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Researchers use AI to analyse our 'best reads'

27 November 2012

UK researchers have analysed millions of news articles using artificial intelligence (AI) with some surprising and not so surprising results.

A study led by academics at the University of Bristol's Intelligent Systems Laboratory and the School of Journalism at Cardiff University have used artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to analyse 2.5 million articles from 498 different English-language online news outlets over a ten month period.

As might be expected, online tabloid newspapers are more readable than broadsheets and use more sentimental language. Among 15 US and UK newspapers, The Sun is the easiest to read - comparable to the BBC's children's news programme, Newsround - while The Guardian is the most difficult to read. 'Sport' and 'Arts' were the most readable topics while 'Politics' and 'Environment' were the least readable.

And another finding that is not exactly surprising: The Sun is also the most likely to use adjectives with sentiment, while The Wall Street Journal uses the fewest emotional adjectives.

The study also found that men dominated the content of newspapers during the period analysed. The ranking of topics based on the gender bias of the articles found 'Sport' and 'Financial' articles were the most male biased, with sports news mentioning men eight times more often than women. 'Fashion' and 'Arts' were the least biased, with 'Fashion' articles being one of the few topics featuring equal proportions of men and women.

Somewhat ghoulishly, the most appealing topics to online readers were 'Disasters', and 'Crime'; the 'Environment' also appealed. Meanwhile, the least appealing topics were 'Fashion', 'Markets' and 'Prices'. The researchers also found that the popular articles tend to be more readable and more linguistically subjective.

Speaking about the research, Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Bristol, said that the automation of many tasks in news content analysis will not replace the human judgement needed for fine-grained, qualitative forms of analysis. However, he adds that it does enable researchers to focus their attention on a scale far beyond the sample sizes of traditional forms of content analysis.

Professor Justin Lewis, Head of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff, believes even some of the more predictable findings give us pause for thought. “The extent to which news is male dominated shows how far we are from gender equity across most areas of public life,” he says. “The fact that articles about politics are the least readable might also explain widespread public disengagement."

More information about this research, including images and a link to the paper, is available here.

Data loss? It’s not the end of the world!
The data recovery expert, Kroll Ontrack has announced its ninth top ten data disasters list, which looks at the weird and wonderful data recoveries it has carried out over the last year.

The winning data disaster comes from Spain and involves an IT manager who ignored a red blinking light on the front panel of a server – funnily enough, it failed.

For more information about the 2012 Top Ten Data Disasters, and to vote for the most interesting of Kroll Ontrack’s top three stories, click here.

Anyone who votes will be entered into a prize draw for the chance to win a Google Nexus 7 tablet.

Les Hunt

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