same stories, as are countries that vote for each other in the Eurovision song contest. Deviation from ‘normal content’ is more pronounced in outlets of countries that do not share the Euro, or have joined the European Union later.

Professor Lewis said: "This approach has the potential to revolutionise the way we understand our media and information systems. It opens up the possibility of analysing the mediasphere on a global scale, using huge samples that traditional analytical techniques simply couldn’t countenance. It also allows us to use automated means to identify clusters and patterns of content, allowing us to reach a new level of objectivity in our analysis."

Professor Cristianini, University of Bristol added: "Automating the analysis of news content could have significant applications, due to the central role played by the news media in providing the information that people use to make sense of the world."

The researchers selected the top-ten news outlets - established by the volume of web traffic to either its leading news feed or main page - for each of the 27 EU countries. They gathered their sample from the top stories of these outlets for six months, from 1 August 2009 until 31 January 2010. The non-English language news items, which totalled 1.2 million, were translated automatically to English.

Several expected connections between countries were found such as Greece-Cyprus; Czech Republic-Slovakia; Latvia-Estonia; United Kingdom-Ireland; Belgium-France. Links between countries not explained by borders, trade or cultural relations, could be due to other factors and may form the basis of further research.

"While this approach lacks the analysis provided by people, this new research is a significant breakthrough in the study of media content due to the recent availability of millions of news articles in digital format," added Professor Lewis.

The paper, The Structure of the EU Mediasphere, is published in the issue of Public Library of Science ONE and was carried out in conjunction with the Joint Research Centre and the European Commission.


Notes to editors

1. Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies

The School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies has research and teaching interests in journalism and other contemporary media including, international media, media technologies, media and development, film, popular music, radio, television, photojournalism, magazine journalism and public and media relations.

The School houses the Centre for Journalism Studies, founded by Sir Tom Hopkinson in 1970, and the Tom Hopkinson Centre for Media Research, founded in 1996.

The Centre for Journalism Studies offers the highly acclaimed Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism Studies, which prepares new graduates for a career in journalism or public and media relations. Students can chose to specialise in broadcast, magazines, newspaper, photojournalism or public and media relations. The course is recognised by industry’s accrediting and standard setting bodies, the National Council for the Training of Journalists, the Periodicals Training Council, the National Council for the Training of Broadcast Journalists and the Institute of Public Relations.

Media research is supported by the Tom Hopkinson Research Centre. Areas of research expertise include: visual culture, popular journalism and democracy; media and national/regional identities; media histories; media and gender and ethnic representations; media and children; and international journalism.

2. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

3. The full paper with images can be accessed at:

4. For further information
Victoria Dando
Public Relations
Cardiff University
Tel: 02920 879074