Media monitoring made simple

I could have been a media monitor. Soon after graduating from journalism school I was scouring job boards (physical ones, not Web sites) for any kind of work I could find. There was a monitoring agency in Thornhill that was looking for someone, but you needed a car because the shift ran from something

like 2:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m., so there would be no chance of taking the buses.

After deciding I would get a car if I got the job, I gave the company a call, and spoke to the manager who was doing the hiring. After a few minutes of chit-chat, he told me, quite bluntly, that he only wanted someone with experience. I was dumbstruck. Experience in media monitoring? Give me a break, I thought – a chimp could do that job!

I was wrong, of course. It takes much more than a chimp – but much less than a human being, either. Canada Newswire, for example, recently launched a product called MediaVantage, developed in partnership with Ottawa-based dna13. The Web-based application will pull from thousands of Canadian and international daily papers and trade magazines like ours, using Newswire partners including, Thomson Dialog, NewsStand, RocketInfo, Canadian Broadcast Rights Agency (CBRA) and CEDROM-SNi. That still leaves a lot of broadcast media, but who can complain about being paid to watch TV or listen to the radio?

A British company called Corpora, meanwhile, is trying to take things a step further. According to a recent article in the New Scientist, Corpora is about to launch a software product called Sentiment that will uses algorithms to tease out grammatical components in news coverage, such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, and identify the subjects and objects of verbs. It can even analyze pronouns like “it”, “he” and “her” to work out what words or concepts they are referring to. The results are published in reports which clients can then use to evaluate how positive or negative the coverage has been.

When this level of automation is introduced to a business process, it’s a signal to those previously responsible for doing it that they had better start looking for some higher-value work. It wasn’t very long ago we hosted a PR firm in our office who said they took “great pride” in reading our magazines for mentions of their client’s names, even though the president of the firm admitted he didn’t actually read the full articles or the rest of the magazines. Trying billing for that kind of work five years from now and see how many clients are still willing to pay up.

In an era when you can create a Google alert every time a keyword is mentioned on the Internet, the future of media monitoring is not just in flipping through papers or scanning the idiot box. Neither is it determining whether a client is hated or beloved — clients can read headlines such as “Visual Basic 6 developers slam Microsoft changes” to figure that one out, even before using the Sentiment software.

What marketers and media professionals need to provide is the expertise of media critics, examining not merely how often the client’s name has gotten out there, but how often the client’s message has been mentioned along with it. The other essential skill is helping clients understand what media properties really matter to the customers they’re trying to reach. In some cases it might be traditional newspaper readers, but in other cases it might be blogs, chat rooms, or public events that won’t be picked up by software or other media service providers. Understanding the media goes well beyond mere “monitoring.” It’s about really watching. Really listening. And yes, actually reading.

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Shane Schick is the editor of IT Business Pipeline.

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