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#ijf11: Full coverage from the International Journalism Festival 2011

Image by International Journalism Festival on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Between Wednesday and Sunday last week the small Italian town of Perugia played host to the International Journalism Festival 2011 (#ijf11). I was there for some of it and I was lucky enough to see some fascinating panel sessions and workshops and meet some of the industry’s veterans, entrepreneurs and innovators.

This post is a round up of the news stories, blogs and audio I posted from the conference:

Blogs

Lessons in data journalism from the New York Times

The key term in open data? It’s ‘re-use’, says Jonathan Gray

‘Innovation is about about throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks’

Playing at engagement and verification with Citizenside

Be accessible, be realistic, Guido Fawkes advises small news outlets

Charles Lewis on the ‘interesting ecosystem’ of non-profit news

Are paywalls incompatible with community engagement?

News

ONA launches MJ Bear fellowships for early career digital journalists

Online video project for Indian women scoops journalism innovation prize

Horrocks outlines new global strategy for BBC

Audio

CJR online editor Justin Peters on the news frontier database

New York Times deputy graphics editor Matt Ericson on how his team works

Nigel Barlow from Inside the M60 on making money as a local news startup

Guardian data editor Simon Rogers and national editor Dan Roberts on the future of leaking and mainstream media

Peter Horrocks on the BBC and data journalism

Charles Lewis on the future of non-profit journalism in the US

Image by International Journalism Festival on Flickr. Some rights reserved

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#ijf11: ‘Innovation is about about throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks’

April 18th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Business, Events, Hyperlocal, Local media

Journalism conferences, as with all conferences I suspect, are always vulnerable to least a bit of tiresome industry navel-gazing, if not a lot. Even when they’re good, which the International Journalism Festival was, there is inevitably a lot of talking.

But on the last day of #ijf11 there was a welcome antidote in amongst the talk to round things off, a coherent message from several of the panelists: go out and do things, try things, find out what works. This particular session looked innovation in news, specifically at what it takes to go from having a good idea for a news site, to getting off the ground, to staying solvent.

Nigel Barlow trained as an accountant. He worked in small businesses for 20 years before he decided it was enough, and packed it in for a journalism course at UCLan.

Shortly after graduating Barlow co-founded Inside the M60, a local news site for the Manchester area. He told the #ijf11 panel that people need to start worrying less about the traditional journalism routes and start trying new things.

It’s a difficult time for journalism, but difficult times tends to bring out the best innovation. Don’t just look at the traditional routes, if you’ve got an idea just get on and do it. It’s abut throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.

A model example of getting on with it, Nigel was covering news for Inside the M60 before it even had a website.

Before the site was even there, we started to report on news in the area using Twitter, and created momentum for the site a few months before it launched.

We actively made connections with what I would call the local movers and shakers, MPs and businessmen for example.

We got a couple of big interviews with local MPs as well, which helped a lot at the beginning, and we were the first on the scene to cover a large gas explosion in Newham and were covering it live from the scene, after which we put about 1,500 followers in a couple of days.

We didn’t have a lot of money and we still don’t, so we have to make the most of free tools. But we got started by using social media and basically making a big noise on Twitter.

Using Barlow’s site as one example, Google News executive Madhav Chinnappa said the important thing was “the barriers to starting a news organisation have fallen”.

Fifteen years ago, starting a news organisation from scratch would have been impossible, but we have three people on this panel who have done exactly that.

And Chinnappa echoed Barlow’s sentiments on just getting on with it.

Google’s take on this is experimentation and interaction. Go out, try it, try it again, see what works.

He acknowledged it was difficult for smaller sites like Inside the M60 to get a decent ranking on Google news, and they would inevitably be dwarfed by the big global stories.

We know that if you’ve got a local news story that no one else has that it can be difficult to get out there. If you go to Google News and you don’t see an Inside the M60 story, that’s because they are getting outweighed by the likes of Fukushima and Libya.

And he acknowledged Google News was not giving proper due to certain types of content.

We’re not as good as we should be around video, or image galleries. And we’re almost playing catch up with the news organisations as they innovate, whether that’s graphics or slideshows.

But he also said there isn’t a magic formula to cracking Google, and argued that original, creative content was still important.

I think there is this myth about getting the technical aspect just right, and hitting on a formula and then you will suddenly be great on Google.

I don’t want to sound cheesy, but having good original content is still very important.

I spoke to Nigel Barlow after the session about making money as a local news startup:

Listen!

