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#Podcast – Robot reporting: A look at the LA Times data desk

March 8th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Podcast
Image by davedehetre on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Image by davedehetre on Flickr. Some rights reserved

If you were working on a newsdesk in California when you got reports of an earthquake, would you go and copy and paste the details from the the US Geological Survey email that was auto-generated.

Would you write when and where it happened and how powerful it was? Would you grab a map and encourage sub-editors to publish quickly?

Well, the Los Angeles Times would have already beaten you to it. It would have auto-published a post, complete with auto-generated headline, a map, and a Ken Schwencke’s byline, the person who wrote the code that auto-writes a story using information from the US Geological Survey.

In this podcast we hear about this example of robot reporting from the LA Times data desk and others, plus look at how internal databases can assist journalists. We also hear about recent data projects from the LA Times.

Journalism.co.uk technology editor Sarah Marshall speaks to:

  • Ben Welsh, database producer, Los Angeles Times
  • Brian Boyer, news applications editor, NPR and project leader on the PANDA project

 

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Five of the best Tumblr news blogs

Blogging site Tumblr is growing at an incredible speed. There are now 32 million people in the US 4.5 million people in the UK visiting the site.

News organisations are engaging with the community by setting up their own Tumblr blogs. The Guardian set up a Tumblr account in January and started posting stories in February.

We have been taking a look at the Tumblr blogs of news organisations from around the world and have compiled a list of our favourite five.

1. Canada’s National Post

Why? For its use of photographs, front pages and graphics.


 

2. Washington Post’s Innovations

Why? For its linking of third party content, integration into its main site and the superb technology content (minus the deluge of royal wedding posts)

Washington Post Innovations

3. The Guardian

Why? For its design. It looks just like the Guardian. It includes a well-thought out layout, quantity and type of stories.

Guardian on Tumblr

3. LA Times

Why? For it tone and fabulous collection of photos.

LA Times on Tumblr

5. Newsweek

Why? For being very social and introducing us to their Tumblr person, linking multimedia content such as SoundCloud and for handy tabs within their layout theme

Newsweek Tumblr

Follow our how to guide to creating a Tumblr blog for a news organisation.

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How to: Create a Tumblr blog for your news organisation

What is Tumblr?

Tumblr is a very visual way of blogging. One of the many beauties of Tumblr is its simplicity and easy interface. You can create an account, choose a URL, select a design theme and create your first post in under five minutes.

It is free and it is social: users can reblog, flag up things they like and engage by asking questions and commenting. Since each Tumblr blog has its own URL, you don’t need to be a member to view posts.

Although it has been around since 2007, over the past year it has been growing at an incredible rate.

“Right now Tumblr serves up 5.7 billion pages each month; this is growing by 400 million more pages every week,” Mark Coatney from Tumblr told Journalism.co.uk.

Almost half the Tumblr pages viewed are from the US, but the UK Tumblr community is growing fast and it now has 4.5 million unique users and 8 per cent of page views making it the third largest country on Tumblr.

The US is first, with 32 million people visiting the site; Brazil second with 5.6 million.

News organisations are joining Tumblr.

.Guardian on Tumblr

Five of the best Tumblr news blogs are at this link.

Tumblr, which was started in New York in 2007, by David Karp when he was just 20, almost became too popular for its own good. In December, rapid expansion led to it being down for eight hours. It has since opened another data centre to cope with capacity.

How does it work?

Tumblr posting options

There are seven post types: text, photo, quote, link, chat, video, plus you can ask or answer questions.

You can post from the web-based dashboard or by downloading the free iPhone, Android or BlackBerry app.

There are also other options including posting links from Bookmarklet, publishing via email and other third party applications (find out more via the Goodies tab on the dashboard).

You can decide to follow people or organisations, much as you do on Twitter. You can reblog (similar to retweet) and “like” a story. Followers can also ask questions or leave messages. You can create a group blog so several members of a team can contribute (go to the dashboard and members).

Who should consider Tumblr?

News organisations and individuals.

There are some great examples of news organisations getting to grips with Tumblr with the Guardian leading the way in the UK. There are some great examples from the worlds of fashion and art.

