A More Balanced Way to Read the News

With state and national elections imminent, a large helping of politics with your news is pretty much unavoidable. And while it’s easy to guess what end of the spectrum political ads sit on (thanks to those handy endorsed by and paid for declarations), that’s not always true of the news we read online. That’s why we were glad when Geekwire brought a new online tool, Balancer, to our attention.

Created by UW assistant professor of human centered design and engineering Sean Munson, the free Chrome browser extension monitors your online reading history. It then lets you know, via a cartoon tight rope walker precariously balancing a red block and a blue one, if your reading habits lean far left or right.  

After you get to know each other a little better, Balancer will recommend stories and news outlets that offer a point of view that contrasts with whatever you’ve been steeping yourself in so far.

The goal of the research concept behind Balancer is to expose readers to more diverse opinions. It analyzes and pulls from 10,000 sites, from big media giants you already know down to one-person blogs and watchdog groups like politicalpartytime.org; the list even includes some international flavor.

Not everyone is interested in changing news sources (I for one would find it hard to unplug from NPR), but given the polarity that dominates most political discussions these days, getting a rare glimpse of the other side might be just what the doctor ordered.

The browser extension takes a month of analyzing your browsing activity before it will point out your position, so downloading it today won’t help balance your reading before the election.  Still, I think it’s a worthwhile to ask yourself, what’s my bias?  You might be surprised how far your tight rope walker tips.

Speaking of the election: The Seattle Public Library announced its librarians will lend their prodigious fact-checking skills to the 2012 Living Voters Guide, an online and nonpartisan discussion board aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of measures on the upcoming state ballot. Click over and read both sides of the issues before you vote.

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