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September 07, 2007

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Jim Macnamara

Bill Paarlberg's September 7 comment about media measurement needing to take into account the media environment - in particular the amount of other news on the day which affects likely reader attention and impact - is a good one. Katie Paine has partly answered his question.

This is why good analysis must take account of context as well as the text. And that, in turn, is why media analysis must involve humans as well as automated machine coding and data crunching. Machines can read and categorise text fairly well. But they cannot 'see' context.

I have written in papers about four reasons why humans must be involved in research:

1. Contextualising – computers can read text, but cannot ‘see’ context (i.e. what is outside the text and data, referred to as exogenous information in analysis, and often important to interpretation);

2. ‘Pretextualising’ – my word for bringing to the analysis pre-existing in-depth knowledge of an industry or field using specialist analysts;

3. Write recommendations; and

4. Talk to clients to explain and interpret research (up to an including consulting).

Data is important, but it has to be interpreted. Otherwise it's just a bunch of numbers. That's why PR has to get beyond automated 'black box' tools believing they will do all the work for them.

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