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July 01 2013

13:56

Open Data Directory, Barriers to Open Government Data and a Distributed Data Supply Chain

This week's data digest features plans for an Open Data Directory and attempts to understand barriers to open government data. Some great examples of how open data is transforming journalism are also featured and thoughts on the need to build a distributed data supply chain is expressed.

read more

June 24 2013

10:07

While you’re waiting…

I’m currently moving the Online Journalism Blog and using the old WordPress site in the meantime. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for, try searching for the URL in Google with cache: before it (no space).


Filed under: online journalism
10:07

While you’re waiting…

I’m currently moving the Online Journalism Blog and using the old WordPress site in the meantime. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for, try searching for the URL in Google with cache: before it (no space).


Filed under: online journalism
10:07

While you’re waiting…

I’m currently moving the Online Journalism Blog and using the old WordPress site in the meantime. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for, try searching for the URL in Google with cache: before it (no space).

May 30 2013

10:50

Collaborative learning and journalism – event next week, with Jay Rosen

Next Thursday I’ll be speaking at an event looking at collaborative learning and collaborative journalism, hosted at Birmingham City University.

Also Skyping into the event will be Jay Rosen, who is exploring similar methods at New York University.

The event comes out of the ‘Stories and Streams’ project, which resulted in the ebook of the same name. One year on, I’ll be talking about my experiences of having used those methods a second time, what was changed, what worked and what didn’t, and what the plans are for next time.

To book onto the event (it’s free) email this booking form to seminar.series@heacademy.ac.uk

10:50

Collaborative learning and journalism – event next week, with Jay Rosen

Next Thursday I’ll be speaking at an event looking at collaborative learning and collaborative journalism, hosted at Birmingham City University.

Also Skyping into the event will be Jay Rosen, who is exploring similar methods at New York University.

The event comes out of the ‘Stories and Streams’ project, which resulted in the ebook of the same name. One year on, I’ll be talking about my experiences of having used those methods a second time, what was changed, what worked and what didn’t, and what the plans are for next time.

To book onto the event (it’s free) email this booking form to seminar.series@heacademy.ac.uk

May 24 2013

11:01

My next ebook: the Data Journalism Heist

Data Journalism Heist data journalism ebook

In the next couple of months I will begin publishing my next ebook: Data Journalism Heist.

Data Journalism Heist is designed to be a relatively short introduction to data journalism skills, demonstrating basic techniques for finding data, spotting possible stories and turning them around to a deadline.

Based on a workshop, the emphasis is on building confidence through speed and brevity, rather than headline-grabbing spectacular investigations or difficult datasets (I’m hoping to write a separate ebook on the latter at some point).

If you’re interested in finding out about the book, please sign up on the book’s Leanpub page.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for translators for Scraping for Journalists – get in touch if you’re interested.

 


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: Data Journalism Heist, ebook, Scraping for Journalists
11:01

My next ebook: the Data Journalism Heist

Data Journalism Heist data journalism ebook

In the next couple of months I will begin publishing my next ebook: Data Journalism Heist.

Data Journalism Heist is designed to be a relatively short introduction to data journalism skills, demonstrating basic techniques for finding data, spotting possible stories and turning them around to a deadline.

Based on a workshop, the emphasis is on building confidence through speed and brevity, rather than headline-grabbing spectacular investigations or difficult datasets (I’m hoping to write a separate ebook on the latter at some point).

If you’re interested in finding out about the book, please sign up on the book’s Leanpub page.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for translators for Scraping for Journalists – get in touch if you’re interested.

 

11:01

My next ebook: the Data Journalism Heist

Data Journalism Heist data journalism ebook

In the next couple of months I will begin publishing my next ebook: Data Journalism Heist.

Data Journalism Heist is designed to be a relatively short introduction to data journalism skills, demonstrating basic techniques for finding data, spotting possible stories and turning them around to a deadline.

Based on a workshop, the emphasis is on building confidence through speed and brevity, rather than headline-grabbing spectacular investigations or difficult datasets (I’m hoping to write a separate ebook on the latter at some point).

If you’re interested in finding out about the book, please sign up on the book’s Leanpub page.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for translators for Scraping for Journalists – get in touch if you’re interested.

