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#media140 – Impure visual data tool to tell the story

There has been a range of session formats at #media140, from in-depth keynote speeches and discussion roundtables, to more jam-packed workshops showcasing some of the latest tools in social technology.

Today I attended one of the latter, a session on visualising data by Spanish design house Bestiario.

While it was, in a way, a whirlwind tour of the company’s information processing platform Impure, delegates managed to get a great overview of what it can produce (on my part only with thanks to my translator!)

The focus of the session was not about the written story, but simply visualisation, telling the story with infographics using, in essence, a drag and drop technique.

Just today the Guardian published a visualisation by Bestiario looking at who the UK gives aid to and how it has changed.

For a more detailed explanation of how to use the tool you can visit the site itself, but in simple terms the platform enables journalists to create data visualisation projects.

Users can import data files (csv), convert into a table, pull out specific fields, create different data structures and also select from a range of visualisation formats, based on the data you’re working with.

The final visualisations are publicly published on Impure, and users can also embed the infographics on their own site.

At the moment the application is free to use, and the company says there will always be “an open version”, in order to build and maintain a community.

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Jon Bernstein: A telling tale of the twittercrat who wasn’t

September 4th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

So the government is not seeking another Twittercrat after all, ‘someone (…) paid to teach the [it] how to use social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Bebo’.

On one level this is a shame. Take this from the very web 2.0 Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Using the microblogging site Twitter, it announced earlier this week:

“@foreignoffice: Opium cultivation, production and prices are down according to @UNODC report http://bit.ly/qjGVm #afghanistan

As Guido politely asks on his blog:

“Why, if you are trying to eradicate supply in Afghanistan, proudly boast that opium supplies are cheaper?”

Perhaps Whitehall really could do with a deputy to help the Twittercrat-in-chief (aka the director of digital engagement, aka Andrew Stott) to knock the troops into shape.

But that’s not going to happen. In fact, what’s more interesting is to follow the story – how it got out there and how the Cabinet Office went online – with mixed results – to rebut those original claims.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the Daily Telegraph (‘Whitehall expands “Twittercrat” empire‘); Daily Mail (‘Ministers seek £120000-a-year ‘Twittercrat’ to help them communicate on the internet’); Daily Express (‘The Twittercrat on £118,000 a year – and you’re paying’); and a trade journal called Public Journal (‘Now they want a deputy Twittercrat‘); all carried very similar stories about the government’s supposed appointment of a director of digital engagment.

The only problem was that many of the points of fact in all four weren’t true. In its rebuttal statement, the Cabinet Office met each claim head on:

1. The job title is wrong
2. The details of the job description are wrong
3. Claims that the vacancy is for a ‘spin doctor’ are wrong
4. Details of reporting lines are wrong
5. Claims that digital engagement is all about pushing government messages on Facebook are wrong

Got that? It’s all wrong, although the circa £120,000 remuneration (including pension and bonuses) is not challenged.

To be fair to the papers, the job ad on which they were basing their copy lacked clarity. With its calls to ‘embrace’, ‘re-engineer’, ‘extend’ and ‘engage’, the technocratic language is certainly open to some interpretation.

Nevertheless, there were some obvious inaccuracies, not least the job title, worthy of correction. As yet, scanning the print and online versions of these publications, no corrections have been made.

Meanwhile out on the web, the Cabinet Office was doing its bit to get its message across. It floated it out on social networks and the blogosphere. Meanwhile, former cabinet office minister Tom Watson (a Twitter veteran) put this out:

“@tom_watson Old media have problem with the word ‘digital’ when added (or not) to ‘engagement’. Cabinet Office fightback: http://bit.ly/12pI0S

It carried a link to the Cabinet Office statement and was retweeted half a dozen or more times to be seen be many thousands of followers. Thanks to the network effect that underpins social tools like Twitter, word was getting out.

