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Colors matter. As events unfold around the world, journalists focus our attention on the people, places, and things by creating scenes, much as film directors do. It isn’t just a man waving to a crowd from an airplane. It is a man in a “dark blue suit”, a “crisp white shirt” and a “bold red tie”. It isn’t just a crowd of women marching in the street. It is a sea of “pointy-eared pink hats”.
Looking back on 2017, what did our world look like in color? We analyzed over 30 million English-language news documents to find out.
1 out of 5 stories in 2017 was colorful
7m out of 33m news articles used at least 1 of the 10 most common colors to describe something
Grouping the 1000 color words of 2017 by category reveals our visual attention budget:
31% of the color words describe people’s clothing or body
15% are food
10% are species of plant or animal
10% are human-made objects
3-fold increase in mentions compared to last year
Among the largest news narratives of 2017: Over 20k articles published by 2,629 news outlets grouped into 122 events. The stories mention over 1300 different people with 2,368 attributed quotes
The first large pulse of mentions were driven by events related to the 11 August rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, though earlier events were significant such as discussions of white supremacists recruiting on US college campuses
17-fold increase in mentions compared to last year
Largely location-driven stories in 2,491 unique news stories grouped into 69 events
Dominated by the massive event of the women protest marches in Washington D.C. on 21 January
2.4-fold increase in mentions compared to last year
Another very large news narrative of 2017: Over 20k articles published by 2,961 news outlets grouped into 84 events. The stories mention over 1000 different people with 1,571 attributed quotes
Coverage of “green cards” was equally distributed across the year, from the Republican party dissent and Trump’s travel ban to scandals over green card-hawking and threats to terminate the diversity lottery
3.1-fold increase in mentions compared to last year
Surprisingly large news narrative for an animal (because it’s not just about the animal): 8k articles published by 2,173 news outlets grouped into 132 events. The stories mention 714 different people with 569 attributed quotes.
News coverage of “blue whales” was divided roughly equally between 2 topics
Coverage of the plural form (“blue whales”) was largely driven by events related to whales, including a new blue whale skeleton at London’s Natural History Museum and scientific progress in our understanding the evolution of massive body size and the discovery that blue whales have handedness. Average sentiment scores for these events were highly positive.
In stark contrast, sentiment of coverage of the singular form (“blue whale”) was extremely negative. It was driven by coverage of an online game (called “blue whale”) involving teen suicides in the US and India.
2.9-fold increase in mentions compared to last year
Sneaking into the top-100 of this crowded color space (red carpets, red tape, red shirts) is the endangered red panda, an “adorable” and “extremely photogenic” cat-sized relative of the better-known giant panda. Nearly 2000 news outlets covered 48 events related to 617 locations around the world.
Most of the coverage of red pandas was related to events at zoos, such as an injury to a red panda cub in Australia, a red panda on the loose in Virginia, and the birth of two red panda cubs in Denver.
The exception is the launch of a Japanese cartoon character named Aggretsuko, a red panda with an office job.
58% less coverage compared to last year
Coverage this year was dominated by a proposal to cut funding for the US Centers for Disease Control and a plan by one of Google’s sister companies to help fight the disease
49% less coverage compared to last year
Coverage of “black lives” is almost entirely dominated by references to the grassroots movement that began as #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter
In spite of this year’s Nobel Prize in physics going to the experimental confirmation of the existence of gravity waves from colliding black holes, journalists wrote articles mentioning black holes 13% less often this year compared to 2016.
The dip in coverage is due in part to the comparatively massive coverage of the LIGO gravity wave experiment occurring last year
This was the largest science story of the year. However…
…continuing the trend of deprioritized science coverage in this unusually political (and polarized) year, journalists wrote 29% fewer stories about Mars (aka the “red planet”) compared to 2016.
Intriguingly, 2017 saw a 229% increase in news about purple jumpsuits, though this was driven almost entirely by Harry Styles
Data | Tools:
33.5 million news articles published between 1 Jan and 1 Dec 2017 by 38,860 English-language media outlets
Extract all sentences with one of these 10 common colors: white, black, red, green, blue, pink, brown, orange, purple, and yellow
NLP (tokenization, lemmatization) to bin words independent of grammatical number (“hat” with “hats”, “child” with “children”, etc.) and surface the most common form
Final count by document, i.e. 3 mentions of “red tie” within a news article equals just 1 mention for “red tie”
Named entities excluded (only lowercase and contiguous color-word bigrams included for analysis)
Words grouped into categories using word vectors, then manually tidied
Change in color word frequencies based on comparison of 2017 (1 Jan – 1 Dec) vs. 2016 (1 Jan – 1 Dec)
Deep-dive analysis based on Primer to reveal the events that drove the change
Excellent collaboration with FoamTree to visualize the data – Dziękuję Ci!