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August 01 2012

17:30

Highlight reel: Some of the best from this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism

Back in April, we went down to Austin for this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism. As far as journalism conferences go, this is one of the special ones — highly recommended.

We’ve already written about much of what was covered there, like smart-fridge strategies, O Globo’s crazy-engaging tablet-only evening edition, an examination of journalistic behaviors on Twitter, and a study that pinpointed the most likely demographic to pay for the news. (Check out our roundup of lessons learned from the symposium.)

Now, ISOJ has posted a complete collection of video from the conference. Watch them all. Here’s a smattering to get you started:

Welsh: Let’s get to work

The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Welsh will make you love robots. He’ll also effectively shut down anyone who’s still arguing that computer-assisted reporting is somehow inherently bad for the industry. He’s genuinely passionate, and that’s just fun to watch.

Highlight: Skip to 11:08 to watch a minute-long crescendo that ends with the best F-bomb of the conference.

Boyer: News is a craft, not purely an art

Brian Boyer, who this summer joined NPR’s news apps team, wants you to think about news function. “Data visualizations are not on their own useful,” Boyer says. “If we only make art, we are doing our audience a disservice.”

Highlight: Skip to 3:03 to hear Boyer break down why journalists, engineers, and designers need to learn from one another.

Brown: Don’t fight the audience

University of Memphis journalism assistant professor Carrie Brown-Smith tracked the use of #Memstorm on Twitter during severe weather in her region. She examined the use of hashtags in centralizing real-time news. She also explored what kinds of information was shared, and how journalists’ coverage of the storm fit in. One key lesson for newsrooms: If your audience starts doing something cool, join in.

Highlight: Skip to 3:37 to watch her account of what happened when a local Fox affiliate tried to change the hashtag.

Doria: Make something beautiful

The iPad is special. That’s why Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor for Brazilian newspaper O Globo, wanted to give readers an iPad app that was specially made for the device. Doria felt that the paper’s basic mobile app wasn’t making full use of the platform. (Read our article about the app.)

Highlight: Skip to 8:14 to see Doria break down the numbers about engagement with the app, which jumped from an average of 26 minutes to a mind-boggling 77 minutes.

Gingras: There’s too much news

Anyone else feel like Google’s Richard Gingras is everywhere these days? It’s likely you’re familiar with his views by now. Bottom line, Gingras says, “we have to rethink it all.” To him, print is nothing more than a “derivative mechanism” and the big problem in news is that “there’s too much of it.”

Highlight: Skip to 7:45 to hear someone challenge Gingras on the idea that there are no gatekeepers anymore. Who gets to decide who a news organization is and is not? Audience member: “You do.”

Whurley: You already have the answers

“I don’t do slides, ever,” said Whurley, general manager of Chaotic Moon Labs. So instead, he opted to crowdsource his slides — asking journalists to shout out questions that he addressed later in the presentation.

Highlight: Skip to 6:12 to hear Whurley sum up his experience coding and developing The Daily, and what it demonstrated to him about the fundamental problem in journalism: “What they did is fantastic for one reason, and the reason that we participated was one reason: Nobody wants to be the first.”

April 24 2012

14:40

News algorithms do exist – and that’s good

Matt Waite says it's possible to do more with less in newsrooms -- and one solution is robots. But far from stealing jobs, bots and the "news algorithms" that power them could change how journalists do what they do for the better. Read More »

October 07 2010

14:00

Los Angeles Times collaborates across the newsroom and with readers to map neighborhood crime

There’s something about the immediacy of the web that makes interactive features seem effortless: One click and the information is there. But of course the feel of the end product is not the same as the process required to get it there. Just ask the Los Angeles Times.

Last week the Times unveiled a new stage in its ongoing mapping project, Mapping L.A. The latest piece lets users check out crime data by neighborhood, including individual crimes and crime trends. Ultimately, the goal is to give locals access to encyclopedia-style information about their neighborhoods, including demographic, crime, and school information. And for reporters, it’s a helpful tool to add context to a story or spot trends. Getting the project where it is now has been a two-year process, drawing on talent across the newsroom and tapping the expertise of the crowd. I spoke with Ben Welsh, the LAT developer working on the project, about what it’s taken to piece it together. Hint: collaboration.

“I was lucky to find some natural allies who had a vision for what we could find out,” Welsh told me. “In some sense it’s the older generation of geek reporters. There’s this whole kind of tradition of that. We talk the same language. They collect all this data — and I want data so we can do stuff online. Even though we don’t have the same bosses, we have this kind of ad hoc alliance.”

Before Welsh could start plotting information, like crime or demographics data, the Times had to back up to a much simpler question: What are the neighborhood boundaries in Los Angeles city and county?

“Because there are no official answers and there are just sort of consensus and history and these things together, we knew from the get-go it was going to be controversial,” Welsh said. “We designed it from the get-go to let people to tell us we suck.”

And people did. About 1,500 people weighed in on the first round of the Times’ mapping project. A tool allowed users to create their own boundary maps for neighborhoods. Between the first round and second round, the Times made 100 boundary changes. (Compare the original map to the current one.) “I continue to receive emails that we’re wrong,” more than a year later, Welsh said.

An offshoot project of the neighborhood project was a more targeted question that every Angeleno can answer: “What is the ‘West Side’?” Welsh said the hundreds of responses were impassioned and creative. The West Side project was recently named a finalist for the Online News Association’s annual awards in the community collaboration category.

Welsh has now layered census, school, and crime data into the project. Working with those varied government data set brings unique problems. “We put all kinds of hours in to clean the data,” Welsh said. “I think a lot of times journalists don’t talk about that part.” At one point, the Times discovered widespread errors in the Los Angeles Police Department data, for example. The department got an early look at the project and supports the Times’ efforts, and has actually abandoned its own mapping efforts, deciding to use the Times’ instead.

Welsh doesn’t talk about the project in terms of it ever being “finished.” “With everything you add, you hope to make it this living, breathing thing,” he said. In the long-run, he hopes the Times will figure out a way to offer a more sophisticated analysis of the data. “That’s a challenging thing,” he said. In the more immediate future, he hopes to expand the geographic footprint of the project.

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