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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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Linking data and journalism: what’s the future?

On Wednesday (September 9), Paul Bradshaw, course director of the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University and founder of HelpMeInvestigate.com, chaired a discussion on data and the future of journalism at the first London Linked Data Meetup. This post originally appeared on the OnlineJournalismBlog.

The panel included: Martin Belam (information architect, the Guardian; blogger, Currybet; John O’Donovan (chief architect, BBC News Online); Dan Brickley (Friend of a Friend project; VU University, Amsterdam; SpyPixel Ltd; ex-W3C); Leigh Dodds (Talis).

“Linked Data is about using the web to connect related data that wasn’t previously linked, or using the web to lower the barriers to linking data currently linked using other methods.” (http://linkeddata.org)

I talked about how 2009 was, for me, a key year in data and journalism – largely because it has been a year of crisis in both publishing and government. The seminal point in all of this has been the MPs’ expenses story, which both demonstrated the power of data in journalism, and the need for transparency from government. For example: the government appointment of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the search for developers to suggest things to do with public data, and the imminent launch of Data.gov.uk around the same issue.

Even before then the New York Times and Guardian both launched APIs at the beginning of the year, MSN Local and the BBC have both been working with Wikipedia and we’ve seen the launch of a number of startups and mashups around data including Timetric, Verifiable, BeVocal, OpenlyLocal, MashTheState, the open source release of Everyblock, and Mapumental.

Q: What are the implications of paywalls for Linked Data?
The general view was that Linked Data – specifically standards like RDF [Resource Description Format] – would allow users and organisations to access information about content even if they couldn’t access the content itself. To give a concrete example, rather than linking to a ‘wall’ that simply requires payment, it would be clearer what the content beyond that wall related to (e.g. key people, organisations, author, etc.)

Leigh Dodds felt that using standards like RDF would allow organisations to more effectively package content in commercially attractive ways, e.g. ‘everything about this organisation’.

Q: What can bloggers do to tap into the potential of Linked Data?
This drew some blank responses, but Leigh Dodds was most forthright, arguing that the onus lay with developers to do things that would make it easier for bloggers to, for example, visualise data. He also pointed out that currently if someone does something with data it is not possible to track that back to the source and that better tools would allow, effectively, an equivalent of pingback for data included in charts (e.g. the person who created the data would know that it had been used, as could others).

Q: Given that the problem for publishing lies in advertising rather than content, how can Linked Data help solve that?
Dan Brickley suggested that OAuth technologies (where you use a single login identity for multiple sites that contains information about your social connections, rather than creating a new ‘identity’ for each) would allow users to specify more specifically how they experience content, for instance: ‘I only want to see article comments by users who are also my Facebook and Twitter friends.’

The same technology would allow for more personalised, and therefore more lucrative, advertising. John O’Donovan felt the same could be said about content itself – more accurate data about content would allow for more specific selling of advertising.

Martin Belam quoted James Cridland on radio: ‘[The different operators] agree on technology but compete on content’. The same was true of advertising but the advertising and news industries needed to be more active in defining common standards.

Leigh Dodds pointed out that semantic data was already being used by companies serving advertising.

Other notes
I asked members of the audience who they felt were the heroes and villains of Linked Data in the news industry. The Guardian and BBC came out well – The Daily Mail were named as repeat offenders who would simply refer to ‘a study’ and not say which, nor link to it.

Martin Belam pointed out that the Guardian is increasingly asking itself ‘how will that look through an API?’ when producing content, representing a key shift in editorial thinking. If users of the platform are swallowing up significant bandwidth or driving significant traffic then that would probably warrant talking to them about more formal relationships (either customer-provider or partners).

A number of references were made to the problem of provenance – being able to identify where a statement came from. Dan Brickley specifically spoke of the problem with identifying the source of Twitter retweets.

Dan also felt that the problem of journalists not linking would be solved by technology. In conversation previously, he also talked of ‘subject-based linking’ and the impact of SKOS [Simple Knowledge Organisation System] and linked data style identifiers. He saw a problem in that, while new articles might link to older reports on the same issue, older reports were not updated with links to the new updates. Tagging individual articles was problematic in that you then had the equivalent of an overflowing inbox.

Finally, here’s a bit of video from the very last question addressed in the discussion (filmed with thanks by @countculture):

Linked Data London 090909 from Paul Bradshaw on Vimeo.

Resources:

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Channel 4 News sources interviewee via Twitter for the first time

Channel 4 News sourced an interview via Twitter today for the first time. Over the last few months the channel has increased its level of communication with users and viewers via its @channel4news Twitter account and presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s own, @krishgm.

After setting up an interview with someone sending Twitter updates from the airport at which an aeroplane crashed in Amsterdam, Guru-Murthy tweeted “It’s just another way of finding people and talking. ‘Twitizen journalism’ is a rather dressy way of describing it I think.”

It’s ‘just a new medium,’ he later added.

