World leaders, diplomats and hundreds of journalists — as well as protesters with a wide range of grievances — are coming to Chicago this week because of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit. NATOinChicago.com, a new project from the Knight News Innovation Laboratory at Northwestern University, aims to help people make sense of what’s happening.

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The site has launched with two major components:

  • What sites are saying: An aggregation of top news sources from around the world, allowing users to see how news media in different countries are reporting on NATO and the summit.
  • What tweets are saying: A look at popular one- and two-word terms included in tweets about NATO.

"What sites are saying" is an application fed by feeds from 292 English-language news sources from around the world. The Lab has pre-selected a sampling of popular terms (such as "Afghanistan," "Secret Service" and "Protest"). By the weekend, users will also be able to enter their own terms. Once a term is selected, a map displays, by country, articles in major English-language news sources that include that term.

"What tweets are saying" displays popular terms being used in tweets related to NATO. It also represents graphically the relative popularity of those terms among all Twitter users and among users who indicate in their profiles that they are from Chicago. As I write this, for instance, the word "protests" is more prevalent among Chicago Twitter users than among Twitter users as a whole. Meanwhile, the opposite is true of "Afghanistan"; that word is more popular overall on Twitter than among Chicago users.

WHAT WE’RE LEARNING

The site is an experiment in live news coverage. We’d like to understand how it might help news consumers — and journalists — keep up with the news related to a major event that takes place over a limited period of time.

Tracking conversations on Twitter may be especially important as thousands of people plan to protest in Chicago during the NATO Summit and are using social media to organize their efforts. In addition, ordinary people in downtown Chicago during the summit and the protests may provide first-hand observations via Twitter.

"In a way, the website will give journalists an additional set of eyes and ears that they can train on an event that they are covering in person," said Owen Youngman, Knight professor of Digital Media Strategy at Medill and one of the Knight Lab’s founding faculty. "Smart use of social media is not a substitute for the work of journalists on the ground, but it is an interesting supplement."

The Knight Lab will report its findings and observations of the digital conversation surrounding the NATO summit at www.natoinchicago.com/what-we-are-learning/.

The Knight Lab launched last year with a $4.2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Other Lab projects include a site that provided information about Illinois congressional primaries and a widely used tool for creating interactive timelines.