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#PPAdigital: Paul Bradshaw’s five principles of data management

September 26th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Events

At today’s PPA Digital Publishing Conference, Paul Bradshaw, publisher of the Online Journalism Blog, visiting professor at City University, London, and course leader for the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, talked about data both in terms of data journalism and data analytics.

He set out five principles of data management.

1. Data is only as good as the person asking questions

Bradshaw said that whether the data is from analytics and used for commercial purposes, or whether it’s editorial data and you are doing an investigation, “the key thing is to have questions to ask” of the data.

That should drive everything, rather than you being led by the data.

2. Data can save time and money

Bradshaw is frequently told that data journalism is resource-intensive or a publishing company does not feel it has resources “to do data stuff”.

But he argues that data saves time, does not have to cost money or rely on having a team of developers.

He explained that people he has trained find they learn computer techniques to do things that they previously did manually.

They might scrape websites very neatly into a spreadsheet, they may pull data from an analytics package into spreadsheet, they might visualise that dynamically – and that all saves time.

You might prepare for a big event by having spreadsheets set up or feeds set up or triggers.

3. Data is about people

There can be a danger of becoming “bogged down in the data”, Bradshaw warned. “But really stories are told about people and to people.”

He advises taking “a step back from that data” to find “the people that it is telling a story about”.

He said that in the case of data journalism, that is about finding case studies; in the case of analytics you can use the data to create profiles or pictures of the people who are using your site.

4. Good data is social, sticky and useful

“If data is going to be useful it needs to have a point, people need to be able to do something with it,” Bradshaw said.

People may share it socially, he explained. And it becomes “sticky” if it allows people to spend time exploring it.

5. You can be driven by the data or driven by the story

“Sometimes you are getting data passively and you are looking for stories in it, sometimes you are seeking out data because of the story or lead or question you have,” Bradshaw explained. And that comes back to his first point. “It’s really important to have questions” rather than to be “passively driven by the data”.

And Bradshaw demonstrated how his principles make “a lot more sense” when you replace the word ‘data’ with ‘journalism’.

  • Journalism is only as good as the person asking questions
  • Journalism can save time and money
  • Journalism is about people
  • Good journalism is social, sticky and useful
  • You can be driven in journalism by the source or driven by the story

Listen below to hear audio of Paul Bradshaw setting out his five principles of data management:

Paul Bradshaw leads data journalism courses for Journalism.co.uk. The next course is on 5 December. There are details at this link.

 

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Guardian Developer Blog: Journalists compile a Christmas wish list for developers

December 15th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

Image by Mike_fleming on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The Guardian Developer Blog has posted December’s “Carnival of journalism” round-up, after asking “what journalists and programmers might exchange as presents during the festive season”.

It’s well worth a read to find out the wish lists of some key people interested in the space where journalism and technology meet.

Journalism lecturer Paul Bradshaw’s “fantasy” Christmas list includes wishing for the ability to cross link in ways to make journalism more transparent.

One item on his list is the ability to:

Add contextual information on any individual mentioned in a story, for example a politician who receives payment from a particular industry.

Another is for journalists to be able to:

Give users critical information about the source of particular information – beyond “Pictures from YouTube”

This idea got the thumbs up from the post’s author Martin Belam:

Jonathan Frost at Wannabehacks also warmed my heart by concluding that “User experience should be the next big thing in journalism and development. Don’t leave the designer out in the snow.”

Belam’s article with links to all related posts is here: December’s “Carnival of journalism” round-up

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#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – simplifying investigations

Over on the HelpMeInvestigate blog Paul Bradshaw has compiled an incredibly useful list of five ways to simplify investigations. The tips include writing a hypothesis, breaking down the process into more manageable tasks and keeping a record. He also offers plenty of tools and resources to help put these tips into action.

Tipster: Rachel McAthy

If you have a tip you would like to submit to us at Journalism.co.uk email us using this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.

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News of the World: Reaction to closure of 168-year-old title

July 7th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Newspapers

The News of the World has announced it is to close, with the final edition to be published this Sunday, and already the blogs have begun posting reaction.

Paul Bradshaw writes:

It took almost exactly 3 days – 72 hours – to kill off a 168-year-old brand. Yes, there were other allegations and two years in the lead up to The Guardian’s revelation that Milly Dowler was targeted by the newspaper. But Milly Dowler and the various other ordinary people who happened to be caught up in newsworthy events (kidnappings, victims of terrorist attacks, families of dead soldiers), were what turned the whole affair.

