Tag Archives: Technology/Internet

Working with coders to maximise readership

Bringing coders and journalists together is one of the big issues in newsrooms today, causing many journalists to think about how much coding knowledge they should invest in.

The problem is that coding is an enormous subject that many of us simply don’t have time for. It requires thousands of hours of hard work and dedication. For this reason having coders work alongside journalists in the newsroom will always be the best solution: having experts next you in the office is the most effective way of learning on the go.

Last January I attended Journalism.co.uk’s news:rewired event where one discussion generated particular interest amongst attendees. Cynthia O’Murchu from the FT described how they used developers to create infographics on a piece entitled ‘Oil and Gas Executives: Are they worth it?’.

Taking complex data like this and turning it into easily understood visual information, otherwise known as data mashing, is the practice for which today’s journalist will most likely be required to delve into design and coding. So as well as the ability to write and communicate, journalists are going to have to acquire a certain flair for design and some practical technical understanding, even if we don’t turn into full blown coders ourselves. So where is a good place to start?

3i = Immersive, Interactive, Intuitive

These are three words we hear a lot working in technology journalism: immersive, interactive and intuitive. They represent areas in which journalists will do well to excel, especially given the imminent arrival of the iPad and other tablet computers. Touchscreen computing creates a childlike desire to delve into a webpage and explore information like never before, and it will be the publishers producing the right kind of content that will have the heavy traffic.

The general election has been great for this kind of rich content. For the first time we’ve all been able to interact with that famous swingometer on the BBC’s website, while live blogging appeared to be firing on all cylinders during the hung parliament negotiations.

Working with designers and coders to create these apps is great if you have the budget, but obviously we don’t all work for the Guardian or the BBC. So getting some basic understanding of how to go about doing these things is going to be a good career move for many journalists.

From a design perspective, Adobe Fireworks is a great image and graphics software programme. It is perfect for beginners looking to start creating their own basic infographics. Similar to Photoshop, but smaller and more instinctive, it is useful for creating web optimised visual data in both vector and bitmap formats.

Have a look at this infographic from the Guardian on MPs expenses for an idea of what you can aspire to.

Code breaking

Stepping up to the next level and actually developing your own web applications gives you a problem experienced by every newbie developer starting out today: which languages do you learn first?

The good news in that most web development languages today share similarities, so tackle one and you’re going to find the next one much easier. It’s a bit like learning European languages; the more you understand the easier it becomes to make relevant connections.

HTML and CSS are your basic starting points, giving you colours and structure. If you want things to start sliding across the screen and getting interactive then J-Query and PHP (the web’s top scripting language) are the next ones to move onto.

As for getting your content on mobile phones, that is a whole other ball game.

John Hillman is the editor of PC Site which reviews and compares laptops and software. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnjHillman. Read his first post for the Journalism.co.uk editors’ blog at this link.

#snprivacy: Journalists’ privacy plea to social networks

This post was written following months of mounting concern about the way new sharing and connection features are being implemented on the most popular social networks. If you agree with what we ask of social network developers, feel free to quote this blog, or tweet marking your messages #SNprivacy. Journalism.co.uk will be putting more questions about privacy policy to Facebook later this week. To have your say, please leave comments below, tweet @journalismnews, or email judith [at] journalism.co.uk.

Re: Privacy policy

Dear social networks,

You say you want to reflect real world relationships and connections. Well, in the real world there are connections and information that journalists don’t want made public, shared or given to third parties. Please help us protect our privacy, so vital to responsible journalistic work. It will help you avoid law suits and government inquiries, too.

We know that we need you to help us work more effectively as journalists, to share with others, and to make connections in ways impossible before your birth. But likewise social networks need users and their endorsement. Google’s head of public policy and government relations, Susan Pointer, recently said: “We live or die by the trust our users have in our services.”

Social networks also rely on bloggers and technology/media journalists to communicate new and changed tools accurately.

We realise there is some shoddy and inaccurate reporting around social networking, especially in some of the mainstream press, but there are also many writers who care about relaying information responsibly.

We believe changes to Facebook’s privacy settings are particularly worrying for journalists and bloggers, who have good reason for protecting their privacy and confidential sources.