 


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: Data Journalism Heist, ebook, Scraping for Journalists

May 21 2013

22:02

Two pieces of information

Two pieces of information that came to my attention today:

Firstly, from a piece of research on aspiring journalists in France:

“Students from the least privileged social sectors are more socially committed and more aware of their civic responsibility: These students want “to reveal cases of corruption, show realities that are unknown to the general public, and to do investigative journalism”.

“The students belonging to disadvantaged social classes value the profession of journalism the most, and have a culture of effort and selflessness, which has been inherited from their families. The force lifting the social elevator to access an intellectual profession like journalism is their constant effort. They consider journalism to be a “useful and noble” profession. They have a more romantic and social view of the profession: they want to be a real communication channel for the village people, the forgotten, and the voiceless … However, these students practice self-censorship by not working in recognised and prestigious media, unlike the students from more privileged social classes who do so because they have greater social capital and contacts in the profession of journalism thanks to their families.”

Secondly, from a number of sources on Twitter:

“Independent.co.uk is offering a rare opportunity to an aspiring young journalist. We’re looking for an exceptionally motivated, intelligent and organised undergraduate with a passion for our brand, the world of news, and student life, to come and gain work experience within our Digital team for three months this summer 2013.

“You must be able to work from Monday 17 June through to 30 August 2013. This is work experience, so it is not a paid opportunity, but your travel and lunch expenses will be covered. You will need to provide a letter from your university, confirming that this work experience placement is beneficial and supports your course.”

Over to you.

22:02

Two pieces of information

Two pieces of information that came to my attention today:

Firstly, from a piece of research on aspiring journalists in France:

“Students from the least privileged social sectors are more socially committed and more aware of their civic responsibility: These students want “to reveal cases of corruption, show realities that are unknown to the general public, and to do investigative journalism”.

“The students belonging to disadvantaged social classes value the profession of journalism the most, and have a culture of effort and selflessness, which has been inherited from their families. The force lifting the social elevator to access an intellectual profession like journalism is their constant effort. They consider journalism to be a “useful and noble” profession. They have a more romantic and social view of the profession: they want to be a real communication channel for the village people, the forgotten, and the voiceless … However, these students practice self-censorship by not working in recognised and prestigious media, unlike the students from more privileged social classes who do so because they have greater social capital and contacts in the profession of journalism thanks to their families.”

Secondly, from a number of sources on Twitter:

“Independent.co.uk is offering a rare opportunity to an aspiring young journalist. We’re looking for an exceptionally motivated, intelligent and organised undergraduate with a passion for our brand, the world of news, and student life, to come and gain work experience within our Digital team for three months this summer 2013.

“You must be able to work from Monday 17 June through to 30 August 2013. This is work experience, so it is not a paid opportunity, but your travel and lunch expenses will be covered. You will need to provide a letter from your university, confirming that this work experience placement is beneficial and supports your course.”

Over to you.

May 15 2013

07:00

I am a coding denier

There is an exchange that sometimes takes place, perfectly described by Beth Ashton, between those who use technology, and those who don’t. It goes like this:

Prospective data journalist: ‘I’d really like to learn how to do data journalism but I can’t do statistics!’

Data journalist: ‘Don’t let that put you off, I don’t know anything about numbers either, I’m a journalist, not a mathematician!’

Prospective data journalist: ‘But I can’t code, and it all looks so codey and complicated’

Data journalist: That’s fine, NONE OF US can code. None of us. Open angle bracket back slash End close angle bracket.

“These people are coding deniers,” argues Beth.

I think she’s on to something. Flash back to a week before Beth published that post: I was talking to Caroline Beavon about the realisation of just how hard-baked ‘coding’ was into my workflow:

  • A basic understanding of RSS lies behind my ability to get regular updates from hundreds of sources
  • I look at repetitiveness in my work and seek to automate it where I can
  • I look at structure in information and use that to save time in accessing it

These are all logical responses to an environment with more information than a journalist can reasonably deal with, and I have developed many of them almost without realising.

They are responses as logical as deciding to use a pen to record information when human memory cannot store it reliably alone. Or deciding to learn shorthand when longhand writing cannot record reliably alone. Or deciding to use an audio recorder when that technology became available.

