Can journalists be opinionated on Twitter?

Published: October 27, 2014

From the results, it is obvious that most of the journalists are emotional in their tweets and this clearly has a significant impact.

The events taking place around us affect our feelings, which as a result, affect our conversations throughout our normal lives. Since August, the prolonged Azadi march has been affecting the feelings of average Pakistanis on the road.

Being associated to the data-mining and text-mining field, I carried out a little experiment to explore the sentiments of Pakistani journalists who are reporting current events in Pakistan. I took journalists as my test subjects as ordinary people generally take their (journalists’) opinions seriously and even adopt them as their own. But according to the journalism objectivity principle, these journalists should remain impartial and convey only facts without including their feelings, emotions, opinions and political views along with the news. The result was rather interesting.

In academic literature, extracting the writer’s opinion or feeling from the text using the machine learning computational technique is termed as sentiment analysis or opinion-mining. Generally speaking, by using sentiment analysis, researchers try to extract the opinion or feeling of a writer, leaving behind only factual text. The attitude of the writer normally involves his or her judgment, emotional state and emotional effects that writers normally intend to convey to their readers. The results of this analysis appear as positive, negative, or neutral for every piece of “news” conveyed by writers or journalists.

Positive results indicate the writer’s happy mood and excitement while writing the text. Negative refers to the presence of sad emotions or negative opinion. When equal polarity of positive and negative sentiments exists in the text, it becomes difficult for the computational techniques to pass their judgment, and therefore refer to them as neutral. For example, if the writer is talking about somebody’s death, but doing so without expressing or including his opinion or emotions on the demise.

Twitter has become a famous tool to extract people’s personal and political views. Researchers in the US used Twitter data to understand people’s emotions during the presidential elections. It is due to the same reason that John Morton, who was a former newspaper reporter and is now the president of a consulting firm that analyses newspapers and other media properties, wrote an article on how social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have changed the way journalists interact with the public. He says,

“Journalists should not reveal their political views, Twitter or no Twitter”

For a good journalist, journalism objectivity must be ensured. Journalism objectivity is the basic principle of journalistic professionalism and refers to the neutrality of the journalist. It ensures that he/she remains neutral without choosing to be on either side of the argument. That is when only the facts are reported for what they are.

In Pakistan, almost every journalist claims to be neutral. In this experiment, I put this claim to test via sentiment analysis using tweets of famous journalists in Pakistan so as to show how neutral their reporting is under the context of political activity regarding Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Azadi march.

I used R Software’s Twitter library (Twitter) for mining or extracting tweets from August and Datumbox API, a text analysis service, to rate the sentiment of each tweet as positive, negative or neutral. I took into account tweets of various journalists such as Cyril AlmeidaFahd HusainFereeha IdreesHamid MirIftikhar AhmadJasmeen ManzoorJaved ChaudhryKashif AbbasiMoeed PirzadaMushtaq MinhasRauf KlasraRaza RumiShahzeb Khanzada, and Talat Hussain. Due to limitation of time, I wasn’t able to conduct the experiment on other renowned journalists.

Initially, I obtained the sentiments from some of the tweets individually.

Moeed Prizada tweets:

Pirzada’s mood and feelings were detected as positive.

The disappointment in Hussain’s tweet was concluded as negative. The sentiment analyser considered Hussain to be feeling rather sad whilst tweeting this text.

However, the sentiment analyser was unable to extract a positive or negative analysis from Mir’s tweets.

Clearly, it was difficult to conclude whether he was excited or sad. He conveyed the message but did not include any emotions or opinions.

Every tweet was carrying different sentiments, and so for the next stage, I collected tweets of journalists, who tweeted in August, and calculated the twitter profile of each journalist to understand what type of aggregate sentiment they are spreading amongst their followers. And the results of the experiment turned out to be quite interesting. The results of the sentiment analysis are shown in Table 1 and Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

Table 1

Pirzada and Husain’s sentiments are obtained as most positive amongst all of their peers. Minhas appeared as the one who mostly displays negative sentiments in his tweets. For neutral sentiments, Mir tops the list. Not only did he top the list, but there were barely any positive or negative sentiments portrayed in any of his tweets, which proved that he is better at hiding his emotions and opinions as compared to his peers. Ahmad, Klasra, and Khanzada had similar results to Mir.

Positive sentiments remain higher than negative for Husain, Mir, Chaudhry, Pirzada and Rumi. Whereas Almeida, Idrees, Manzoor and Abbasi try to balance their sentiments in their tweets, thus, their neutral sentiments remain lower than their positive and negative sentiments.

As per the results, it is obvious that most of the Pakistani journalists are tweeting with emotions and not taking into consideration the existence of journalism objectivity. And this is surely affecting their followers.

A journalist’s job is to be impartial and let the people decide for themselves which politician is correct or not. Our journalists should only convey the facts without their own judgments about the political events, parties or people.