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#ijf11: The key term in open data? It’s ‘re-use’, says Jonathan Gray

If there were one key word in open data it would be “re-use”, according to Open Knowledge Foundation community coordinator Jonathan Gray.

Speaking on an open data panel at the International Journalism Festival, Gray said the freedom to re-use open government data is what makes it distinctive from the government information that has been available online for years but locked up under an all rights reserved license or a confusing mixture of different terms and conditions.

Properly open data, Gray said, is “free for anyone to re-use or redistribute for any purpose”.

The important thing about open data is moving from a situation of legal uncertainly to legal clarity.

And he sketched out in his presentation what the word “open” should mean in this context:

Open = use, re-use, redistribution, commerical re-use, derivative works.

The Open Knowledge Foundation promotes open data but most importantly, Gray said, was finding beneficial ways to apply that data.

Perhaps the signal example from the foundation itself is Where Does My Money Go, which analyses data about UK public spending.

Open Knowledge Foundation projects like Where Does My Money Go are about “giving people literacy with public information”, Gray said.

Nothing will replace years of working with this information day in and day out, and harnessing external expertise is essential. But the key is allowing a lot more people to understand complex information quickly.

Along with its visualisation and analysis projects, the foundation has established opendefinition.org, which provides criteria for openness in relation to data, content, and software services, and opendatasearch.org, which is aggregating open data sets from around the world. See a full list of OKF projects at this link.

“Tools so good that they are invisible”

This is what the open data movement needs, Gray said, “tools that are so good that they are invisible”.

Before the panel he suggested the example of some of the Google tools that millions use every day, simple effective open tools that we turn to without thinking, that are “so good we don’t even know that they are there”.

Along with Guardian data editor Simon Rogers, Gray was leaving Perugia for Rome, to take part in a meeting with senior Italian politicians about taking the open data movement forward in Italy. And he had been in France the week before talking to people about an upcoming open data portal in France – “there is a lot of top level enthusiasm for it there”.

In an introduction to the session, Ernesto Belisario president of the Italian Association for Open Government, revealed enthusiasm for open data is not restricted to larger, more developed countries.

Georgia has established its own open data portal, opendata.ge, and according to Belisario, took out an advert to promote the country’s increasing transparency ranking.

Some are expensive – the US, which began open government data publishing with data.gov, spend £34 million a year maintaining the various open data sites.

Others are cheap by comparison, with the UK’s opendata.gov.uk reportedly costing £250,000 to set up.

Some countries will pioneer with open data, some will bitterly resist. But with groups like the Open Knowledge Foundation busy flying representatives around the world to discuss it, that movement “from legal uncertainty to legal clarity” seems likely to move from strength to strength.

See Gray’s full presentation at this link.

See more from #ijf11 on the Journalism.co.uk Editor’s Blog.

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#ijf11: Playing at engagement and verification with Citizenside

Journalists, a lot of journalists in this room probably, recoil at the G word. “Oh you want to turn my really serious story into a game…

This was Citizenside editor-in-chief Philip Trippenbach speaking in an #ijf11 session earlier today called Beyond the Article.

Trippenbach has been trumpeting the benefits of gaming for journalism for some time now. He made a convincing case for gaming at a recent Journalism.co.uk news:rewired event called, coincidentally enough, Beyond the Story.

Trippenbach has worked on interactive projects for the BBC and a host of other outlets. But clearly the “G word” is still a long way from taking root with most journalists.

He made a convincing case again today. This time – having joined citizen press agency Citizenside in January – for the power of gaming for citizen journalism initiatives.

The most powerful interactive form is gaming, in terms of interactive journalism, that is where the win is. When you talk about gaming baked right into the heart of a package, that is very profound.

With the addition of Trippenbach to its staff, Citizenside is certainly baking gaming right into the heart of its operation, and he outlined how it is using the form for two key purposes.

Citizenside users are encouraged to progress from level to level by accomplishing certain tasks, or “missions”, just like you did when you played computer games as a kid (or maybe as an adult too – according to Trippenbach more people in Western Europe and North America play computer games than don’t, although I forgot to ask where he got the data for that one).

And just like those computer games, the missions at Citizenside get harder as you go along, with the early stages requiring you to capture a relatively easy-to-obtain image, and the latter requiring, say, a good image of a state leader or an important newsworthy event.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Trippenbach talked about was how the agency uses that points-based gaming system not just for engaging users, but to help  with assessment and verification of user-generated content, always a thorny issue for citizen press agencies.