One of the things that makes us uniquely human is that we reach for technological supports – tools – to do our jobs better. The alphabet, of course, is a technology too.

But we do not argue that shorthand comes easy, or that audio recorders can be time consuming, or that learning to use a pen takes time.

So: ‘coding’ – whether you call it RSS, or automation, or pattern recognition – needs to be learned. It might seem invisible to those of us who’ve built our work patterns around it – just as the alphabet seems invisible once you’ve learned it. But, like the alphabet, it is a technology all the same.

But secondly – and more importantly – for this to happen as a profession we need to acknowledge that ‘coding’ is a skill that has become as central to working effectively in journalism as using shorthand, the pen, or the alphabet.

I don’t say ‘will be central’ but ‘has become‘. There is too much information, moving too fast, to continue to work with the old tools alone. From social networks to the quantified self; from RSS-enabled blogs to the open data movement; from facial recognition to verification, our old tools won’t do.

So I’m not going to be a coding denier. Coding is to digital information what shorthand was to spoken information. There, I’ve said it. Now, how can we do it better?

07:00

I am a coding denier

There is an exchange that sometimes takes place, perfectly described by Beth Ashton, between those who use technology, and those who don’t. It goes like this:

Prospective data journalist: ‘I’d really like to learn how to do data journalism but I can’t do statistics!’

Data journalist: ‘Don’t let that put you off, I don’t know anything about numbers either, I’m a journalist, not a mathematician!’

Prospective data journalist: ‘But I can’t code, and it all looks so codey and complicated’

Data journalist: That’s fine, NONE OF US can code. None of us. Open angle bracket back slash End close angle bracket.

“These people are coding deniers,” argues Beth.

I think she’s on to something. Flash back to a week before Beth published that post: I was talking to Caroline Beavon about the realisation of just how hard-baked ‘coding’ was into my workflow:

  • A basic understanding of RSS lies behind my ability to get regular updates from hundreds of sources
  • I look at repetitiveness in my work and seek to automate it where I can
  • I look at structure in information and use that to save time in accessing it

These are all logical responses to an environment with more information than a journalist can reasonably deal with, and I have developed many of them almost without realising.

They are responses as logical as deciding to use a pen to record information when human memory cannot store it reliably alone. Or deciding to learn shorthand when longhand writing cannot record reliably alone. Or deciding to use an audio recorder when that technology became available.

One of the things that makes us uniquely human is that we reach for technological supports – tools – to do our jobs better. The alphabet, of course, is a technology too.

But we do not argue that shorthand comes easy, or that audio recorders can be time consuming, or that learning to use a pen takes time.

So: ‘coding’ – whether you call it RSS, or automation, or pattern recognition – needs to be learned. It might seem invisible to those of us who’ve built our work patterns around it – just as the alphabet seems invisible once you’ve learned it. But, like the alphabet, it is a technology all the same.

But secondly – and more importantly – for this to happen as a profession we need to acknowledge that ‘coding’ is a skill that has become as central to working effectively in journalism as using shorthand, the pen, or the alphabet.

I don’t say ‘will be central’ but ‘has become‘. There is too much information, moving too fast, to continue to work with the old tools alone. From social networks to the quantified self; from RSS-enabled blogs to the open data movement; from facial recognition to verification, our old tools won’t do.

So I’m not going to be a coding denier. Coding is to digital information what shorthand was to spoken information. There, I’ve said it. Now, how can we do it better?

May 02 2013

11:04

It’s finished! Scraping for Journalists now complete (for now)

Scraping for Journalists book

Last night I published the final chapter of my first ebook: Scraping for Journalists. Since I started publishing it in July, over 40 ‘versions’ of the book have been uploaded to Leanpub, a platform that allows users to receive updates as a book develops – but more importantly, to input into its development.

I’ve been amazed at the consistent interest in the book – last week it passed 500 readers: 400 more than I ever expected to download it. Their comments have directly shaped, and in some cases been reproduced in, the book – something I expect to continue (I plan to continue to update it).

As a result I’ve become a huge fan of this form of ebook publishing, and plan to do a lot more with it (some hints here and here). The format combines the best qualities of traditional book publishing with those of blogging and social media (there’s a Facebook page too).