This update comes from the news team:

“We got to a good eyewitness at the airport today via Twitter – then a phono. He described the plane ‘in three pieces at least’ and that there wasn’t any visible smoke and gave us good detail – see below on hearing the plane coming down and seeing over 50 ambulances, and possible survivors walking from the wreckage:

“An eyewitness – Jonathan Nip [@nipp] – talking to Channel 4 News initially via Twitter and then on the phone also described the moment the plane came down as a “low thump” saying he thought there had been ‘an earthquake’.

“He added that he thought he saw ‘just after the crash, people coming out of the plane’ but that it was ‘really hard to distinguish’, however adding: ‘at the same time a lot of ambulances came and a lot of emergency helicopters so that implies there are at least some survivors’ although he said ‘it looks really bad in any case’.

“Saying that he thought the speed of the response meant that the ‘rescue operation is being done really well…’ he described seeing ‘a lot of ambulances, I am talking about over 50 ambulances, even emergency helicopters, normal helicopters, a lot of police, firemen, huge fire trucks immediately after crash’.”

Background: A Turkish airline passenger flight crashed in Amsterdam today and broke into several pieces, resulting in an unconfirmed number of casualties: latest update here.

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Archant’s director of business development, Ian Davies dies in plane crash

October 30th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Newspapers

We just heard news that Ian Davies, director of business development at Archant, has died in a plane crash – as reported at the BBC, Press Gazette and in his group’s newspaper, the Norwich Evening News.

Journalism.co.uk is extremely sad to hear of this tragic accident.

On a personal note, I met Ian and some his colleagues for the first time, at the WAN conference in Amsterdam last fortnight.

Despite cornering him after a long conference session to badger him for information about Archant’s hyperlocal news plans, he was only too friendly towards me, happy to help and give suggestions for stories.

I later had opportunity to chat with him more informally and find a bit more out about his views on the media and what he does. He assured me he would always be willing to contribute to related articles.

True to his word, last week he was quick to contribute to an article I was working on at the last minute. I’m very saddened by the premature end to his life.

In an email he told me he was looking forward to working more flexibly at Archant from January, so that he could fit in more time for his passion, flying. His website shows some of his interests. That his life was cut so short, when he had so much enthusiasm for his projects, seems a particularly cruel hand of fate.

Our condolences go out to Ian’s family, friends and colleagues.

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Reflections on Blog08 and ideas for next year’s event

October 27th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events

So the brief day that was Blog08 is over and our blogging reporter, Anne Helmond, is back home. She rounds up over on her own blog, with a few after-thoughts. She also rounds up a presentation by a blogging politician, Boris van der Ham, who has been voted the most web savvy of  Dutch House of Representatives members.

She says:

“Overall, it was a good first blog conference and I hope that next time organizers Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Edial Dekker will keep in mind that not every great blogger is a great speaker and that blogging can be approached from even more different angles and perspectives.”

Thanks to Anne for all the insightful and speedy feedback.

Meanwhile, over at the Online Journalism Blog, Paul Bradshaw – who participated in a panel – does a little piece to camera reflecting on the day’s events:

The event was ‘eclectic and random’, he says – just like blogging, but can we please get past the ‘old chestnut’ question of ‘journalism v blogging’? he asks. You can also watch some other video clips here.

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Blog08: Pictures from the blogging hearth

October 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Events

As written about earlier today, panelists at Blog08 discussed ‘Journalism versus hearth blogging’… and here’s how it looked. You can follow Anne Helmond’s full Flickr stream here. PS. We’re not sure if it is hearth or heart (see below). We think hearth…

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Blog08: Pete Cashmore – Blogging is dead, microblogging is the future

October 24th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events

Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, has said bloggers should be finding niches to blog about and focusing on microblogging, according to Anne Helmond, our blogger on the ground at the Blog08 conference taking place in Amsterdam today.

“Apparently blogging is dead, it’s all about microblogging. Blogging is hard now. How do you compete with blogs created by established media empires who create blogs? Find a niche. What’s the future of blogs? According to Pete it is about how do you aggregate the dispersed conversation that’s on FriendFeed and Twitter, or do you want to completely distribute content as a brand?” Anne writes in a post, which appears in full on her own blog

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Our blogger on the ground at Blog08

October 23rd, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Online Journalism

Anne Helmond will be blogging back from Blog08 for us, with a focus on the online journalism aspects.

You’ll be able to follow Anne’s updates on this blog, or directly at this tag.

Blog08 is a one day only event/conference for all things blog, taking place in Amsterdam with the rather exciting theme of ‘Rockstars of the Web’.

Anne Helmond is a New Media lecturer at the Mediastudies department at the University of Amsterdam.

Her thesis entitled ‘Blogging for Engines. Blogs under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations’ aims to contribute to the existing research on blogs and blogging by framing it from a software-engine perspective and describing a different role of the blogger in this relationship.