As the US blogger and librarian Bobbi L. Newman reported, users now have to ‘opt out’ of auto-personalisation settings that allow their friends to share their content.

Furthermore, as developer Ka-Ping Yee exposed, privacy breaches were made in the original open API which allowed external access to Facebook users’ ‘event’ information. We are pleased to see Facebook has reacted to this and corrected the privacy error.

We believe Google Buzz was naive in setting up auto-connections between contacts in Gmail address books. The public availability of email addresses on Buzz, as reported by TechCrunch, was also of concern. We are pleased to see Google has amended these privacy errors.

Journalism.co.uk has recently revealed misleading information surrounding Address Book Importing (ABI), which we feel does not adequately explain how social networks are using – and keeping – users’ email address book information.

We argue that the default options should always be set so that the privacy of the user is respected. With friend friend finder tools, like Facebook’s, users should have to opt in to share email addresses and opt in to each one shared.

It’s an issue publicly highlighted by Facebook’s former chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly (currently running for office as attorney general in California):  he is calling on Facebook “to structure all its programs to allow Facebook users to give permission before their information is shared with third parties”.

We are worried by Twitter and Friendster’s lack of engagement with us on privacy and ABI issues.

Facebook, with which we did enter lengthy dialogue, has said it welcomes feedback. Nonetheless, we are concerned it continues to dismiss the issues thrown up by its friend suggestions and connection features, which are implemented with harvested email addresses.

In light of the privacy breaches and concerns outlined above, we ask six things of growing social networks.

1. Please conduct thorough user research before you implement new features

2. Please publicise new features before you launch them fully, allowing us time to change new or existing privacy settings as necessary

3. If you change privacy settings, please ask us to opt *in*, not opt *out*. Social networks should NEVER set the default option to share users’ information

4. Please provide clearer explanations about how data is shared and how connections are made

5. Please test your new features more thoroughly before launching

6. Please answer our emails or postings on your forums about privacy concerns and reports of privacy breaches – written as either users or journalists / bloggers

Note to bloggers: please feel free to reproduce this plea on your own blogs, with a link back to the original post.

Alan Rusbridger on his vision for a ‘mutualised newspaper’ (video)

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, recently appeared on the Charlie Rose show, now available online.

Asked about free versus paid content and newspapers, Rusbridger talked about a future of collaboration rather than competition.

The collaborative possibilities of the web are the interesting ones, he said, citing how the Guardian invited external environmental websites to sit on its site.

Rusbridger, who has spoken out against pay walls in the past, talked about his vision of a “mutualised newspaper”.

“We have to get over this journalistic arrogance that journalists are the only people who are the figures of authority in the world,” he said. Using the example of theatre coverage, he said you didn’t need to get rid of the critics, but you could invite other members of the audience in.

“If you can open your site up, and allow other voices in, you get something that’s more engaged, more involved – and actually, I think, journalistically better.”

Full clip at this link…

Tricks and tips for journalism and editorial job hunting online – an update

Journalism lecturer Andy Dickinson (@digidickinson) has now updated his recent SlideShare and blog post on how to find editorial jobs online, which we featured on this blog last week, to include a more detailed transcript of his talk.

His blog post this week contains lots of handy tips for the dedicated journalism jobseeker, so if you are in the market for a new job, check it out.

Meanwhile, here at Journalism.co.uk, we have produced a new page explaining how to get the most out of our own jobs board, including six step-by-step videos taking you through the jobseeker registration process and various alert systems. Here are the benefits, all of which are free:

  • ability to save jobs you have searched for and liked for later;
  • ability to upload and store your CV;
  • ability to apply online and save your applications for future re-use/modification;
  • ability to register a personal statement so that our can advertisers can find you using our CV match service;
  • ability to receive job opportunities by daily email;
  • ability to create customised RSS feeds based on your own search criteria.

I would urge you to take a few minutes to sign up, even if you are not necessarily looking to make a move now. You never know what opportunity might coming knocking on your door.

Finally, if you are on the other side of the fence and looking to recruit editorial staff, please read why you should advertise your vacancies on Journalism.co.uk here, and register to post your jobs here.

