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The Future of Political News? Ask the Cloud

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 11 2009

Media Cloud » AboutWhat happens when Ethan Zuckerman and Yochai Benkler put their giant brains together? Media Cloud, it seems. The new project from the Berkman Center aims to inject some actual data at the the "Is the Internet kryptonite to the news business?" debate. (Oh, those Berkman Center kids, what with their research and evidence and inductive reasoning.) Some of Berkman's driving questions mirror key questions in online politics. Are political bloggers breaking news stories or merely feeding off the decaying carcass of traditional media? Does the disaggregation of news leaving gaping holes in what we now know about corruption, legislation, and public policy? The debate about the future of political media is nearly unintelligible without answers to those questions.

Enter Media Cloud.

According to background materials, the site can automagically tag news stories from various sources, storing them in a database that queries can be run against. <geekery> The project is powered, in part, by the Open Calais approach to building a semantic-driven web.</geekery> Media Cloud is only just launched, but it's completely open-source -- meaning, if you don't like it, fix it.

The site is all kinds of flaky today, perhaps owing to the fact that people are checking it out and pinging the database in droves. But once it's up, running, and rich in content, it may be an ally for anyone looking to educate a client, colleague, or boss on how political news gets started and shaped online.