Mission : Democratize the access to information about information

In most western countries, information produced by media and social actors circulates freely. However, the access to information about news items often remains reserved to public relations firms, information brokers and their clients. Press reviews, media analysis, profiling journalists using the latter’s portfolio, various measures to improve efficacy of public relations campaigns, identification of opinion leaders in online communities, analysis of media spin-offs for specific events, and other so-called “business intelligence” solutions, often necessary to comprehend the media sphere, are being sold at high prices.

Two key actors lack access to this type of information and analysis: scholars interested in understanding the media landscape and issues discussed within this sphere, as well as social movements trying to make their voices heard. Those two groups have limited resources to purchase collections or data analysis software necessary to access the information. Therefore, they have to rely on free online tools that are much less efficient.

This inequality of access to information between corporations and governments on the one hand and scholars and social movements on the other hand creates asymmetrical power relations.

The Information Flow Observatory’s (IFO) mission is to develop the analytical and methodological tools necessary to construct a large body of information produced by the Canadian media, news agencies, the public relations industry as well as by the regional and federal governments in order to make it accessible to scholars and social movements. We want to humbly contribute to narrowing the gap that separates the better-funded groups from those who lack the resources to understand the media sphere because they have to rely on partial or even out-dated analyses. This working group supports a democratization approach, which consists in creating a larger access to media analysis of Canadian news productions. The group is motivated primarily by concerns for social justice and devoted to emancipation issues in the public sphere.

3 areas of activity

Area 1:

Information retrieval and data mining

The purpose of this area of activity is to develop software and methods in order to build, archive and make accessible a collection containing all content produced by the Canadian media, news agencies, and the public relations industry as well as by regional and federal governments. Data about the information flow in social media and metadata about various organizations will also be collected.

In accordance to areas 2 and 3, this collection will serve as a field of experimentation for developing different techniques of natural language processing and statistical analysis.

Fields of interest:

  • Data mining
  • Natural language processing
  • Knowledge discover
  • Lexical analysis
  • Ontology extraction
  • Lexicometric analysis


The model is based on four concepts and tools

Step 1: 

News vacuum cleaner

Constant collection of information within the media system.

Step 2:

Media’s scale weight

A measure of different media’s diffusion power.

Step 3:

Social influence’s weathercock

An evaluation of a new’s influence in social networks.

Step 4:

Lexical analyzer

A semantic analysis of all the content published on a territory (data mining).

Area 2:

Information visualization

This area of activity addresses issues pertaining to visualizing the data extracted with the help of text or data mining techniques. A collection built by using this kind of techniques poses the challenge of making the data flow intelligible, of making sense of it. This area of activity therefore serves to develop tools, interfaces and methods that allow manipulating the information flow data in a more instinctive manner.

Fields of interest:

  • Visualization of temporal and geolocated-based data
  • Modelling the information flow
  • Mapping information producers
  • Data typology
  • Interactive data visualization


Area 3:

Critical data analysis

The goal of this area of activity is to analyze the information’s content, its distribution and paths of circulation as well as to identify the distinctive roles of different social actors implicated in the production processes of information. The analyses are based on data extracted and visualized by the IFO. Conversely, the questions that will be brought up by these critical analyses will motivate the development of new data mining, text mining and visualization tools.

Fields of interest:

  • Critical reflection on content produced by media
    • diversity of content
    • news flow and circulation
  • The role of public relations in information flow
  • Discourse analysis on large bodies of information
  • Media representation of social movements
  • Interaction between traditional media and social networks


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