So while the Sun may be moving to seven-day production, that doesn’t make this a rebranding or a relaunch. As of Monday, The News of the World brand is dead, 168 years of journalistic history offered up as a sacrifice.

Charlie Beckett comments:

From the Newscorp point of view this is a sensible way to try to put this scandal into the past and to separate it from the BSkyB deal. It does not get to the bottom of the phone-hacking issue, however, leaving big questions against Rebekah Brooks. It does seem that Rupert Murdoch would rather shut a newspaper than sack his loyal lieutenant.

While the Huffington Post is now leading with “End Of The World” as its liveblog of the closure.

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Exciting experiment or nothing new? Bloggers’ take on Huffington Post UK

Arianna Huffington is launching the UK version of her American blog-orientated news site the Huffington Post this week, and the move has sparked debate in the blogosphere.

Huffington launched the Canada arm last month, but Huffington Post UK will be the site’s first foray outside of North America, with a French version set to follow soon.

Speaking to Ian Burrell for the Independent, Paul Bradshaw, professor of online journalism at City University comments about the difference between UK and US media landscapes that may require a different approach.

“It’s going to be hard for The Huffington Post to communicate what they stand for,” says Bradshaw, who is not inclined to blog for the site. “In the UK they are known as the site that sold to AOL. In the US they might have been known as the site that offered an alternative voice but there’s a different media landscape over here.”

In the same piece, Brian Cathcart, who teaches journalism at Kingston University, adds:

“They will need some new ideas, some really inspired appointments, and to discover some talent. It doesn’t seem that the existing model in the US would offer us anything terribly exciting and new over here.”

Paul Bradshaw may not be persuaded to write for the site but blogger and podcaster Neville Hobson is. In a post titled On board with The Huffington Post UK, Hobson writes that he relishes being part of “a grand experiment”.

So what’s in it for me? To a great extent, I see it as being part of a grand experiment, contributing my opinion and commentary on topics that interest me and that will be published in an online medium that has huge scale and reach. It offers an opportunity for such opinion and commentary to reach many people who, frankly, would be unlikely to visit my blog.

It also means that I’ll be writing for a mainstream medium. That traditionally means you need to be a journalist, which I’m not. I don’t know yet who any of the other bloggers are who’ll be writing for the UK edition, but my guess is that a majority will not be journalists.

Overseas expansion does of course mean a clutch of new hires, but Bobbie Johnson of GigaOm views the operation as “low-risk”, and points to several reasons why.

Well, first, that Huffington Post UK is looking — on the surface, at least — more like a reworking of the current AOL UK operation than a brand new entity. That’s a low-risk strategy, but as I’ve previously argued, it might take more to make an impact in a highly competitive media market like Britain.

Secondly, it’s interesting that this team consists almost exclusively of young journalists, with very few of the high-level, experienced hands that Huffington has made a great play of luring over in the United States. There’s no equivalent, for example, to the likes of political heavy-hitter Howard Fineman, brought over from Newsweek, media reporting veteran Michael Calderone from Yahoo or award-winning reporter Trymaine Lee from the New York Times.

I asked my Twitter followers what they thought of the project, and received a variety of responses.

Adam Tinworth, Editorial Business Manager for Reed Business Information pointed out the possible disruption created by the launch.

 

 

Graphic designer and student journalist Jonathan Frost was very enthusiastic.

 

 

While subeditor Paul Wiggins was rather more succinct.

 

 

Finally, if you want to get involved in blogging for the Huffington Post when it hits UK shores, food journalist Andrew Webb has helpfully published the full requirements on his blog.

For now you can follow their progress via the dedicated Twitter account @HuffPostUK, whose first tweet had a distinctly non-UK feel to it.

 

Image of Arianna Huffington by Knight Foundation on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Disclosure: Joseph Stashko is a blogger for Huffington Post UK.

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Facebook lessons: from Paul Bradshaw and PageLever

Yesterday Paul Bradshaw shared his experience of running a blog entirely through a Facebook Page for four weeks, offering his thoughts on the month-long project in a post back on his Online Journalism Blog.

In the early days of the experiment he had already started noticing the pros and cons of the platform, from the impact of the 400 character limit on what he could write, to the possibilities presented by being able to post from a mobile phone via email.

So a month later here are his main reflections:

  • Facebook suits emotive material

The most popular posts during that month were simple links that dealt with controversy.

  • It requires more effort than most blogs

With most blogging it’s quite easy to ‘just do it’ and then figure out the bells and whistles later. With a Facebook Page I think a bit of preparation goes a long way – especially to avoid problems later on.

