Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a bit of a complex media research tool and web project that I’ve dubbed the “Newspaper Viewer”. Using the application, one is able to view some of Canada’s most popular broadsheet and tabloid newspaper front pages from just over the past year when I started to collect them.
In June of 2006, I wrote a web script that collected PDF files of about 15 newspaper covers per day. I let the script run automatically each day since that time and I’ve accumulated over 3 GBs of PDFs on my server! These files weren’t browsable in any convenient form and without purpose — beyond my own general interest in having a stock of these files — they were becoming a burden on my server which hosts this blog.
Like any web designer amazed by the presentation abilities of Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash, I’ve poked around the application since its early versions. However, up until this time I’ve never really been confident enough in Flash to publish anything substantive. That is, until I was faced with an idea to take this very visual collection of files and present it in a complimentarily visual way. I transfered the gigabytes of files from this server to my more permissive btblogs.ca server and got to work on the project after buying a book on Flash and its underlying object-oriented language, Actionscript. I also recommend subscribing to the video tutorials at Lynda.com
This Newspaper Viewer is the product of that initial script that I wrote over a year ago and the result of my clumsy climbing of the Flash learning curve over the past few weeks. I believe that this is the only archive of its kind available online and I hope that you enjoy browsing through this collection.
There are two ways that you can sort through the database. On the right, a dropdown box contains dates from June 5th to the present day. By selecting a date from this dropdown, you can view the newspapers from that day. Try browsing today’s newspapers or view how the various newspapers differ in covering a certain event, such as the Toronto 17 (June 5th, 2006), the Dion leadership victory (December 3rd and 4th, 2006), the Virgina Tech shootings (April 17th, 2007) or the Conrad Black verdict (July 14th, 2007). The other dropdown menu contains a way to view each newspaper by month. Thus, you can see a monthly spread of each newspaper.
When flipping through the newspaper archive, if you double-click on a particular paper, it will load the original PDF of that cover. I recommend trying this because some of these covers come in beautiful detail and those that appreciate design and layout will want to take a closer look.
I also designed this application as a media monitoring/research tool. A significant number of Canadians get their news from Canadian newspapers and some researchers may find it worthwhile to track the evolution of a story as expressed to Calgarians via the Herald, or to Torontonians via the Sun, to give two examples. To illustrate another example of this tool’s use, one might find it interesting to see how the National Post was covering the Conrad Black trial in comparison to other newspapers. Further, some believe that papers cheer for political parties during elections. It may be interesting to see if this is true by tracking Globe and Mail or Sun media headlines over the course of a writ period. A lot of power resides in news media as reporters, editors and columnists are able to influence millions of readers by a carefully crafted headline or by highlighting/burying scandalous details above/below the fold. As Canadians, we ought to be savvy media consumers in order to be informed participants in our democracy. Hopefully, as a comparative tool, this Newspaper Viewer application will help contribute.
I do hope that you enjoy this project. I would appreciate any comments, suggestions, bug reports via email or in the comments section below.