According to a report late last week from allmediascotland, several Scottish news groups will carry local authority vacancies on their job sites once more, following a deal with recruitment site myjobscotland.gov.uk – recently set up by the Convention of Local Scottish Authorities (CoSLA).
Concerns have been raised by regional media groups over local authority sites such as CoSLA’s jobs site with news groups arguing that these sites stymie a traditional revenue stream for titles by taking away local government job listings.
The latest development seems to be a step towards addressing the problems of migrating classified advertising revenue online for both local authorities and news groups.
Scottish government plans to remove government listings and statutory notices in local newspapers – therefore further impacting on classified revenues, have also been criticised by the industry.
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.
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):
The all-party report led by former cabinet minister Alan Milburn, has triggered a nationwide debate on issues of social mobility and whether social class divides can be overcome to provide equal career opportunities to all. Journalists found their profession branded ‘one of the most exclusive middle-class professions’. The industry was urged to provide financial support to interns from less wealthy backgrounds and adopt a best practice code.
Media organisations were accused of recruiting trainee journalists for internships for as long as one year, without payment, as a means of filling staffing gaps instead of providing appropriate training. The unpaid placements automatically filtered out students to only those who could afford the experience, usually middle class ones, or those willing to incur massive debts.
The National Union of Journalists immediately welcomed the outcomes of the report and heralded the best practice code for internships as ‘a first step in tackling bogus work experience‘. The union has been campaigning for years against exploitation of work experience placements, proposing the payment of a minimum wage to students on training. Speaking in a release issued earlier in the week, the NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said that the report ‘shows how the use of unpaid internships has undermined the diversity of our profession’. “Too many employers see internships as a way of getting work done for free, without any thought towards their responsibilities to provide would-be journalists with a learning opportunity.”
In his Guardian blog, Roy Greenslade talked about his humble beginnings as a working-class journalist, alongside others of the same social class at regional newspapers until he was struck by the class divide between the middle-class broadsheets and the working-class tabloids in Fleet Street. Although boundaries are now less obvious between the papers, higher tuition fees at universities meant education was dearer, and less accessible. As journalism became increasingly popular in the 1990s, degree holders were preferred over school-leavers, starting the unfair selection process which favoured the middle class.
A report in 2006 by the Sutton Trust [PDF at this link] showed that more than half of editorial posts at leading national newspapers had been educated at private schools, that is to say, middle class. As middle-class senior editors tend to appoint others like themselves, birds of a different, less privileged feather cannot find a way into the flock.
The Milburn report also pointed out that ‘qualification inflation’ is a barrier towards equal social opportunities. If once an academic degree or an MA were considered desirable for a career in journalism, some people, such as Press Gazette’s Dominic Ponsford, believe it is not the case any more as theoretical courses often do not provide the practical skills needed in a ‘real’ newsroom.
There is recourse for students who could not afford the fast-track course: “Our course is accredited by the Learning and Skills Council, so students can apply for a career development loan (www.direct.gov.uk) or the Journalism Diversity Fund (www.journalismdiverstityfund.co.uk),” says O’Shea.
A lack of diversity in news media could pose a problem for journalism, says Charlie Beckett, director of the journalism think-tank Polis. “If the news media is not diverse then it will not reflect the wider population,” he says in his blog.
“At a time of crisis in the industry and the wider economy, that is not a good thing economically, let alone politically.”
“Senior public officials salary bands should be publicly available as a matter of routine, according to new Guidance published today by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)”, the ICO said, in a release today.
“Salary details, bonuses and performance related pay should be in the public domain to the nearest £5,000 band when there is a legitimate public interest. Disclosing exact salaries will only be required in exceptional circumstances,” the ICO said.
The Independent reported the ICO has said that “highly paid executives and presenters working for the BBC, and bosses of the newly nationalised banks, must disclose details of salaries and bonuses.
Two examples concerning the BBC from the Guidance:
“The Commissioner determined that the BBC should disclose the salary band of the Controller of Continuing Drama, but not his exact salary, which was individually negotiated. He found that the legitimate public interest outweighed the intrusion of disclosing the salary band but not the additional intrusion of disclosing an exact salary. (ICO decision notice FS50070465, March 2008)”
“The Commissioner decided that BBC Northern Ireland did not have to release the fee paid to a presenter. The fee had been decided in confidential negotiations in accordance with the standard practice in the industry, and was therefore properly treated differently from the salary of a senior employee. (ICO decision notice FS50067416, January 2008).”
Michael Howard has written to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) asking for an investigation into reports by BBC business editor Robert Peston that included details of confidential talks between Alistair Darling and Bank of England governor Mervyn King.
According to Huffingtonpost.com, the website went offline for a period yesterday afternoon as readers raced to read allegations about the governor.
NYT spokesperson Diane McNulty told Huff Post that between 2-4 pm (Eastern US time) traffic was 60 per cent higher than at the same time last Monday. NYT mobile almost doubled its traffic for the same period.
Considering the amount of traffic that would have been generated by last week’s primaries for the Democratic candidate, yesterday must have been a pretty heavy day.