The end result?
A tight(ish) circle of digitally savvy Westminster, Whitehall and media folk and their associates got the message. But beyond that? Probably not quite far enough.

One of the great promises of the internet even in its pre-web 2.0 days was disintermediation, the notion that you can cut out the middle man.

It is an attractive proposition for everyone, from those seeking cheaper car insurance to celebrities keen to protect or repair their reputation to government departments wanting to go over the head of the fourth estate.

As we’ve seen in the recent past, for example in the case of singer Chris Brown, things don’t always turn out how you hope.

As so it is with the Cabinet Office’s attempts to right some wrongs. You and I know there’s more to the Twittercrat story than first thought, but most readers of the Telegraph, Mail and Express probably do not.

A story about outlandish salaries and civil service dilettantism is grist to the mill for those three papers – it plays to their agenda.

But as yet the average reader of all three is still expecting a £120k Twittercrat to head to a Facebook page near them soon.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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Nieman Journalism Lab: NYTimes appoints Jennifer Preston as social media editor

An internal memo from the New York Times, obtained by Nieman Journalism Lab, confirms the appointment of Jennifer Preston as the title’s first social media editor.

“Jennifer will work closely with editors, reporters, bloggers and others to use social tools to find sources, track trends, and break news as well as to gather it. She will help us get comfortable with the techniques, share best practices and guide us on how to more effectively engage a larger share of the audience on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Digg, and beyond,” says the memo to employees.

While Preston will work on developing best practice procedures for social media use at the Times, the memo is clear that this is a progressive issue: “[W]e all need to figure this out together,” it states.

Full memo at this link…

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Social Media Journalist: “BBC journalists are increasingly using Del.icio.us to collaborate and turn research into content” Robin Hamman, BBC Senior Broadcast Journalist

Journalism.co.uk talks to journalists across the globe about social media and how they see it changing their industry. This week, Robin Hamman of the BBC.

Image of Robin Hamman, senior broadcast journalist BBC

1) Who are you and what do you do?
Robin Hamman, I’m a Senior Broadcast Journalist at the BBC where I spend much of my time showing people how to use social media and blogging as part of their ordinary programme and content making processes.

2) Which web or mobile-based social media tools do you use on a daily basis and why?
Most of them! My day starts with a visit to my web-based RSS reader that pulls in all the new content from around 90 blogs and other sources I subscribe to.

Some of those feeds are also things like Technorati, Icerocket and Google blog searches on various keywords. This means I very rarely have to proactively seek out content on the web anymore.

As I read through my RSS feeds I use Del.icio.us to bookmark and share the interesting content I find. This, in turn, publishes into my blog automatically at lunchtime – again, creating content out of something I’d do anyway.

If I’m out and about I’ll use Zonetag on my mobile to tag, location stamp and upload photos to Flickr. I also use Twitter to stay in touch with my friends and contacts, something via mobile, other times online.

If I’m planning to go out of town for work or a conference I put the details into Dopplr so I can see if any of my contacts are also going to be in town. I’m also a big user of Facebook – it, along with Twitter, has pretty much taken the place of email for me recently. I’m also experimenting with a few other social media tools such as qik, which broadcasts live video from my phone to the web, and some RSS aggregation tools like Yahoo Pipes.

3) Of the thousands of social media tools available could you single one out as having the most potential for news either as a publishing or news-gathering tool?
If the question had been simply about online tools, then RSS would be my choice, but as you’ve asked about social tools, Del.icio.us is the one I’d highlight as having a lot of potential.

Get over to the CommonCraft video about it and you’ll soon understand. BBC Journalists and production teams are increasingly discovering and using this great tool to collaborate more easily whilst researching and to turn their research process into content.

4) And the most overrated in your opinion?
Anything to do with video online – I just don’t get it. The only reason I shoot and post video online, aside from when I’m demonstrating how to do it, is to save my hands from having to transcribe a conference presentation that I’m live blogging.

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