If we get a picture from a level 35 user, well, it takes a long time to get to level 35 or 45, and the Citizenside editorial team know that that user has demonstrated commitment to our values.

So not only does the gaming element of the operation help engage users by breaking down their involvement into a series of incremental tasks and levels, it also is a huge advantage to Citizenside for an indication of the reliability of the content it is receiving.

If its someone who has submitted five packages and five of them have been refused, well, we know what that is, but if it’s someone with a 100 per cent record, well, fine.

We have a trust system that allows some users to post directly to the homepage and be post moderated.

As well as information about the user, Citizenside uses software to access data about the package itself.

This technical side of the verification process can potentially allows the agency to see whether an image has been edited in PhotoShop or uploaded to Flickr, and reveal when and where it was taken and uploaded.

I want to return to the issue of gaming and engagement quickly before I finish. However many journalists Trippenbach has seen turn their noses up at gaming, I have seen examples at this festival of gaming creeping in to some of the best and most popular mainstream journalism taking place.

Citizenside’s example of breaking the user engagement down into small, incremental stages has echoes in the Guardian’s MPs expenses app, which aimed to crowdsource the examination of the 458,000 documents published.

The app had two million hits in the first two days but, as the Guardian’s Martin Belam explained recently, users were unenthusiastic because the process hadn’t been broken down into achievable-seeming stages.

When a second batch of documents were released, the team working on the app broke them down into much smaller assignments. That meant it was easier for a small contribution to push the totals along, and we didn’t get bogged down with the inertia of visibly seeing that there was a lot of documents still to process.

So gaming doesn’t necessarily mean the fully-fledged computer games we play on a PlayStation, it can be the simple interactive engagement of the Guardian app, or the New York Times’ Budget Puzzle interactive in which you attempt to solve the deficit.

As Trippenbach acknowledged after the session, gaming is not yet taken seriously as a medium. But at Citizenside it may be the solution to the two key problems facing any citizen agency, engagement and verification, and for that reason you can bet that they take it very seriously.

See more from #ijf11 on the Journalism.co.uk Editor’s Blog.

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#ijf11: Lessons in data journalism from the New York Times

Follow this link or scroll to the bottom to start by hearing more from New York Times graphics editor Matthew Ericson on what kind of people make up his team and how they go about working on a story

The New York Times has one of the largest, most advanced graphics teams of any national newspaper in the world. Yesterday at the International Journalism Festival, NYT deputy graphics editor Matthew Ericson led an in-depth two-hour workshop on his team’s approach to visualising some of the data that flows through the paper’s stories every day.

He broke the team’s strategy down in to a few key objectives, the four main ones being:

Provide context

Describe processes

Reveal patterns

Explain the geography

Here is some of what Ericson told the audience and some of the examples he gave during the session, broken down under the different headers.

Provide context

Graphics should bring something new to the story, not just repeat the information in the lede.

Ericson emphasised a graphics team that simply illustrates what the reporter has already told the audience is not doing its job properly. “A graphic can bring together a variety of stories and provide context,” he said, citing his team’s work on the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

We would have reporters with information about the health risks, and some who were working on radiation levels, and then population, and we can bring these things together with graphics and show the context.

Describe processes

The Fukushima nuclear crisis has spurned a lot of graphics work at news organisations across thew world, and Ericson showed a few different examples of work on the situation to the #ijf11 audience. Another graphic demonstrated the process of a nuclear meltdown, and what exactly was happening at the Fukushima plant.

As we approach stories, we are not interested in a graphic showing how a standard nuclear reactor works, we want to show what is particular to a situation and what will help a reader understand this particular new story.

Like saying: “You’ve been reading about these fuel rods all over the news, this is what they actually look like and how they work”.

From nuclear meltdown to dancing. A very different graphic under the ‘desribe processes’ umbrella neatly demonstrated that graphics work is not just for mapping and data.

Disecting a Dance broke down a signature piece by US choreographer Merce Cunningham in order to explain his style.

The NYT dance critic narrated the video, over which simple outlines were overlaid at stages to demonstrate what he was saying. See the full video at this link.

Reveal patterns

This is perhaps the objective most associated with data visualisation, taking a dataset and revealing the patterns that may tell us a story: crime is going up here, population density down there, immigration changing over time, etc.

Ericson showed some of the NYT’s work on voting and immigration patterns, but more interesting was a “narrative graphic” that charted the geothermal changes in the bedrock under California created by attempts to exploit energy in hot areas of rock, which can cause earthquakes.

