Online monitoring tool suggests public think Guardian and Fairfax headlines are more biased than News Corp and ABC

Shot of the headline worm to   date.

Headline Worm: Vertical axis shows percentage of people voting a particular headline as biased. Above zero is a headline seen to lean towards Labor; below zero towards the Liberals

Headlines on news stories from the Fairfax Media stable are more biased than those of News Corp, a new online tool measuring public perception suggests.

The Headline Worm has been created by technologist Nic Hodges, who stresses the tool is experimental and only shows the perceptions of the readers of the headlines.

Hodges, who is also head of innovation at media agency Mediacom, created the metric on his personal blog earlier in the month. So far more than 2000 people have used the headline worm ranking more than 7,000 headlines, with The Guardian and Fairfax’s headlines assessed as pro-Labor while the ABC and News Corp trending toward neutral.

In each case, users are shown a headline and introduction to a news story and asked to vote whether it leans to Liberal, Labor or is neutral.

Example of Headline Worm voting mechanism

Example of Headline Worm voting mechanism

Hodges told Mumbrella that the project was inspired by news coverage of the return of News Corp’s NY Post editorial boss Col Allan to Australia to lead the company’s coverage. It was widely reported that he was to lead a campaign for News Corp titles such as The Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail and Herald Sun against Labor in  the run up to the election.

“It’s one of the strange coding experiments that I have had in the back of my head for a while,” Hodges told Mumbrella. “The whole Col Allan arrival in Australia happened and it was interesting as an observer watching what was going on around the election.”

“I was interested in question of bias. I think it is clear that News Corp has a bit of bias in their print product but I was interested in whether that comes through as much in digital,” he said.

“So News (Corp) is at zero on the metric, which is surprising. That’s what I wanted to find out and to be honest it’s not what I expected.”

It does not tell them who published the article. So far News Corp is the closed to the neutral ranking. However, Hodges – noting its recent campaign against Kevin Rudd and Labor – says he believes the quantity of stories may be the reason for this ranking. “Part of the reason for that is the sheer volume of content News has produced,” said Hodges.

“The Guardian has not published the volume of content that News Corp has but then again an outlet like Fairfax has.”

The Headline Worm also implies that those who have voted see more bias across the board in favour of Labor.

“Fairfax and News are essentially on par with the amount of content but Fairfax’s content has been ranked quite left while News and the ABC are being ranked quite neutral.”

Hodge stressed that the Headline Worm is not a scientific assessment of bias in the election but rather  anecdotal assessment of how readers consume and assess online content.

“When you rank the headline you see the header and the slug which gives a bit of context, however, this was never meant to be a scientific poll – it was purely out of interest,” he said.

“When you look at the average time spend according to Nielsen, people aren’t reading full stories and often only read the headline and a couple of lines.”

The finding comes days after Fairfax Media launched a marketing campaign celebrating its independence.

Nic Christensen



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