Recruitment advertising helps fund our free content, so if you like what we do this is one great way to support us!

Useful reading:

Job application tips

How to prepare a killer CV

How to prepare for that crucial interview

How to make the most out of work experience

How much computer science does a journalist really need?

Earlier this month, Columbia University announced that the first ever journalism and computer science degree will launch in the autumn of 2011. Perhaps it’s a positive reaction to all the technological uncertainty that journalists face, but some perspective is also needed.

The digital trinity

Good digital publishing requires expertise in three completely separate disciplines, all of which are callings in their own right.

As journalists we’re all here because we want to tell a good story, so we apply our presentation skills, written, audio or visual, along with our ability to make an intelligent overview.

To ensure that our work then reaches the largest possible online audience we work with designers, who are highly artistic, and web developers who tend to be mathematically astute computer scientists. When it all works together the result can be great, interactive, accessible and attractive online content. Victory.

So much as any attempt to bring journalists closer to technology should be warmly embraced, there has to be an understanding that shoehorning a journalist into a programmer’s role, and vice-versa, probably isn’t going to produce the best results. These are much more likely to come from having a good team around you, by understanding each other’s limitations and, above all, by working well together.

Life. Time. Dedication

It is rather like being in a band, in the sense that you can’t play the drums and the guitar at the same time. Success comes from having talented people who understand each other and can communicate ideas between themselves fluently. And it follows that the more time you spend working in tandem, the more seamless the work becomes.

Our in-house web developer Xavi Esteve (who has been pursuing his passion since he was 10 years old) informs me that a good programmer needs about 200 hours to get to grips with the basics. You then need to dedicate yourself to trying, failing, debugging and doing it all over and over again. It is the only way to learn.

This is all he’s been doing for 40 – 50 hours a week for five years and he still only specialises in certain defined areas. If we wanted to develop and app in Flash, for example, we would probably have to get an Actionscript specialist in specifically for this purpose, even though Xavi has easily got more than 10,000 professional programming hours to his name.

So three semesters in Columbia’s engineering school and two in the journalism department will only be scratching the surface. They’re hoping to create “graduate students with both the editorial and technological skills to produce new applications and online tools that could help redefine journalism in a fast-changing digital media environment”. That will probably take a wee while longer.

Be informed, be practical

Knowing your PHP and Java Script from your Python and Visual-Basic is undoubtedly helpful but having an overview of these things is much more important than trying to become a coding ninja yourself. Xavi says:

The main problem with some journalists is that they don’t have an awareness of what is possible and what isn’t, and what is best practice. Having a basic understanding will make them more practical and allow us to work much faster together.

The good news here is that this is where a journalist’s natural talents can come into play. We can all get the requisite knowledge through research and selectively extracting the necessary information.

Those of you, like me, who barely have enough reading time in your lives already, should also make sure you add a talented front end web developer to your list of essential journalistic contacts.

We all have a directory of useful people we make sure we take out for a coffee every once in a while. Like PRs and industry insiders, web developers are another specialist you should have on speed dial. Tapping up the experts for information is what we journalists are supposed to be best at after all.

Here are some useful links for grabbing the basics:

A wide array of tutorials,  in HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

This is the website of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium, the ones that work to standardise the Internet) and it is great. It has tutorials for HTML, CSS, XML, PHP, ASP, JavaScript and MySQL.

It includes tutorials for Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash and ActionScript.

John Hillman is the editor of PC Site which reviews and compares laptops and software. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnjHillman

CNET News: Journalist shield law may not prevent iPhone prototype investigation

Over in the US the iPhone prototype drama continues, as Gawker Media challenges the legality of the search warrant served on Gizmodo editor Jason Chen, last Friday. Gawker’s Gizmodo site had received an iPhone 4G protoype and revealed its features online. As CNet reported:

Police have seized computers and servers belonging to an editor of Gizmodo in an investigation that appears to stem from the gadget blog’s purchase of a lost Apple iPhone prototype.

Gawker claimed the search warrant was invalid under a part of California law. This part of the law, CNET reported, ” prevents judges from signing warrants that target writers for newspapers, magazines, or ‘other periodical publications.'”