Tumblr’s Mark Coatney pointed us in the direction of this Short Form Blog, a really nice independent site that does news analysis and curation.

Why use Tumblr?

To engage with the 4.5 million UK Tumblr users.

“Our use of Tumblr is neither a marketing exercise nor a means by which to generate simple click-throughs,” Stephen Abbott, executive producer at Guardian.co.uk told Journalism.co.uk.

“We launched the Tumblr because we wanted to engage with the Tumblr community and we’re always on the lookout for new communication tools which might help to improve or augment our editorial coverage.”

First things first

Get a feel for Tumblr and decide whether it is suitable for you or your news site.

“I would advise any journalists thinking about using Tumblr for their organisation to first get to grips with the nature of the platform and become familiar with the practices and tone used on Tumblr.

“Then they’ll be in a much better position to decide whether they could find a opening or niche on Tumblr which could be filled by their journalistic output,” Abbott explained.

Think about how you can engage without the Tumblr community and what you want to blog.

Perhaps you can use it for fashion and lifestyle, the best photography from your publication or as a way to connect readers with your newsroom. The Economist’s Tumblr blog includes its cartoons and front pages.

News organisations can use Tumblr “as a way into specific niches” of the organisations, Tumblr’s Mark Coatney advises.

“For instance, Washington Post does a very nice Tumblr blog just for their style section; this allows a specific kind of post reader another entry into the paper tailored just for them.”

The second piece of advice Coatney has is for organisations to use Tumblr “as a way to foster peer-to-peer communication between news organisation and reader”: GQ’s Tumblr, for instance, does an excellent job of using Tumblr’s “ask” feature (every Tumblr blog as an ask me a question page) to bring readers inside the GQ’s office.

His third piece of guidance is to use Tumblr “as a way to bring the intelligence of the newsroom to the public: CNN Money Tech has a group Tumblr that replicates the chatter that goes on in newsrooms every day; a cast of seven CNN reporters regularly dash off short notes and observations about stories they’re following throughout the day”.

Think visually. And also in terms of video and audio as Coatney explains.

Tumblr is a very visual platform; of the 25 million posts done every day on Tumblr, half of them are photos.

Posts with striking visuals tend to be reblogged more by other users as well, helping to spread the content quickly throughout Tumblr’s network.

The Guardian’s Stephen Abbott said: “We will often strive to post stories which have striking pictures or video to accompany the text of the post.

“But this doesn’t mean that we only post picture-led stories. As you can see from the variety of posts at guardian.tumblr.com, we like to try to post stories picked from a wide variety of sections on guardian.co.uk to showcase the breadth of content on our site.”

Along with receiving much attention for its use of Tumblr at SXSW, the Guardian has carried out two other experiments as part of its editorial coverage: this Glastonbury 2010 scrapbook and this one on untangling the web.

Think about who will manage it. Large news organisations use community editors.

“The Guardian Tumblr account is managed by our news community coordinators Laura Oliver and James Walsh,” Abbot explained.

“Laura and James work closely with our news desk editors on a wide variety of our coverage – from breaking news to long-form features – and they pick a variety of stories that they feel will be appropriate for Tumblr.”

Ready…

Now you have got a feel for Tumblr blogs you can create your account, which takes a few minutes. All you need is an email address, a password and a username, which will become part of your URL (thenews.tumblr.com)

Upload a picture/avatar. This is probably going to be your logo, perhaps the same as your Twitter thumbnail.

Tumblr themes

Now choose a design. You can opt for a free theme, pay for a premium one (costing between $9 and $49) or you can customise your own (perhaps with the help of a developer).

Look around at other examples and see what is most effective.

“We looked at many Tumblr accounts before creating the Guardian Tumblr in order to survey the enormous variety of designs and layouts available – but we didn’t copy any of these.

“Our designers came up with a look and feel for the Tumblr which was distinct to the Guardian but which capitalises on the strengths of Tumblr,” Abbott said.

Download the free smartphone app if you want to post from away from your desk/laptop.

Connect with Facebook and/or Twitter if you want your posts to be automatically added to your Facebook and Twitter news feeds (via customise on the dashboard). Bear in mind it will indicate that the post is via Tumblr.

