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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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Hyperlocal aggregator Everyblock launches new widget

Hyperlocal news and information aggregator Everyblock has launched a new location-based widget targeted at local newspaper websites and blogs.

The widget allows third party sites to embed Everyblock’s news and information feeds for specific areas on their own sites.

Posting on the Everyblock blog, co-founder Daniel X. O’Neil, said: “Until today, we’ve had no official way to share content with other sites or to partner with news outlets in the cities we cover.”

The site was created by Adrian Holovaty in 2008 as a hyperlocal news resource for neighbourhoods in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. It has since expanded to 16 US cities and was bought by MSNBC in August 2009.

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The growth of online watchdogs: are they ‘journalism’ and does it matter?

July 24th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Comment, Events, Online Journalism

The influence of UK-based democracy organisation, mySociety, often gets forgotten, perhaps deliberately downplayed, in the British press. Let’s go back to the MP expenses row, for example. Well before the Telegraph played its central role in exposing the various scandals, mySociety saw a significant campaign victory when Gordon Brown U-turned on an attempt to keep certain MP expenses details private, back in January.

At the time, mySociety’s founder, Tom Steinberg said: “This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellweather for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the internet has seen to that.” But did mySociety’s, in my view, undeniably influential part get reported in the UK press? Not really.

So it was good to see that in Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s speech at the Media Standards Trust event earlier this week, all of which will be available to watch here, he opened with examples of online projects (two mentions for mySociety) – that do exactly what newspapers do – or used to – do. Is it journalism, but does it matter, he wondered.

Rusbridger gave three examples that showed, he said, ‘changes in how information is organised, personalised, ordered, stored, searched for, published and shared.’ These sites, he said, have many things in common with conventional journalism, ‘dealing with facts, with statistics, with information about public life, politics and services.’

  • FixMyStreet (mySociety). Just as the Cotswold Journal draws public attention to potholes, FixMyStreet allows users to identify problems in their local area, and get them noticed. “That to me is essentially what a local newspaper is or was,” Rusbridger said. It’s ‘much more responsive’ and allows a ‘direct transaction between the citizen and the council’ he said. And it’s ‘crucially cheaper than sending out a reporter and a photographer,’ he added. “I don’t know whether that’s journalism or not, I don’t know if that matters.”
  • TheyWorkForYou (mySociety). This, Rusbridger said, was ‘essentially what has replaced, or will replace’ parliamentary reporting, as he flashed up on the screen an example of the old-style reports from the Times in 1976. It’s ‘better than what went before’ he said. “I don’t know if that’s journalism or whether it matters.”
  • EveryBlock. It provides information on local areas, just as a local paper does or did. Adrian Holovaty’s US-based project allows one to ‘drill down into every neighbourhood’ in a personalised way, he said.  Crimes on your route to work can be plotted. “I don’t know if that’s journalism or whether that matters but I think it’s fantastically interesting.”

This is the relevant part of Rusbridger’s speech:

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Adrian Holovaty: Is data journalism? The answer

May 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

“1. Who cares?

2. I hope my competitors waste their time arguing about this as long as possible.”

Full (-er) post at this link…

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Adrian Holovaty: It’s not hyperlocal, it’s microlocal

December 5th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

EveryBlock is aiming for coverage at micro not hyperlocal level, says Holovaty.

“Micro implies intense focus, incredibly small scale and rich depth,” he says.

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Spanish websites claim top prizes at ONA awards

September 15th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

ELPAIS.com and Soitu.es claimed the first general excellence awards for non-English language sites at the Online News Association (ONA) 2008 awards on Saturday.

Speaking of ElPais.com, the judges said the site was ‘a shining example of how traditional media can blossom in the digital arena.’

“On a bedrock of first-class journalism it has built a brilliant suite of infographics that are rich in information, yet easy to consume,” they added in a press statement.

‘Bearing Witness‘, Reuters multimedia coverage of fallout from the invasion of Iraq in 2003, took the best multimedia feature award in the large sites category, while Adrian Holovaty’s EveryBlock was awarded the prize for outstanding use of digital technology by a small site.

A full list of the winners across the 23 awards and comments from the judges is available through the ONA awards website, but are listed in brief below:

Knight award for public service – WashingtonPost.com, Fixing D.C. Schools

General excellence (small site)– ArmyTimes.com

General excellence (medium site) – LasVegasSun.com

General excellence (large site) – CNN.com

General excellence, non-English (small site) – Soitu.es

General excellence, non-English (large site) – ELPAIS.com

Breaking news (medium site) – STLtoday.com, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kirkwood shootings

Breaking news (large site) – NYTimes.com, Eliot Spitzer’s resignation

Investigative journalism (small site) – RecordOnline.com, The Times Herald Record (Middletown, N.Y.) “I Didn’t Do That Murder”: Lebrew Jones and the death of Micki Hall

Investigative journalism, (large site) – DallasNews.com, The Dallas Morning News, Unequal Justice, and The Globe and Mail, Talking to the Taliban

Multimedia feature (small site) – GEO.fr, Hidden World

Multimedia feature (medium sites) – STLtoday.com, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Reporting for Duty

Multimedia feature (large site) – Reuters.com, Bearing Witness

Online commentary (small site) – Mark Fiore, MarkFiore.com, animated political cartoons

Online commentary (medium site) – The Bottom Line, DallasNews.com, The Dallas Morning News

Online commentary (large site) – God-O-Meter, Beliefnet.com

Online video presentation – OregonLive.com, The Oregonian, Living to the End

Outstanding use of digital technology (small site) – Everyblock.com

Outstanding use of digital technology (large site) – DesMoinesRegister.com, Iowa Caucuses

Specialty site journalism – WebMD

Student journalism – University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill & Universidad de los Andes, South of Here, and Taylor Hayden, Western Kentucky University, Closer to Home: A Daughter Becomes Caregiver

Topical reporting (small sites) – Azstarnet.com, Arizona Daily Star, Immigration in the Spotlight

Topical reporting (large sites) – USAToday.com, Today in the Sky

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Are online maps ‘whitewashing’ the UK? Not in the hands of the news providers

August 29th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

Online maps are erasing the UK’s history and geography, according to the president of the British Cartographic Society.