Meanwhile, there’s still more to do with Scraping for Journalists: publishing to other platforms and in other languages for starters… If you’re interested in translating the book into another language, please get in touch.

 


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: leanpub, scraping, Scraping for Journalists
11:04

It’s finished! Scraping for Journalists now complete (for now)

Scraping for Journalists book

Last night I published the final chapter of my first ebook: Scraping for Journalists. Since I started publishing it in July, over 40 ‘versions’ of the book have been uploaded to Leanpub, a platform that allows users to receive updates as a book develops – but more importantly, to input into its development.

I’ve been amazed at the consistent interest in the book – last week it passed 500 readers: 400 more than I ever expected to download it. Their comments have directly shaped, and in some cases been reproduced in, the book – something I expect to continue (I plan to continue to update it).

As a result I’ve become a huge fan of this form of ebook publishing, and plan to do a lot more with it (some hints here and here). The format combines the best qualities of traditional book publishing with those of blogging and social media (there’s a Facebook page too).

Meanwhile, there’s still more to do with Scraping for Journalists: publishing to other platforms and in other languages for starters… If you’re interested in translating the book into another language, please get in touch.

 

11:04

It’s finished! Scraping for Journalists now complete (for now)

Scraping for Journalists book

Last night I published the final chapter of my first ebook: Scraping for Journalists. Since I started publishing it in July, over 40 ‘versions’ of the book have been uploaded to Leanpub, a platform that allows users to receive updates as a book develops – but more importantly, to input into its development.

I’ve been amazed at the consistent interest in the book – last week it passed 500 readers: 400 more than I ever expected to download it. Their comments have directly shaped, and in some cases been reproduced in, the book – something I expect to continue (I plan to continue to update it).

As a result I’ve become a huge fan of this form of ebook publishing, and plan to do a lot more with it (some hints here and here). The format combines the best qualities of traditional book publishing with those of blogging and social media (there’s a Facebook page too).

Meanwhile, there’s still more to do with Scraping for Journalists: publishing to other platforms and in other languages for starters… If you’re interested in translating the book into another language, please get in touch.

 


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: leanpub, scraping, Scraping for Journalists

August 21 2012

17:32

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Multimedia also has to deal with the style challenge I’ve written about previously:

“Not only must they be able to adapt their style for different types of reporting; not only must they be able to adapt for different brands; not only must they be able to adapt their style within different brands across multiple media; but they must also be able to adapt their style within a single medium, across multiple platforms: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, or anywhere else that their audiences gather.”

With that in mind, then, here are 4 steps to get started in multimedia journalism:

Step 1: Look for multimedia opportunities in your journalism

The style challenge outlined above means starting from a position of having to decide what medium to use – and the type of multimedia which is produced in this role will depend largely on the nature of the stories and investigations being pursued. Here are some typical examples of where multimedia can bring an extra dimension to a story:

  • Case studies: video or audio interviews with someone at the heart of the story: affected by the issue or working at the coalface
  • Reaction: video or audio interview with the person responsible: capturing their attempts to explain their role
  • Clarity: charts, maps or infographic turning data into something that users can understand more quickly. Tools useful here include Google Charts and Gadgets (in Google Docs), Many Eyes and Tableau for charts; Tagxedo, Wordle or Many Eyes for word clouds; Google Maps and BatchGeo for maps; and Infogr.am for infographics.
  • Explanation: taking something complex and making it accessible to a wider audience – this might be done through a graphic, or through a video or audio interview with an expert who can explain it clearly – including a member of the team
  • Conflict and chemistry: staging a podcast discussion to flesh out the key themes in the issue being explored. This can be done in an entertaining way if your presenters have chemistry, or it can be done in an engaging way if you have two camps in conflict (make sure you can add clarity and expertise into the noise)
  • Interactivity: producing something that users can interact with. Freedive is a useful tool for doing this with spreadsheets. There are also timeline tools like Dipity and Meograph, and charts and maps can be interactive too.
  • Curation: bringing together multimedia content by users in a way that adds value

The multimedia journalist needs to be able to spot those opportunities for multimedia to play a role – and develop the skills to see them through. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the story involve complex concepts that might be better illustrated through visual or aural means?
  • Does the story require a response from someone, or a description of an event, where non-verbal cues such as their tone of voice or facial expression may be key?
  • Are there different positions which would suit a discussion to flesh them out?
  • Is there so much information involved that users might want to explore it themselves to pull out the bits directly relevant to them?
  • Does the story involve figures or data that work better visually than in text?
  • Is there user generated content related to the issue – online or in offline archives, or individuals’ possession – which could be brought together and highlighted?

