08/12/2009 02:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Huffington Darth Vader

Contributing my frantic froth
like other media leeches,
arousing printed media wrath
and angst resembling Nietzsche's,
"one link out" from visible,
on Huffington I post
what may be though derisible,
but I would dare to boast
is clear as daylight seen through fog
created by print media.
On Huffington I love to blog
my Poetpickypedia,
while appetite with eating grows
for works of colleagues who
add substance to my words in prose
that, pixelperfect true,
are read on screens of all devices
transmitting cyberdata,
avoiding, paperless, high prices
of print, a vandal like Darth Vader.

Inspired by an article by Michael Massing in the NYR, August 13, 2009, discussing "the dismal and discouraging numbers to have emerged from the world of newspapers" because of "leeches...reporting from mainstream news publications...contributing little more than repetition, commentary and froth," as David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of The Wire put it ("The News About the Internet"), and an article in the NYT by Patricia Cohen ("Hot Story to Has-Been: Tracking News via Cyberspace," NYT, August 5, 2009):

Like a lot of new ideas, Media Cloud started with a long-running argument among friends. Ethan Zuckerman and a handful of his colleagues at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School found themselves in endless disputes about the mainstream media and newer digital variations. Who sets the agenda? How is public debate shaped? What topics are covered or ignored?Anecdotes favoring one side or another were as plentiful as pop-ups, but a comprehensive and reliable database that could track the daily rhythm of the news cycle over time and was available for public use didn't exist. So Mr. Zuckerman and others at Berkman decided to create one. The result is Media Cloud, a system that tracks hundreds of newspapers and thousands of Web sites and blogs, and archives the information in a searchable form. The database, at, will eventually enable researchers to search for key people, places and events -- from Michael Jackson to the Iranian elections -- and find out precisely when, where and how frequently they are covered, said Mr. Zuckerman, whose official title is senior researcher, though he acknowledges that a more accurate label would be computer geek and international development specialist. (At the moment only a small sample of Media Cloud's tools are on the public Web site.)

The findings, which can be graphed or mapped, can demonstrate the evolution of a report and variations in coverage. Users get to "do the fun part, which is analyzing the data," Mr. Zuckerman said, "while we do the hard part of this, which is collecting it." Eventually users will be able to compare the top 10 news events covered by Fox News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the BBC, for example, or chart the terms that appear most frequently in The New York Times, compared with leading blogs, or create a world map showing which countries receive the most media attention, or follow the path of a particular report to see if it dominates the news or dies out.

For the past decade or so, many researchers have used link analysis to figure out how information spreads, said Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor at Berkman who has been involved in creating Media Cloud. You could identify which Web sites were linked to most frequently and infer whose sites were most influential. But researchers have pretty much squeezed all that they can from that approach, Mr. Benkler said. Although Media Cloud is still in its early stages, it is among "the next generation of tools that actually look at what people are saying," he said, adding, it is "a better microscope."

Mr. Benkler is using Media Cloud to test his theory that digital media is widening the circle of voices somewhat. Sites that he characterizes as "one link out" from the most visible (like The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo and Instapundit) are entering into the conversation, he argues. Who has the power to place an idea on the national agenda is another question that Mr. Benkler said Media Cloud could help answer. For instance, how is the conversation about the recession and the financial crash shaped? Using some of the database's more specialized tools, Mr. Benkler investigated who first floated the idea for a temporary takeover of the financial system by the government, as was done in Sweden in the 1990s.