If I manage to get time in the future, I will conduct an experiment to analyse the sentiments of the people responding to these journalists to understand how much their tweets affect the people reading them. Till then, I leave you with the results of my current experiment to ponder upon journalism objectivity.


Usman Shahid

A PhD candidate at North Dakota State University (USA) and a lecturer at COMSATS, Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Aamna Hassan Fasihi

    Woah, this is interesting! Surprised to see Hamid Mir’s “neutral” views’ graph. I guess it’s because he used to have a penchant for Imran Khan but the DG ISI and IK’s controversy with Geo compelled him to hide his soft corner for IK.Recommend

  • Asjad

    Having experience of reading tweets from Hamid Mir and Iftikhar Ahmed, I think they use official Channel teams to tweet ‘their’ thoughts. It largely for promotion. May be I am wrong.Recommend

  • Jehad

    how can you calculate sentiments,, for instance, speaking relatively positive for PTI can be positive for me and else for others?Recommend

  • Aatif

    good work.. I like your interpretation of positive and negative…besides the crux of your post was to show that our journalists are taking sides….Recommend

  • Muhammad Bilal

    They are not only journalists now , they are promoted to annalists. :)Recommend

  • ahmed

    Talat hussain and hamid mir are my favourite journalists. Moeed pirzada in the recent dharnas tilted in favor of IK, otherwise he was neutral tooRecommend

  • Ansar Mehdi

    Don’t you consider Mubashir Luqman a journalist ?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I don’t know where you got the notion that tweets should be neutral. Most journalism theories, etc agree that a journalist should be neutral only when he/she is reporting the news. A persons twitter account is a personal account where they share their personal views, so I don’t think that anyone should be saying that their twitter account ought to be neutral, for then there will be no personal element in it.
    A journalists job is to be impartial, I agree to that, but these guys are not on the job when they are on twitter and they have a right to their views. You should have analyzed their views shown in different TV appearances if you wanted to show that that are being partial in their reporting.Recommend

  • an indian

    Talking about objectivity & neutral reporting on Indian news channels; I would like to see zero reports on the loc shelling,labelled as ‘buzdil pakistan’,’pak backstabs again’, going instead for neutral & more professional headlines like ‘loc violations-pak fires/shells’. Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    I so agree with Maximus Decimus Meridius. In order to understand how “objectivity” applies to journalism, only news – the occurrence of events or what people say, etc -are to be reported as it is, without twisting facts and without adding any kind of interpretations to it. As for articles, columns, op-eds, and even features or talk shows, they could be entirely based on how a journalist sees an issue from their own perspective. Hence, Tweets could be based on subjectivity and do not necessarily have to be neutral. In short, journalists should be neutral when they ‘reporting’, but when presenting an ‘analysis’ on an issue -for instance, even if they are applying the dialectical approach of using thesis, antithesis and synthesis, how can there be objectivity to it? So if a journalists is putting up a disclaimer: “Views expressed here are personal,” then I guess they are out-rightly agreeing that there could always be some subjectivity.Recommend

  • Jor El

    change the channel when u get to Times Now and Headlines Today…Recommend

  • umair

    Very interesting apporach.
    However all you need to do is read these journalists tweets to see which side they are on.
    You dont need to make API calls for this.Recommend

  • abhi

    This is where the software fails. While software didn’t detect any sentiment in Hamid Mir’s tweet, it was clearly a tweet in favor of PTI and accusing rival channels of not showing the pro-PTI content.Recommend

  • an indian true. I try to stick to Ndtv ,but I find that some reports are unique to their channels & not reported by all four (Times,Ht & CnnIbn) I end up watching all of them.Recommend

  • Haider

    Why in the world did the blogger prefer to use the sentiment analysis function (which claims only to measure emotion) when the Datumbox API he has used already provides a Subjectivity Analysis function to measure objectivity?

    How can sentiment measure objectivity? Natural language processing applications like these measure sentiment by assigning negative/positive scores to words. For example, the statement “Pakistan win by 200 runs” may be categorised as positive because of the word “win”, while “Australia lose by 200 runs” may be negative because of the word “lose”. What does that say about whether the statement was objective or based on personal opinion? Absolutely nothing!

    And in this particular case, Datumbox does a bad job of even gauging emotion. I see no reason why that Moeed Peerzada tweet should be categorised as positive. Did the blogger evaluate the results? Even the author of the API says on his blog that analyses may be prone to errors depending on the dataset.

    ‘Neutrality’ here is basically the program’s inability to gauge emotion, NOT neutrality in the journalistic sense. The only opinion in this blog is the writer’s assumption that Pakistani journalists are opinionated. This ‘research’ is a complete waste of an otherwise promising piece of software. A better use of this API could be to mine for tweets containing “Nawaz Sharif” and see what kind of sentiment prevails on Twitter regarding the PM.Recommend