Looking at plenty of examples of online multimedia is very important here. For the reasons explained above, broadcast journalism is not always the best example to follow. Look at David McCandless’s visualisation work or the discussions about best practice on Flowing Data. Look at the video work of Travis Fox and Michael Rosenblum’s students. Watch The Guardian’s video and the documentary channel on Vimeo. Listen to the most popular podcasts and micropodcasts; soak in audio slideshows – and ask yourself what makes them so effective.

The technical quality – and I know people will disagree with this – can wait.

Step 2: Plan and practise

The reason that I place technical skills second here is this: if you don’t have a story to tell, you are going to have neither the means nor the motive to develop your technical skills.

Furthermore, because there are now so many technical options available to the journalist, learning them all before going out to report is not the most efficient option.

So: story first, technicalities second.

Once you have a story, you have to decide how best to tell it. If it’s video, you will need to learn that. If maps, then look at that.

Don’t wait for someone to show you how: there are thousands of resources online to get you started, from Vimeo’s Video School and YouTube’s Playbook to the BBC College’s resources andMindy McAdams’s collection on audio and video production.

YouTube has tons of tutorials on pretty much any skill you might want to tackle, but there are also text resources such as The Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Handbook Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 which cover mapping and data visualisation, among other useful techniques, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s extensive tutorials.

For photography there’s this free book on DSLR Cinematography, while videographers can choose between this ebook (PDF) by Adam Westbrook on multimedia production and ImageJunkies’s free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking.

If you’re struggling for a reason to use multimedia, liveblogging is a particularly good opportunity to practise your skills: when there’s lots going on, what are the multimedia opportunities:

  • Do you need to be in position for when something visually or aurally striking happens?
  • Or do you need to interview the people taking part, for colour?
  • Do you capture the atmosphere somehow?
  • Do you map it?
  • Do you attempt to flesh out rumours with some actuality?

Every choice counts – be prepared to make a lot of wrong ones, or at least to accept that part of the journalist’s job is deciding what to leave out.

Your first attempts will be crude and frustrating – but they will point you to the key issues, and provide the motivation for learning the techniques.

For example, your video may have poor audio, or be too shaky. There may be too much of you in it. Your map may have too little information. Your audio drones on for too long, then sputters out.

Largely this is about planning: checking out the location and picking a place where background audio isn’t too loud. Briefing the interviewee and getting in close. Researching your subject and knowing the right questions to ask – and when not to accept an answer.

So practise. Learn how to edit your work, just as you would edit your words. Learn how to film closely, or with a microphone, or both to get clearer sound. Learn how to kick off and wrap up audio succinctly. Practise.

Step 3: Improve the technical side with an understanding of principles

An understanding of key principles is just as important as technical ability: you need to understand what works well in a chosen medium: being able to hold a camera is worthless if you point it at something dull. Being able to edit audio isn’t going to help if you don’t ask the right questions in the interview. As countless examples of citizen journalism have proved: people will forgive poor technical quality if the newsworthiness of the content is strong enough. Here are some key principles that come to mind – I’d welcome others:

  • Narrative: how to start, maintain interest, and end well.
  • Interviewing: what questions to ask, when and how.
  • Editing and composition: how to combine elements for maximum clarity and effect. Being ruthless in taking things out.
  • Visual design: how to compose an image for impact, or what is most effective in a chart

Just as the story provides a focus for the development of technical skills, so these core principles should refine those further. In particular, they should help you make choices quickly, including the difficult ones. What to start with and what to end with. When and what to cut away. How to be confident in what you’re doing, and push for the right result.

Step 4: Start simple, and go from there

With those three steps established, there may be a temptation to try something with multiple angles, cuts, sections, or layers. So the final step is to step back, and start simple.

