The Age Of Big Data Is Here

A recent study [pdf] used automated content analysis to assess gender bias in the news media. Trevor Butterworth makes the case that the rise of “Big Data” will precipitate the decline of the anecdote:

[Before], you might have had pundits setting the air on fire with a mixture of anecdote and data; or a thoughtful article in The Atlantic or The Economist or Slate, reflecting a mixture of anecdote, academic observation and maybe a survey or two; or, if you were lucky, a content analysis of the media which looked for gender bias in several hundred or even several thousand news stories, and took a lot of time, effort, and money to undertake, and which—providing its methodology is good and its sample representative—might be able to give us a best possible answer within the bounds of human effort and timeliness.

The Bristol-Cardiff team, on the other hand, looked at 2,490,429 stories from 498 English language publications over 10 months in 2010. Not literally looked at—that would have taken them, cumulatively, 9.47 years… instead, after ten months assembling the database, answering this question took about two hours. And yes, the media is testosterone fueled, with men dominating as subjects and sources in practically every topic analyzed from sports to science, politics to even reports about the weather. The closest women get to an equal narrative footing with men is—surprise—fashion.

Speaking of gender bias in the media, Tessa Simonds surveys the male-dominated landscape:

White men own most broadcast TV and radio outlets. The FCC’s own data show that women own less than 7 percent of all broadcast licenses. And people of color own just 7 percent of radio stations and just 3 percent of TV stations. To make matters worse, the percentage of minorities in newsrooms has declined every year since 2006… Men wrote 72.1 percent of the print articles in major publications during the time of the study. Men were seven times more likely to be quoted in major newspapers and TV news programs. (Yes, even for stories on “women’s issues” like abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights. No, really.) And as my colleague Amy Kroin pointed out, this trend held true for both conservative and liberal media outlets.

(Video: An analytics company breaks down the coming data deluge)