Records and displays your online news sources
(Media Mirror is written as a final project for HarvardX's CS50x Introduction to Computer Science course at edX.org. It is the author's first independently-conceived program written from scratch. It was written both as a a simple, clean, and hopefully interesting tool, as well as an exercise for the author to improve his programming skills. The author hopes that it has achieved both goals.)
This extension records how many articles you have read on eight of the most popular American news sites, according to Alexa (New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, Huffington Post, Fox News, and NBC News), and displays the information to you as a graph - your "Media Mirror."
The extension does not imply any set-in-stone goals. It is written as a simple exercise of self-quantification, and the author certainly does not believe, for example, that having a perfectly even pie chart like the one in the icon is "best," nor that the more colourful your chart is the better, nor anything of that sort. The user is free to do with the data what they will. If pigs are likely to fly before you ever read a Fox News article or a Huffington Post op-ed, you will not be breaking any rules. Nonetheless, the extension will work best given a few conditions:
- You read the news. Like, actually read it. The app can't tell if you've read the article open in your tab or if you've just clinked the link with no intention of reading it; it records the article just the same.
- You read a fair amount of news (which the author hopes to promote). If you read an article a week, the extension will still remember that you have and you will still likely be able to glean some meaning from the data, but for reasons of statistics your data will be less meaningful than that of someone who reads five or six articles a day.
- You read news from these sites. The arbitrary criteria the author used to determine which sites would be recorded are that the site should be: in English, "of national interest" (so no local papers), primarily reporting (so no Slate or the Atlantic, which are primarily opinion pieces), American (although the author hopes to release other editions in the future - he is, after all, Canadian), and in the Alexa top 500 most visited websites on whatever day he got to that part of the code. If you only read news from other websites, the extension will just tell you to "read some news!", which of course you're doing anyway, but it doesn't know that. If you only mostly read news from other places, though, it will still be informative.
Also, keep in mind that in this age of social media, your reading habits are almost certainly not purely your own! Your Media Mirror is likely to be built on a combination of your own habits and the habits of your friends and others around you. This is good. You may not realize how varied or how static your reading habits are if, for example, you think less about the sites your Facebook newsfeed points you to and more about the sites you go to on a daily basis.
All that being said, the author did write the extension intending that it will encourage users to broaden their media consumption. Here are a few of the reasons the author thinks this is a good idea:
- Seeing your own stats may encourage you read more news in general and stay more informed with current events, regardless of your sources.
- We are tribal creatures (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/how-to-turn-republicans-and-democrats-into-americans/308521/), and we often stick with the familiar simply because it is familiar. If you usually get your news from one or two news sources, you are restricting the perspectives from which you are approaching current events and opinions.
- If you primarily read news sources that tend to approach current events from your own political and social leanings, you may begin to take the sources' opinions on face value, without a critical eye. Reading opposing views may bring to light weaknesses and criticisms of your own opinions that you would not otherwise have realized.
- By broadening your sources to include those that tend to come from different political leanings, you will likely expose yourself to conflicting opinions and viewpoints. This is beneficial for several reasons:
a) if you have been reflexively rather than thoughtfully agreeing with your favorite news sources, different perspectives may lead you to change your opinions once you have considered "the other side's points" more carefully.
b) if you find that you disagree with news sources you tend not to read, you will be strengthening your critical thinking skills by forcing yourself to reason through and articulate precisely why you disagree with "the other side."
c) you will familiarize yourself with the arguments in favor of and opposing the various "sides" of a given debate, which will help you argue for and against them more effectively.
d) you will become more aware of the tone and scope of the "national conversation" surrounding current events.
e) you will become more familiar with the lay of the land of the national media, which will let you more effectively navigate it in the future.