Steady…

Consider other add ons. Tumblr supports short comments but you can also add your Disqus account you can also take advantage of Tumblr’s own back up tool. You can decide whether or not you want to embed the blog into your own website (via Goodies).

Get ready to analyse. Paste your Google Analytics code into your site description in the customize menu.

You’ll also be checking the notes section to see what has been reblogged.

You don’t necessarily have to heavily promote your Tumblr blog.

“We have alerted Guardian readers to the presence of the Guardian Tumblr via our main @Guardian Twitter account but, at present, we don’t promote the Guardian on Tumblr across our other platforms.” Abbott told us.

Go!

Start posting.

  • Go visual
  • Be conversational
  • Keep it short. One, two or three paragraphs and link additional background content
  • Don’t just promote your own content. For example, the LA Times has linked to an Economist article on California; Al Jazeera has posted third party content of a time lapse map of uprisings and protests
  • Tag tag tag. Tumblr is powered by tags
  • Reblog
  • Ask and answer

How did you get on? Let us know when your news organisation has set up a Tumblr account.

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LA Times: Your comments, your real name

March 2nd, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

How tightly moderated should online comments be? And how can news outlets cope with the huge numbers of comments? LA Times columnist James Rainey suggests people should use their real names when commenting.

It seems long past time for reputable news sites to clamp down on the gutter talk. Otherwise the open-door policy at npr.org, latimes.com and many other sites drives down the quality of the conversation and alienates the kind of thoughtful guests that make the party worth coming to in the first place.

Full post on the LA Times site at this link.

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LA Times: Online journalism ‘contaminated’ by web format, says Flipboard chief

The LA Times’ technology blog interviews Mike McCue, chief executive of Flipboard, an iPad app that creates a magazine-style package of news, features, videos and images circulating within a user’s social networks – and it’s well worth a read.

The problem with journalism on the web today is that it’s being contaminated by the web form factor. What I mean is, journalists are being pushed to do things like slide shows – stuff meant to attract page views. Articles themselves are condensed to narrow columns of text across 5, 6, 7 pages, and ads that are really distracting for the reader, so it’s not a pleasant experience to “curl up” with a good website.

Journalism is being pushed into a space where I don’t think it should ever go, where it’s trying to support the monetisation model of the web by driving page views. So what you have is a drop-off of long-form journalism, because long-form pieces are harder to monetise. And it’s also hard to present that longer stuff to the reader because no one wants to wait four seconds for every page to load.

Full story on LA Times at this link…

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#ddj: Reasons to cheer from Amsterdam’s Data-Driven Journalism conference

August 26th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Events

When the European Journalism Center first thought of organizing a round-table on data-driven journalism, they were afraid they wouldn’t find 12 people to attend, said EJC director Wilfried Rütten. In the end, about 60 enthusiastic participants showed up and EJC had to turn down some requests.

Here’s the first reason to rejoice: Data is attractive enough to get scores of journalists from all across Europe and the US to gather in Amsterdam in the midst of the summer holidays! What’s more, most of the participants came to tell about their work, not about what they should be doing. We’ve gone a long way from the 2008 Future of Journalism conference, for instance, where Adrian Holovaty and Hans Rosling were the only two to make the case for data. And neither of them was a journalist.

The second reason to cheer: theory and reality are walking hand-in-hand. Deutsche Welle’s Mirko Lorenz, organiser for the EJC, shared his vision of a newsroom where journalists would work together with designers and developers. As it happens, that’s already the case in the newsrooms with dedicated data staff that were represented at the conference. NYT’s Alan McLean explained that the key to successful data project had been to have journalists work together with developers. Not only to work on the same projects, but to reorganize the office so that they would actually sit next to one another. At that point, journalists and developers would high-five each other after a successful project, wittingly exclaiming “journalism saved!”

Eric Ulken, founder of the LA Times’ Datadesk, reinforced this point of view by giving 10 tips to would-be datajournalists, number eight being simply to cohabit. Going further, he talked of integration and of finding the believers within the organization, further highlighting that data-driven journalism is about willpower more than technical obstacles, for the technologies used are usually far from cutting-edge computer science.