These so-called narrative graphics are take what we think of as visualisation close to what we have been seeing for a while in broadcast news bulletins.

Explain geography

The final main objective was to show the audience the geographical element of stories.

Examples for this section included mapping the flooding of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, including showing what parts of the region were below sea level and overlaying population density, showing where levies had broken and showing what parts of the land were underwater.

Geography was also a feature of demonstrating the size and position of the oil slick in the Gulf following the BP Deepwater Horizon accident, and comparing it with previous major oil spills.

Some of the tools in use by the NYT team, with examples:


Google Fusion Tables
Tableau Public: Power Hitters
Google Charts from New York State Test Scores – The New York Times
HTML, CSS and Javascript: 2010 World Cup Rankings
jQuery: The Write Less, Do More, JavaScript Library
jQuery UI – Home
Protovis
Raphaël—JavaScript Library
The R Project for Statistical Computing
Processing.org

An important formula 

Data + story > data

It doesn’t take a skilled mathematician to work that one out. But don’t be fooled by it’s simplicity, it underpinned a key message to take away from the workshop. The message is equally simple: graphics and data teams have the skill to make sense of data for their audience, and throwing a ton of data online without adding analysis and extracting a story is not the right way to go about it.

More from Matthew Ericson on the NYT graphics team

I spoke to Ericson after the session about what kind of people make up his team (it includes cartographers!) and how they go about working on a story.

Here’s what he had to say:

Listen!

The BBC’s Peter Horrocks on data journalism

I spoke to Peter Horrocks, who is director of the BBC World Service and the BBC’s global online news operations after the session about his take on data journalism and whether the BBC Global News had ambitions in this direction.

Here’s what he had to say:

Listen!

See the full list of links for Ericson’s session on his blog.

See more from #ijf11 on the Journalism.co.uk Editor’s Blog.

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#ijf11: Be accessible, be realistic, Guido Fawkes advises small news outlets

Accessibility and community are key to having an impact as a small online news outlet, political blogger Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) told the International Journalism Festival this morning.

Some of my best stories come from my readers.

If I want to contact the Sunday Times investigations editor, I can maybe ring the switchboard but I probably won’t get through.

I have my phone number and email address on my site. Alright, you won’t get though to me directly, you’ll get an answerphone, but I will get back to you.

And there is the promise of a free T-shirt if I use your information.

Staines cited the recent example of an image of David and Samantha Cameron looking terrifically glum waiting for a Ryanair flight to Malaga.

The image was sent to Staines by a reader, and within an hour he had published it and sold international syndication rights, making enough money to fund the blog for a month.

The blog shared the money with the photographer, he hastened to add.

Another important factor is being realistic, he said, knowing what you can and can’t do.

The Guido Fawkes blog is a two-man operation, and “can’t spend a long time investigating a corporation across five continents”.

The way we approach it is much more tabloid, more hit and run, but we will keep coming back to a subject and wear at it to get results.

We’re not worried about getting scooped as long as we keep at the story.

He put that need for realism in sobering financial terms when he said that he had bid £10,000 – as much as he could – for the MPs expenses disk, but came up against the Telegraph, which bid £100,000.

Since its modest beginnings, started “on a whim” in 2004, the blog has landed “one politician is jail, a few fired, a few resigned”, Staines claimed. “Oh and a few special advisors, I forget about them”.

Not all of them perhaps, The Guido Fawkes blog was responsible for a story about William Hague sharing a room with a young special advisor, who resigned as the story spread like wild fire across the nationals.

Compared with larger, more established news organisations, Staines’ disregard for the need for double checking the facts was another advantage, he said.

Newspapers have to have double sourcing and verification, Whereas I’m more likely to take a flyer and a risk with the lawyers.

For that very reason, another important source of stories for Staines is political journalists who have had stories spiked by their editor for not standing up, but who want to get it out.

That’s great, when that happens, because I get all the credit and they get nothing.

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#ijf11: Charles Lewis on the ‘interesting ecosystem’ of non-profit news

There are more than 50 non-profit journalism organisations operating today in the US, which leads the rest of the world in investigative journalism funded by private donations.

A sizable number of them – eight at last count – were founded by veteran US journalist Charles Lewis, including the Center for Public Integrity (CFPI), which has gone from his bedroom to having more than 40 staff and a budget of more than $8 million.

Lewis now runs the Investigative Reporting Workshop (IRW), which employs 14 staff, a third of which are students.