  • It isn’t suited to anything you might intend to find later

Although Vadim Lavrusik pointed out that you can find the Facebook Page through Google or Facebook’s own search, individual posts are rather more difficult to track down. The lack of tags and categories also makes it difficult to retrieve updates and notes – and highlights the problems for search engine optimisation.

  • It should be part of a network strategy

So, in short, while it’s great for short-term traffic, it’s bad for traffic long term. It’s better for ongoing work and linking than for more finished articles.

And his overall conclusion: Facebook should be used as “one more step in a distributed strategy” not in isolation.

Usefully in his post he offers a list of apps he used to integrate his Facebook content with his other online presences, which might a good reference point for others looking to use Facebook in a similar way:

  • RSS Graffiti (for auto-posting RSS feeds from elsewhere)
  • SlideShare (adds a new tab for your presentations on that site)
  • Cueler YouTube (pulls new updates from your YouTube account)
  • Tweets to Pages (pulls from your Twitter account into a new tab)
  • There’s also Smart Twitter for Pages which publishes page updates to Twitter; or you can use Facebook’s own Twitter page to link pages to Twitter.

There was also some interesting research published this month which looked at Facebook fan pages and engagement. According to the 10,000 Words blog a study was carried out by Facebook research company PageLever which suggested that as a fan page’s membership grows, engagement and page-views-per-member actually decreases.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, looking at the Fan Page and seeing that 10,000 people like your business on Facebook has its benefits. It makes you feel good.

But when it comes time to talk value, it can be a bit more difficult to find the silver lining. You might have 1,000 Likes on Facebook, but if you’re averaging around five Likes or comments per post, then only 0.005 per cent of your users saw the post and cared enough about it to respond.

Read more here…

Related content:

‘Readers may have the last say in what is and is not journalism’

How to: liveblog – lessons from news sites

#bbcsms: Al Jazeera developing new media tutorials for citizens

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Peer Index: The top 100 UK journalists on Twitter

Peer Index has ranked the 100 most authoritative UK journalists on Twitter. The ranking platform uses resonance, reach, activity, and other metrics to tot up a number for tweeters.

In first place is Telegraph fashion and style writer Hilary Alexander, who currently commands a Peer Index of 78 and a following of 176,238.

In second place is Bad Science blogger and Guardian writer Ben Goldacre, who has an index of 76 and a following of 105,885.

Journalism lecturer and founder of helpmeinvestigate.com Paul Bradshaw, who will be speaking at Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired conference, is in 7th place, and fellow news:rewired speaker Kevin Anderson is 10th.

See the full list at this link.

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From alpha users to a man in Angola: Adventures in crowdsourcing and journalism

Yesterday’s Media Standards Trust data and news sourcing event presented a difficult decision early on: Whether to attend “Crowdsourcing and other innovations in news sourcing” or “Open government data, data mining, and the semantic web”. Both sessions looked good.

I thought about it for a bit and then plumped for crowdsourcing. The Guardian’s Martin Belam did this:

Belam may have then defied a 4-0 response in favour of the data session, but it does reflect the effect of networks like Twitter in encouraging journalists – and others – to seek out the opinion or knowledge of crowds: crowds of readers, crowds of followers, crowds of eyewitnesses, statisticians, or anti-government protestors.

Crowdsourcing is nothing new, but tools like Twitter and Quora are changing the way journalists work. And with startups based on crowdsourcing and user-generated content becoming more established, it’s interesting to look at the way that they and other news organisations make use of this amplified door-to-door search for information.

The MST assembled a pretty good team to talk about it: Paul Lewis, special projects editor, the Guardian; Paul Bradshaw, professor of journalism, City University and founder of helpmeinvestigate.com; Turi Munthe, founder, Demotix; and Bella Hurrell, editor, BBC online specials team.

From the G20 protests to an oil field in Angola

Lewis is perhaps best known for his investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson following the G20 protests, during which he put a call out on Twitter for witnesses to a police officer pushing Tomlinson to the ground. Lewis had only started using the network two days before and was, he recalled, “just starting to learn what a hashtag was”.

“It just seemed like the most remarkable tool to share an investigation … a really rich source of information being chewed over by the people.”

He ended up with around 20 witnesses that he could plot on a map. “Only one of which we found by traditional reporting – which was me taking their details in a notepad on the day”.

“I may have benefited from the prestige of breaking that story, but many people broke that story.”

Later, investigating the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga aboard an airplane, Lewis again put a call out via Twitter and somehow found a man “in an oil field in Angola, who had been three seats away from the incident”. Lewis had the fellow passenger send a copy of his boarding pass and cross-checked details about the flight with him for verification.

