I seldom see a movie without first screening the trailer (and visiting Rotten Tomatoes to avoid being victimized by movie trailer skullduggery). It’s the most efficient way to quickly grasp the story line and determine whether the film satisfies my requisite number of explosions and car chases. Trailers give us the bullet points; they bypass the mounting drama and character development, reducing the film to its constituent elements (sometimes in a grandiose kind of way, but nonetheless).
A new tech project called InArticle has adapted this sort of sampling approach to storytelling by cutting to the chase with our news. The Web-based tool reflects a growing trend of tech startups in the journalism space that could influence how perceptions of corporate reputation are formed in the future.
Essentially, InArticle gathers several takes on a single story from multiple news outlets and synthesizes key data like named entities (people, places, organizations), n-grams (common phrases), quotations and sentiment (positive, negative). By extracting all the most meaningful content, users can get the gist of a developing story very quickly by reading what basically amounts to “Cliff Notes®.” It also serves as a way to gauge bias by comparing stories side-by-side, empowering readers in the process.
Developed by NYU graduate student Jeremy Scott Diamond, the concept borrows the logic of “distant reading” first promulgated by Stanford professor Franco Moretti. Moretti said that we should “understand literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data. By doing this, you are able to focus on units that are much smaller or much larger than the text itself, such as devices, themes, tropes—or genres and systems.”
Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger network is also developing a news synthesizer application called Circa that is expected to launch this year. As we become inundated by this swell of new ways to consume news and media, it’s hard not to wonder what kind of impact these tools will have on reputation management and crisis communications.
If readers are only digesting the Cliff Notes, will the complex issues we often deal with become over-simplified? If our news becomes further synthesized, will readers be discouraged from really digging into an issue and fail to formulate their own opinions? There are trade-offs associated with any innovation, but the costs in this instance remain to be seen.