OWNI, probably the youngest operation represented at the conference (it started in the second quarter of 2010) works in the same way. Designers, coders and journalists work in the same room following a totally horizontal hierarchy, with 2 project managers, skilled in journalism and code, coordinating the operations.

In other words, data-driven operations are more than buzzwords. They set up processes through which several professions work together to produce new journalistic products.

Journalists need not be passively integrated in data teams, however. Several presenters gave advice and demonstrated tools that will enable journalists to play around with data without the need for coding skills. The endless debate about whether or not journalists should learn programming languages was not heard during the conference; I had the feeling that everybody agreed that these were two different jobs and that no one could excel in both.

Tony Hirst showed what one could do without any programming skills. His blog, OUseful, provides tutorials on how to use mashups, from Yahoo! Pipes to Google Spreadsheets to RDF databases. His presentation was about publishing dynamic data on a Google map. He used Google Spreadsheet’s ability to scrape html pages for data, then processed it in Yahoo Pipes and re-plugged it on a Google Map. Most of the audience was absolutely astonished with what they could do using tools they knew about but did not use in a mashed-up way.

We all agreed that storytelling was at the heart of our efforts. A dataset in itself brings nothing and is often ‘bland’, in the words of Alan McLean. Some governments will even be happy to dump large amount of data online to brag about their transparency efforts, but if the data cannot be easily remixed, letting journalists search through it, its value decreases dramatically. The Financial Times’ Cynthia O’Murchu even stated that she felt more like a ‘pdf cleaner’ than a journalist when confronted with government data.

The value of data-driven journalism comes not from the ability to process a large database and spit it to the user. Data architects have been doing that for the last 40 years to organize Social Security figures, for instance. The data and the computer power we use to process it should never be an end in itself, but must be thought of as a means to tell a story.

The one point to be overlooked was finance. The issue has been addressed only 3 times during the whole day, showing that datajournalism still hasn’t reached a maturity where it can sustain itself. Mirko Lorenz reminded the audience that data was a fundamental part of many media outlets’ business models, from Thomson Reuters to The Economist, with its Intelligence Unit. That said, trying to copy their model would take datajournalists away from storytelling and bring them closer to database managers. An arena in which they have little edge compared to established actors, used to processing and selling data.

OWNI presented its model of co-producing applications with other media and of selling some of them as white label products. Although OWNI’s parent company 22mars is one of the only profitable media outlets in France and that its datajournalism activities are breaking even, the business model was not the point that attracted most attention from the audience.

Finally, Andrew Lyons of Ultra Knowledge talked about his model of tagging archive and presenting them as a NewsWall. Although his solution is not helping storytelling per se, it is a welcome way of monetizing archives, as it allows for newspapers to sponsor archives or events, a path that needs to be explored as CPMs continue to fall down.

His ideas were less than warmly received by the audience, showing that although the entrepreneurial spirit has come to journalism when it comes to shaking up processes and habits, we still have a long way to go to see ground-braking innovation in business models.

Nicolas Kayser-Bril is a datajournalist at OWNI.fr

See tweets from the conference on the Journalism.co.uk Editors’ Blog

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Murdoch’s new iPad newspaper: doomed already?

August 16th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism

Predictions are already being made about the potential of Rupert Murdoch’s reported plans to produce a national newspaper available only on the iPad, as we discussed last month.

Over on Tech Crunch Paul Carr doesn’t mince his words, insisting that the concept is “doomed”. It is not about marketing the value of the contents but a simply money-making exercise he says, which is not a long term solution.

Of course the idea is doomed – that much should go without saying. Like so many of Murdoch’s recent forays into paid-for online news, it reflects less a bold strategy to convince a new generation of readers that good journalism is worth paying for and more the 79-year News Corp proprietor’s desperation to keep the cash flow coming until the company’s profitability becomes someone else’s problem.

But what’s remarkable about this current escapade is that Murdoch is actually proposing to sell a product that people have previously failed to even give away for free.

The LA Times, who also ran an editorial on the plans this weekend, added that News Corp is just another news organisation “scrambling to prop up their bottom lines with new sources of revenue”.

The initiative, which would directly compete with the New York Times, USA Today and other national publications, is the latest attempt by a major media organization to harness sexy new devices to reach readers who increasingly consume their news on the go. The development underscores how the iPad is transforming the reading habits of consumers much like the iPod changed how people listen to music.