But the pressure of the online, rolling, tweeted and liveblogged news environment is leading some to make compromises when it comes to verifying information, he claimed.

“Some of the old rules are being forgotten in the lure of instantaneous information.”

The secret to successful crowdsourcing

From the investigations of a single reporter to the structural application of crowdsourcing: Paul Bradshaw and Turi Munthe talked about the difficulties of basing a group or running a business around the idea.

Among them were keeping up interest in long-term investigations and ensuring a sufficient diversity among your crowd. In what is now commonly associated with the trouble that WikiLeaks had in the early days in getting the general public to crowdsource the verification and analysis of its huge datasets, there is a recognised difficulty in getting people to engage with large, unwieldy dumps or slow, painstaking investigations in which progress can be agonisingly slow.

Bradshaw suggested five qualities for a successful crowdsourced investigation on his helpmeinvestigate.com:

1. Alpha users: One or a small group of active, motivated participants.

2. Momentum: Results along the way that will keep participants from becoming frustrated.

3. Modularisation: That the investigation can be broken down into small parts to help people contribute.

4. Publicness: Publicity vía social networks and blogs.

5. Expertise/diversity: A non-homogenous group who can balance the direction and interests of the investigation.

The wisdom of crowds?

The expression “the wisdom of crowds” has a tendency of making an appearance in crowdsourcing discussions. Ensuring just how wise – and how balanced – those crowds were became an important part of the session. Number 5 on Bradshaw’s list, it seems, can’t be taken for granted.

Bradshaw said that helpmeinvestigate.com had tried to seed expert voices into certain investigations from the beginning, and encouraged people to cross-check and question information, but acknowledged the difficulty of ensuring a balanced crowd.

Munthe reiterated the importance of “alpha-users”, citing a pyramid structure that his citizen photography agency follows, but stressed that crowds would always be partial in some respect.

“For Wikipedia to be better than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it needs a total demographic. Everybody needs to be involved.”

That won’t happen. But as social networks spring up left, right, and centre and, along with the internet itself, become more and more pervasive, knowing how to seek out and filter information from crowds looks set to become a more and more important part of the journalists tool kit.

I want to finish with a particularly good example of Twitter crowdsourcing from last month, in case you missed it.

Local government press officer Dan Slee (@danslee) was sat with colleagues who said they “didn’t get Twitter”. So instead of explaining, he tweeted the question to his followers. Half an hour later: hey presto, he a whole heap of different reasons why Twitter is useful.

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Engagement, technology, and strawberry ice cream: Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture

Is ice cream strawberry?

That’s a thinker, as they say. Translated, the enigmatic title of Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture as professor of online journalism at London’s City University begins to make more sense:

Asking ‘is ice cream strawberry’ is like asking ‘is blogging journalism’?

And asking ‘is blogging journalism’, he said, is just like asking: Is writing journalism? Is printing journalism? Is broadcasting journalism?

History is littered with those who have confronted new ways of doing things with apprehension and mistrust. I’m sure there was more than a little consternation when News International staff arrived at Wapping to find computer terminals everywhere. Likewise the telephone, telegraph, and so on. Bradshaw was keen to get across last night that it isn’t the tools and technologies that really matter, they are all just different flavours of the same thing.

But new tools and technologies aren’t merely incidental, they don’t just come and go without having an impact on the way we do things. They have a pretty profound impact on the way some things are done and that can’t be ignored. For example: technology has brought about the much-discussed opening up of journalism into a kind of two-way street.

Some young, “digital native” journalists swagger down this two-way street, happy to meet and greet people as they go, making conversation, listening to others, and so on. And there are undoubtedly old Fleet Street hacks who have taken to it like a duck to water. But there are undoubtedly those, young and old, who are afraid to stray into that part of town.

Two examples:

Example 1

Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones published a piece recently on that cropped photo of the 7/7 bombers.

It received some pretty critical responses in the comments boxes below.

And in the spirit (perhaps formative, misguided in this case) of the new, web 2.0 world, Jones engaged with his readers:

Example 2 (from Bradshaw’s lecture)

In my first class here at City a student asked why they should waste time engaging with people online. I rather testily replied ‘Why publish your work at all? Why bother dealing with editors and subs and your colleagues? Why bother talking to sources and experts? Why not keep your precious piece of journalism locked away in your basement where it will never be sullied by the dirty gaze of other people? If you don’t want to engage with people, write fiction. (My emphasis).

