My name is Anushka Shah, and I work as a researcher at Ethan Zuckerman’s Center for Civic Media here at the MIT Media Lab. My work focuses on using text analytics to analyze news language and on producing research with a new analytics tool called Media Cloud.
Home is Mumbai (really, Bombay) for me. It’s where I grew up, where I went to school, and where my family lives. I studied Government and Economics in the U.K. for my undergraduate education, with the hope of returning to India to participate in the political sector. When I did return home, I slowly came to realize there were two Indias; a socially and economically comfortable one that I grew up in, and a difficult, dark, disadvantaged one that I only saw at a distance.
I spent the next three years working with non-profit organizations and grass-roots political parties trying to understand various aspects of this other India. It was an important experience for me, not because I learned much of how certain issues could be positively affected, or what policies worked on ground and didn’t, but because I understood how deeply complex rural India is.
Amidst other things, the simplistic narratives about rural India that I and many others grew up with, kept the two Indias apart. I got interested in media as a way to affect opinion, knowledge, and eventually civic engagement in India. I studied applied quantitative research with a focus on news analytics, and now work in Ethan’s lab using Media Cloud to research Indian media.
Going forward, I want to use my quantitative media skills and field experience in India to design effective media messaging back home.
The news plays a critical role in civic engagement today. Our existing knowledge of an issue, the ability to identify with a cause, or empathize with a group within civic movements, often depends on how the news educates us about these. To deconstruct the influence of news in order to construct public opinion, design media campaigns, and strategize advocacy is key to improving civic engagement.
Media Cloud is a big data, open-source platform designed to bring together media and civic engagement. Developed by the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab (where I work as a researcher on this platform) and the Harvard Berkman Klein Center, this web-based tool aggregates news stories daily from over 50,000 sources across the world, and delivers analysis and visualizations on media influence and attention.
Citizens, activists, journalists, and others interested in media can use Media Cloud to provide data-based answers to questions such as how much news attention a topic received, which sources were influential in driving a specific conversation, what impact a media campaign had, how liberal versus conservative sources, or online versus traditional newspapers differ in their framing of an issue, and so forth.
Media Cloud has been used to assess campaigns such as Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and Dalit Lives Matter in India, advocated to Indian news sources about coverage gaps around women’s issues, helped organizations like the Gates Foundation encourage local philanthropy in developing countries by mapping existing perceptions around the topic, identified strategic news partners for improved public health conversations, and mapped information availability around contraceptive use in Kenya and Nigeria.
Media Cloud has the potential for immense impact and can be used for various practices and in geographies around the world.