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LA Times: Spot.Us expands to Los Angeles

Spot.us, the crowd-funded journalism venture that launched 10 months ago in San Francisco with funding from the Knight Foundation, has expanded to Southern California as its second market, the LA Times reported yesterday.

Full story at this link…

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Editor&Publisher: Bill Keller says future of NYTimes’ public editor still ‘much debated’

August 5th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Bill Keller has responded to the New York Times’ public editor’s unflinching critique of errors made in a piece about Walter Cronkite by Alessandra Stanley, as part of a Q&A with James Rainey from the LA Times, published in full on Editor & Publisher.

Keller suggests that the public editor’s position is still ‘much debated’:

[James Rainey]

Q: Has the public editor helped build the Times’ reputation, or done more to knock the paper’s reputation down? It may help to address this question both as it pertains to this particular episode and, more generally, over the brief history of public editorship.

[Bill Keller]

A: On balance, I think the fact that we offer a paycheck and a platform to an independent critic to second-guess our journalistic judgments is good for, pardon the expression, the brand. I don’t always agree with our public editor, but I think he is fair-minded, his reporting is meticulous, and his targets – as in this case – are usually fair game. He doesn’t just blow raspberries. He tries to explain how bad things happen, and he reports what we are trying to do to avoid future mistakes. Whether a public editor should be a permanent, or at least continuing, fixture at The Times is a question much debated within our walls. I’ve kicked it down the road until we near the end of Clark’s term next year.

UK-related:

Journalism.co.uk is aware of full-time newspaper ombudsmen at the Guardian [Siobhain Butterworth] and the Observer [Stephen Pritchard] and yesterday learned that Sally Baker is feedback editor for the Times. Does anyone know of any other UK titles with full-time and independent readers’ editors? And do those without one need one?

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Trust 2.0 – reports of MJ’s death are not greatly exaggerated

It was fascinating to watch the Michael Jackson rumours hit Twitter late last night (BST) and the mixed reaction to the initial TMZ.com report. An AOL/Telepictures Productions entertainment news site and renowned for having its finger on the pulse, but not quite big or well-known enough to risk the re-tweet or the MSM endorsement? Should we trust it, should we not? The links and telling tweets are reproduced here:

TMZ.com breaks news of the death first:

“We’ve just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50.”

mj2

Many journalists were playing it safe, even with their own personal tweets. Even the ‘semi-journalists’:

Then… a few comments about the weird news culture we live in. Compare the way you heard about Princess Diana to this, for example. This from Meg Pickard, the Guardian’s head of social media development:

But were people being unduly cautious? Ashley Norris – of Shiny Media fame – offered this:

The Sun (by an unnamed ‘online reporter but it has now been updated and by-lined) and the Metro (by a by-lined reporter but the link is now dead) – and others too no doubt – tentatively go with ‘reportedly dead.’ And actually attributed TMZ. Then, phew, a mainstream media source finally gives us likely sources to cling onto. The LA Times.

latimes

Around 23.35 BST (22.35 GMT):The BBC goes for it on TV. In its special breaking television news report on BBC1 after BBC Question Time, and before This Week, they say that Jackson is reported to be dead: citing the LA Times as the main source, then TMZ.com, and then add that the Associated Press is also reporting the death.

Now everyone’s sure that he is dead. The Guardian gets this wonderfully comprehensive tribute article up very quickly (23.26 BST).

TMZ were the winners of the night with publicity all round. Check out the quote from Alan Citron, founding manager for TMZ but who now works for Buzz Media in an email to Beet TV last night:

“TMZ has drifted into a lot of juvenile satire lately, but Harvey’s [Levin, managing editor of TMZ] still the best when it comes to serious celebrity news reporting. It’s highly likely that TMZ will own this story.”

This lovely tweet from @PJButta says it all:

More views on TMZ and trust on Twitter.

As for the print? According to Paul McNally,

One more link-to-print here: the Guardian’s newspaper front page slideshow (presumably a later edition for the Sun).

What have we left out? Leave links and comments below, if you’ve got anything to add.

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