Picking up on Jones’ comments, Fleet Street Blues advised: “The best advice? Don’t read the comments, ever.” But Bradshaw’s retort to his student, neatly summed up by that soundbite of a last sentence, points to the fallacy in the Fleet Street Blues’ stance. Pushing out content and walking away isn’t going to be an option for much longer, and throwing a very public tantrum isn’t a forward-thinking alternative.

There is a pragmatic and structural dimension to this whole argument, many journalists would pretty quickly tell you it is a fanciful idea that they have time to engage with readers, tweeters and commenters and large organisations may prefer to have their audience engagement dealt with by people who are trained, and aren’t going to suddenly demand a fucking apology and some respect.

Some news organisations are nearer the head of the curve, taking on dedicated community managers to engage with readers and guide reporters in doing the same, or taking steps to address how they manage communities of anonymous commenters. Some undoubtedly have a way to go.

Despite the attitude of that particular student of Bradshaw’s, perhaps there is a new generation of journalists coming through now, familiar with the technology and attitudes, for whom this stuff will be second nature.

Bradshaw advised his audience last night: “Don’t perpetuate the myth that technology causes things to happen. People do.”

I’m sure that technologies – which have a habit of turning out to be great at things they weren’t intended to do and influencing thinking and attitudes with their own unexpected capacities – have a more active role in “causing things to happen” than Bradshaw makes out. But however you see the balance, development will continue in the direction of opening platforms up and increasing communication between journalists and readers in all sorts of ways.

So if you’re not up for it, you’d better hope you have a novel in you.

Image of strawberry ice cream by joyosity. Some rights reserved

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Paul Bradshaw: journalism’s invisible history – and conflicted future

March 3rd, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Comment, Journalism

Paul Bradshaw is a visiting professor in online journalism at City University, London. This evening (Thursday 3 March 2011) he will be giving his inaugural lecture at City University: “Is Ice Cream Strawberry? Journalism’s invisible history – and conflicted future”. Here is an excerpt from it:

Cars, Roads and Picnics

Paul Bradshaw

Paul Bradshaw: not rotten

Throughout the 20th century there were two ways of getting big things done – and a third way of getting small things done. Clay Shirky sums these up very succinctly in terms of how people organise car production, road building, and picnics.

If you want to organise the production of cars, you use market systems. If you want to organise the construction of roads, you use central, state systems of funding – because there is a benefit to all. And if you want to organise a picnic, well, you use social systems.

In the media industry these three line up neatly with print, broadcast and online production.

  • The newspaper industry grew up in spite of government regulation
  • The broadcast industry grew up thanks to government regulation
  • And online media grew up while the government wasn’t looking.

Now some media organisations have generally organised along the lines of car production, and others along the lines of road construction. And there were some examples of alternative media that were organised like picnics. Different media organisations got along fine without treading on each others’ toes: The Times wasn’t too threatened by the BBC, and the NME wasn’t too threatened by the fanzine photocopying audiophile.

But digitisation and convergence has mixed these businesses together in the same space, leading to some very confused feelings from publishers and journalists.

This is how news production used to be: a linear process, limited by physical constraints. You went out to get the story, you came back to write it up, or edit it, and then you handed it over to other people to edit, design, print and distribute.

Production was the first part to become digitised, turning a physical good into an intangible one – this saved on transportation time and costs but it also meant that there were limitless, identical copies. And it lowered the barrier to entry which had for so long protected publishers’ businesses from competition.

Newsgathering was the next element to become digitised, as an increasing amount of information was transmitted digitally. In fact, in some cases journalists began to write computer programs to do the grunt work while they got on with more important business of investigating and verifying leads.

Then finally, media companies simply lost control of distribution. This has gone through a number of phases: initially distribution was dominated by curated directories and portals like Yahoo! and MSN, which then gave way to search engines like Google, and these are now being overtaken by social networks such as Facebook.

And this is not over: the net neutrality issue could see distribution dominated by telecomms companies – an issue I’ll come on to later.

This move from a linear physical production process to a non-linear one online is one of the bases for the Model for a 21st Century Newsroom that I published three years ago.

Disintermediated, disaggregated, modularised

As the media went online, three things happened:

  • It was disintermediated by the web,
  • Disaggregated by links
  • And modularised by digitisation.

Put in plainer language, once newsgathering, production and distribution became digital they could be done by different people, in different places, and at different times – including non-journalists.

It’s important to point out that there is no ‘natural’ way to do journalism. There are hundreds of ways to tell a story, to investigate a question, or to distribute information. Institutions and cultures have grown up out of compromises over the years as they explored those possibilities and their limitations.

When you remove physical limitations you remove many of the reasons for the ways for making those compromises.

See also: Paul Bradshaw: five predictions for journalism in 25 years


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