Published 2020-01-24

Identifying biases in the news

The Schibsted newspaper Bergens Tidende is an insight-driven news organization. Their audience engagement team is using computer vision to give female readers more relevant content. From their experience, pairing high- and low-tech solutions is key to success.

The small and agile audience engagement team based on Norway’s southwestern coast delivers quantitative insights, data analysis and other solutions enabling editors to showcase journalism in new ways and helping journalists make smart choices in their work. To better serve their broad group of readers with relevant and engaging content, Bergens Tidende (BT) strives for more diversity in their news coverage. A key aspect of this effort is to make BT more relevant to women across various ages.

Insights from computer vision

In an effort to get more female readers and subscribers, BT is using computer vision to better understand who they are telling stories about, and specifically, what people the imagery on their website depict. By estimating the age and gender of faces used in an article’s imagery, BT’s application of computer vision enables insights into how their news coverage relates to the demographics of their audience. Adrian Oesch, data scientist in the audience engagement team, has been leading the work.

“In general, I think it’s super interesting to explore how technology can help improve our understanding of newsroom processes. In this particular case, we saw computer vision as a valuable method because it’s essentially automating a repetitive task we could have spent manual – human – resources on,” says Adrian Oesch.

And numbers show that the share of female readers increases as the share of images with females does. Coincidence? We think not.

Image recognition is not the only tool employed in order to shift towards more representative news coverage. BT has, for example, studied what topics/themes are most read by men or women, elderly versus younger, and locally versus nationally. These are just a few of the efforts made to diversify the content produced.

Young women give their input

Hanne Louise Åkernes, deputy news lead in BT, is running an effort called Project Silje together with political commentator Gerd Tjeldflåt. Project Silje could be seen as a more low-tech equivalent to the image recognition solution. Through creating a physical and digital arena for young women to meet and discuss news topics relevant to them, Åkernes and colleagues are extracting learnings about how to create editorial content that makes young women connect more with what is written in BT.

“At times I worry that media organisations forget to listen to what readers really care about. In order to attract a new generation of news readers, we need to open up for readers to tell us what kind of content they want to consume!” says Hanne Louise Åkernes.

Through an online survey, a Facebook-group and physical discussion events, Åkernes and her BT colleagues have so far given about 5,500 women aged 25-40 the opportunity to tell them what they are interested in learning about through the news.

“This new way of interacting with our readers gives us an opportunity to dig into topics that really matter to our target audiences. So far the content produced through this process has performed very well in terms of clicks and conversions,” Åkernes explains.

A hotbed for new solutions

The combination of quantitative and qualitative user insights, paired with an organization that loves testing new solutions make BT a hotbed for new journalistic solutions. To be able to work for more diverse representation in the media, BT is now exploring what other tools might provide journalists and editors with the opportunity to make more informed choices.