But yesterday CNET reported that Gizmodo might not be protected by journalist shield law after all.

If Gizmodo editors are, in fact, a target of a criminal probe into the possession or purchase of stolen property, the search warrant served on editor Jason Chen on Friday appears valid. A blog post at NYTimes.com on Monday, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, said charges could be filed against the buyer of the prototype 4G phone – meaning Gizmodo.

Background to the Gizmodo scoop at this link. Promo video below:

The Straight Choice offers election leaflet widget to regional newspapers and bloggers

Election leaflet project, the Straight Choice, is offering regional newspapers and bloggers a free widget that displays recent leaflets distributed in their local constituencies.

“There are loads of local stories locked away in election leaflets, and we want to make sure that as many local eyes as possible are on them,” said Richard Pope, from the Straight Choice. “So we’ve created a widget that lets local papers and bloggers display leaflets from their constituency on their own website.”

To find your widget, simply visit your constituency’s page via this link, http://www.thestraightchoice.org/browse.php, and find the code at the right hand side of the page.

Furthermore, the Straight Choice is offering users the chance to customise the widget further, by aggregating several constituencies together. Pope encourages anyone interested to contact team [at] thestraightchoice.org.

As we reported at the end of last month, the Guardian started syndicating Straight Choice content on its politics sites.

Here’s an example of the Brighton Pavilion widget (Journalism.co.uk’s local constituency):

Andy Dickinson: a guide to digital journalism job hunting

Online journalism lecturer Andy Dickinson (@digidickinson) recently gave a lecture to his broadcast students advising on ways to find jobs online and promote themselves digitally.

His presentation appears in this slideshare:

Here’s another tip for creating a customised jobs feed using Journalism.co.uk’s jobs board search facility.

In the top left-hand column on most of the pages on Journalism.co.uk, you will see a panel headed “Job of the week”. About half-way down there is a dropdown menu that allows you to search by job type. For this example, select “editorial assistants and trainees” and click “go”.

On the subsequent search results page, you will see at the top of the central column an advanced search form. This allows you to make a more detailed search based on sectors, categories, salary and location. You will also see an option under format to “return search results as RSS feed”. Select that and also tick “editorial assistants and trainees” under the “categories” section.

Click the search button and, voila, you will be presented with a customised RSS feed containing only editorial assistant and trainee vacancies.

New York Times/ProPublica’s DocumentCloud makes newspaper debut

DocumentCloud, a technology aimed at making data more accessible and helping journalists and news organisations deal with large volumes of documents, has made its debut on the Chicago Tribune’s website.

The Tribune has used DocumentCloud to publish the source documents of a news story and allow readers to browse by section and receive additional information around highlighted annotations.

The Tribune is one of 21 more than 70 news partners beta testing the technology, which is funded by a grant from the Knight News Challenge in 2009. The New York Times and ProPublica have allowed several staff to “moonlight” on the project, but is an independent organisation led by Eric Umansky, senior editor at ProPublica, Scott Klein, news applications editor at ProPublica, and Aron Pilhofer, the New York Times newsroom’s interactive technologies editor

Update: Despite this tweet from Aron Pilhofer, I am reliably informed by Amanda Hickman, programme director of DocumentCloud, in the comment below that the technology has also appeared alongside Newshour and Propublica stories too.

Paper.li launches Twitter newspapers

Paper.li, a new (but not officially affiliated) Twitter application, has launched in alpha.

It creates a ‘newspaper’ using links that have been shared by both the specified user and the people they follow – from the past 24 hours.

Paper.li calls the Twitter account the ‘editor-in-chief’ and the people being followed by the account the ‘contributors’.

It comes with a small disclaimer: “As we are in alpha, we may have to turn off any new creations on short notice to make sure we can correctly scale our systems.”

The user’s live stream is shown at the side of the page and the main page displays content around related subjects. Google ads are placed at the right hand side.

Here’s a section of what the @journalismnews’ page, or paper, looks like. I wasn’t sure what to expect given that we’re following quite a diverse mix of people, but it’s actually quite tailored to our patch, journalism and media, with a live #journalism stream as well. But as you scroll down, the links become less relevant, with a ‘Switzerland’ section at the bottom of our page.