He said that the IRW was purposely “trying to mix the generations”, adding that having young people around vastly increases the organisation’s capacity to innovate.

Like the CFPI, the workshop also has a none-too-shabby budget of $2.2 million a year.

But speaking on an International Journalism Festival panel today on how small online news outlets can have an impact, Lewis said that millions of dollars and scores of staff were not a prerequsite for doing in-depth investigative work.

There is a non-profit in San-Diego that is doing this kind of work and they have two  people. They have done five impactful investigations.

One of the ways you do that is data. In San Diego they took the response times of ambulances in the city, and looked at how they differed over certain areas. This came from one dataset and one guy did it, over a few months.

Great journalism can be done by a few people.

Speaking to me after the session, Lewis said that with the rise of non-profits there was an “interesting ecosystem emerging” in US news.

Listen to more from Lewis on the future of that system and in the US and the future of the relationship of non-profits and traditional mainstream media:

Listen!

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#ijf11: Are paywalls incompatible with community engagement?

A member of the audience in this morning’s online community engagement session at #ijf11 asked the panelists this interesting question:

Are paywalls entirely incompatible with community engagement?

The general response from the panel was no, not necessarily. Justin Peters from the Columbia Journalism Review compared community engagement behind the paywall to a private members club:

At a private club, membership is restricted, so there are less people there, but you could say that they feel more connected to each other and to the club. The quality of the interactions and ties that are forged are stronger.

But, Peters added, “the bet is, does anyone want to join the club? Is it sustainable?”

Ed Walker, online communities editor at Media Wales, (pictured left) referred to Joanna Geary’s keynote speech at Journalism.co.uk’s most recent news:rewired conference, in which the Times’ communities editor talked up the value of having a smaller number of readers that the publisher knows more about, and who engage with the content in a more valuable way.

With Media Wales, Walker said that “it is better to have two really well informed comments than twenty that just say something like “I agree”.

How to approach comments formed the heart of the discussion during the session, with panelists addressing how publishers can drive comments on more complex or long-form content and whether good comments should be promoted somehow.

Walker said that the problem with users commenting on certain stories and not others was to do with confidence. He said that Media Wales had tried to address the issue by encouraging users to use recommend buttons as well as commenting.

We turned to recommend buttons, because people don’t have the confidence to comment on the large investigations or complicated stories. And when you look at the stories that have been recommended, compared with those that have comments, they are often very different.

Walker also described how Media Wales often take the best comments and publish them in the next days newspaper, often alongside a related article, as a way of encouraging print readers to become more involved online.

In terms of publishers attempting to promote and reward good quality comments, the Huffington Post’s Josh Young said that the site encouraged its quality commenters by offering badges for a history of good contributions, but he stressed that it was essential for news sites not to shut out comment threads that became off-topic conversations.

Its great that people are talking on your website instead of in their living room, you should be proud of that. If you can restructure, rearchitect your site so that poeple can have conversations like they have in cafes and in their living rooms, you have really succeeded.

Young added that the Huffington Post had experimented with two ways of promoting quality comments on the site:

You can absolutely find ways to elevate the most enlightened comments. At the Huffington Post we had two ways of doing this, one was an editorial way in which the writers indicated which comments were good, then readers would get a little badge that indicated they had a history of good comments in politics, for example.

The other way was a machine learning engine. We took a thousand comments and entered looked for statistical tendencies about what makes a great comment and what doesn’t. It doesn’t work perfectly but it works beetter and better as we continue to improve it.

Paola Bonomo, head of online services at Vodafone Italia, said that she thought that using technology to improve the quality of comments was a good thing, but echoed that a balance was needed between rewarding quality comments and heavy moderation, which just discourages people across the board, she said.

Ed Walker took part in a similar session at Journalism.co.uk most recent news:rewired conference. You can see video from the session here: news:rewired video: Building an online community from scratch

See the full agenda for Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming news:rewired at this link.

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#ijf11: Follow the International Festival of Journalism

April 14th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

For the next three days Journalism.co.uk will be at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia, attempting to cover some of the many talks, panel sessions and workshops taking place at venues across the city.

Almost all of the sessions at IJF are in Italian, with frenetic English translation (which often summarises), so live blogging/tweeting is tough. But keep an eye out for the #ijf11 hashtag on Journalism.co.uk’s news and blog pages for coverage.

WiFi withstanding, I will also be using our live Twitter account: @journalism_live

See the full agenda at this link.

You can contact me via Twitter: @joelmgunter.

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