Quoted in a BBC report, Mary Spence said internet maps, such as those provided by Google and Microsoft’s Multimap, are missing out ‘crucial data’ on local landmarks and history.

It’s not all bad news online, however: mash ups like the Open Street Map are leading the retaliation against this ‘corporate blankwash’, Spence says.

The rising popularity of interactive maps amongst news organisations – whether its the Hartlepool Mail’s Plot the Grots and Plot the Pots campaigns or the BBC’s recent Beijing Olympics map – could be the next step in the fightback.

First off, they serve up information to the reader in a digestible and filterable way. What is more, while these examples might not highlight cultural hotspots, they endow the humble online map with a living and breathing sense of the geography they chart.

With the potential to personalise the data plotted on these maps to a street-by-street level – as Adrian Holovaty’s Everyblock project allows – internet mapping in the hands of news organisations should only get richer.

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EveryBlock teams up with the Chicago Tribune

July 24th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

EveryBlock, the local news and data aggregation service, has gone into a beta partnership with the Chicago Tribune.

The paper will publish a map and local news articles powered by EveryBlock, an announcement on the site’s blog says. Articles from the last 48 hours will be plotted on the Trib map to allow users to search geographically.

“[I]t’s an experiment in a new form of news dissemination – that is, news filtered at the block level – and journalists can look to us for inspiration in new forms of publishing information. Second, we unearth a lot of government data that journalists might be interested in researching further,” EveryBlock founder Adrian Holovaty said in an interview with Journalism.co.uk.

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Everyblock launches in two new cities

July 1st, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

Hyperlocal news mapping site Everyblock has launched in two new cities in the US.

Charlotte and Philadelphia join Chicago, New York and San Francisco as cities mapped by the site.

Adrian Holovaty, founder of local crime news site chicagocrime.org, launched Everyblock at the start of the year as a destination where users could search for civic information and news items by address, postcode or neighbourhood on an interactive map.

Holovaty started the site with a £550,000 grant awarded by last year’s Knight News Challenge competition.

In addition to the public information already found on the city maps the new sites will add extra layers of content.

The Charlotte map will include library information, updating listings with new titles available locally and chart all local 911 calls to the police and ‘significant police events’ in the city.

The location of series crimes will charted on the Philadelphia map along with areas mentioned by the local authority’s Streets and Services agenda bodies.

Any area of Charlotte mentioned in city council meeting minutes or zoning minutes will be charted on that map.

“We’re analyzing the text of these meeting minutes/agendas for all locations referenced therein,” wrote Holovaty.

“If the city council or rules committee mentions something near you, you’ll see it on your EveryBlock page.”

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Innovations in Journalism – Everyblock

March 14th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Multimedia, Online Journalism

We give developers the opportunity to tell us journalists why we should sit up and pay attention to the sites and devices they are working on. Today it’s aggregated news laid out across interactive city maps with Everyblock.

image of everyblock website

1) Who are you and what’s it all about?
I’m Adrian Holovaty. EveryBlock is an experiment in aggregating news at the block level in selected cities. Our site, which currently covers Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, allows you to view recent news for any address in the city.

We offer three broad types of news:

  • Public records, such as crimes, restaurant inspections, building permits, zoning changes
  • Links to news reports, such as newspaper articles and blog entries
  • Fun from the web, such as nearby Flickr photos or Craigslist ‘missed connection’ postings

The idea is that we collect all of this information from across the web (and directly from city governments themselves) and slice it geographically, so you can stay updated with what’s happening near you.

2) Why would this be useful to a journalist?
EveryBlock is useful to journalists in two ways.

First, it’s an experiment in a new form of news dissemination – that is, news filtered at the block level – and journalists can look to us for inspiration in new forms of publishing information. We’re funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation, whose goal it is to promote innovation in the journalism industry, and we’re a test-bed for this idea.

Second, we unearth a lot of government data that journalists might be interested in researching further. We only launched a few weeks ago, and already a few journalists have used our site to find trends and break stories on their own. This happens particularly because we make it so easy to browse government databases. Here are two examples:

http://chicagoist.com/2008/03/05/trader_vics_is.php
http://cbs5.com/investigates/SF.hotel.safety.2.671667.html

3) Is this it, or is there more to come?
There is much, much more to come. As I mentioned above, we’ve only been around since late January. We plan to add more cities, more data and more features.

4) Why are you doing this?
This is an experiment. We’re doing it because it’s interesting, because it’s fun and because it’s an exciting new idea.

5) What does it cost to use it?
The service is entirely free. Unlike some newspaper sites, you don’t even have to submit an evil registration form!

6) How will you make it pay?
We have the luxury of not having to worry about that for a while. We’re funded by a grant for two years, and we’ve only been working on this project for about seven months at this point.

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