She continues her research on blogs and blogging with the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. She blogs at annehelmond.nl.

The not entirely serious video below gives a glimpse of what is in store…
Blog08 Special II from Sacha Post on Vimeo.

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WAN Amsterdam: What have newspapers done to build new audiences?

October 17th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Newspapers, Online Journalism

The 11th Readership Conference is addressing building new print, as well as digital audiences (not just stopping the old readers running away). So how exactly have newspapers across the world successfully built up new audiences? (Quotes and information courtesy of the WAN conference updates)

The Telegraaf in the Netherlands has used sport and social networking

  • Using Hyves.net they used the network’s ‘send to a friend’ function and a widget for users’ home pages that allowed them to see how they were performing against their friends. The contest had 170,000 participants: 110,000 through Hyves and 60,000 through the Telegraaf’s sports site, Telesport.
  • For the Olympics, the Telegraaf provided editorial content to a Hyves web section dedicated to the events which included blogs from Telegraaf reporters in Beijing and other stories from the Telegraaf sports team in Amsterdam.

Lara Ankersmit, publisher for online media, at the paper, said the partnership provided strong branding tied to popular sports events, and more than 170,000 registrations and e-mail addresses.

The Verdens Gang newspaper company in Norway has increased revenue while losing readers

  • A graph of VG’s print circulation decline over the past several years looks like a ski slope – it dropped 20 percent since 2002. But, at the same time, profit increased from 270 million Norwegian krone (31 million euros) to 365 million krone (41 million euros).
  • The approach is ‘continuous product diversification and improving production efficiency considerably’ through new prodcucts such as social networks, and doing more marketing: VG spends 10 million euros annually on market examination.
  • It pays more attention to distribution. Ensuring good product placement at sales outlet is one important focus, as is establishing new outlets, such as coffee shops.

Torry Pederson, CEO of VG said that good journalism that attracts attention, on all platforms. “Don’t cut down on journalistic resources to cover the important stories,” he said.

The Bakersfield Californian is focusing on who isn’t reading the paper

  • In five years, it went from having no weekly newspapers to having three, from no magazines to three magazines, from one website to 11 websites. It created three subsidiaries and built its own social media software.
  • Alongside market research there was commitment to invest in new product development – at least 1 per cent of revenues each.
  • New products recaptured six of the eight percentage points in consumer reach lost by The Californian. It increased non-core revenue from 1 per cent to 12 per cent.

Mary Lou Fulton, vice president of audience development at the paper said “Before, we focused primarily on the circulation, profitability and content of our daily newspaper (…) The essential shift in thinking was to become interested in who was not reading the newspaper or advertising in it. That was a big wake-up call.”

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WAN Amsterdam (audio): Mobile is not emerging: it’s here and we know how to monetise it, say speakers at Digital Revenue Goldmine

October 16th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Mobile, Online Journalism

A range of mobile experts at the WAN World Digital Publishing Conference gave a more optimistic picture than at the AOP summit earlier this month, where speakers, including ITV’s head of mobile, said that we are still waiting for the year of mobile.

But in Amsterdam, just a few weeks later, that sentiment was turned on its head. That next year will be the year of mobile is what people have said each year for five years, said Ilicco Elia, head of mobile for Reuters. No, ‘it’s here’, he told the assembled range of newspaper experts at the World Digital Publishing Conference 2008.

Where as Elia once was employed in ’emerging media’ for Reuters, he now very much part of the mainstream product: “mobile has since emerged,” he said.

Elia certainly objected to one of Martha Stone’s slides during her presentation on online media, which said ‘mobile advertising to become a real business in a few years’. ‘My boss will shoot me, if he sees that’ he said. Elia’s been telling him that is already the case for a while; it is a real business.

While Elia stressed that he did not think “you should be going into mobile to make a lot of money immediately.” He said, “you can make more and more money slowly, slowly. Integrate into the rest of your products and it will come.”

His presentation touched on examples where Reuters have successfully monetized mobile: in the IBM ‘Stop Talking, Start Doing’ campaign (a slogan that should be applied to mobile, Elia said); by using Nokia phone cameras on for fast and effective reporting, and for widgets on iGoogle.

To think about search engine optimisation (SEO) is “a complete and utter given,” he said.
“You have to do it – SEO and SE marketing – and it is a cheap way to send people to your site,” he said.

The other mobile speakers sharing the stage, Jorma Härknönen, the senior vice president at MTV Media in Finland, responsible for internet and consumer businesses said were of similar opinion and Fredrik Oscarson, the founder and VP new business director for Mobiento, a Sweden based mobile marketing agency, were of similar opinion.

“Give it five years time, and I think people will choose to surf news on the mobile, because the mobile will have functionality [e.g GPS] that the internet doesn’t,” Fredrik Oscarson told Journalism.co.uk.

A short interview with Oscarson can be listened to here. He talks about mobile content for newspapers and different ways of advertising on mobile.

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