Mobile video is a good discipline here: it prevents you from using cutaways and other techniques to disguise your content – and forces you to focus on core qualities: clear audio, good questions, and an engaging subject.

Maps and charts should focus on a few key data points, and link to the rest.

A short podcast, tightly edited, will develop your production skills much better than a flabby multi-section programme which pulls you in too many different directions.

If you’re already good at photography, an audio slideshow will stretch you a little further. Master one part, and then build on that.

Comments especially welcome

17:32

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Multimedia also has to deal with the style challenge I’ve written about previously:

“Not only must they be able to adapt their style for different types of reporting; not only must they be able to adapt for different brands; not only must they be able to adapt their style within different brands across multiple media; but they must also be able to adapt their style within a single medium, across multiple platforms: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, or anywhere else that their audiences gather.”

With that in mind, then, here are 4 steps to get started in multimedia journalism:

Step 1: Look for multimedia opportunities in your journalism

The style challenge outlined above means starting from a position of having to decide what medium to use – and the type of multimedia which is produced in this role will depend largely on the nature of the stories and investigations being pursued. Here are some typical examples of where multimedia can bring an extra dimension to a story:

  • Case studies: video or audio interviews with someone at the heart of the story: affected by the issue or working at the coalface
  • Reaction: video or audio interview with the person responsible: capturing their attempts to explain their role
  • Clarity: charts, maps or infographic turning data into something that users can understand more quickly. Tools useful here include Google Charts and Gadgets (in Google Docs), Many Eyes and Tableau for charts; Tagxedo, Wordle or Many Eyes for word clouds; Google Maps and BatchGeo for maps; and Infogr.am for infographics.
  • Explanation: taking something complex and making it accessible to a wider audience – this might be done through a graphic, or through a video or audio interview with an expert who can explain it clearly – including a member of the team
  • Conflict and chemistry: staging a podcast discussion to flesh out the key themes in the issue being explored. This can be done in an entertaining way if your presenters have chemistry, or it can be done in an engaging way if you have two camps in conflict (make sure you can add clarity and expertise into the noise)
  • Interactivity: producing something that users can interact with. Freedive is a useful tool for doing this with spreadsheets. There are also timeline tools like Dipity and Meograph, and charts and maps can be interactive too.
  • Curation: bringing together multimedia content by users in a way that adds value

The multimedia journalist needs to be able to spot those opportunities for multimedia to play a role – and develop the skills to see them through. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the story involve complex concepts that might be better illustrated through visual or aural means?
  • Does the story require a response from someone, or a description of an event, where non-verbal cues such as their tone of voice or facial expression may be key?
  • Are there different positions which would suit a discussion to flesh them out?
  • Is there so much information involved that users might want to explore it themselves to pull out the bits directly relevant to them?
  • Does the story involve figures or data that work better visually than in text?
  • Is there user generated content related to the issue – online or in offline archives, or individuals’ possession – which could be brought together and highlighted?

Looking at plenty of examples of online multimedia is very important here. For the reasons explained above, broadcast journalism is not always the best example to follow. Look at David McCandless’s visualisation work or the discussions about best practice on Flowing Data. Look at the video work of Travis Fox and Michael Rosenblum’s students. Watch The Guardian’s video and the documentary channel on Vimeo. Listen to the most popular podcasts and micropodcasts; soak in audio slideshows – and ask yourself what makes them so effective.

The technical quality – and I know people will disagree with this – can wait.

Step 2: Plan and practise

The reason that I place technical skills second here is this: if you don’t have a story to tell, you are going to have neither the means nor the motive to develop your technical skills.

Furthermore, because there are now so many technical options available to the journalist, learning them all before going out to report is not the most efficient option.

So: story first, technicalities second.

Once you have a story, you have to decide how best to tell it. If it’s video, you will need to learn that. If maps, then look at that.

Don’t wait for someone to show you how: there are thousands of resources online to get you started, from Vimeo’s Video School and YouTube’s Playbook to the BBC College’s resources andMindy McAdams’s collection on audio and video production.

YouTube has tons of tutorials on pretty much any skill you might want to tackle, but there are also text resources such as The Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Handbook Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 which cover mapping and data visualisation, among other useful techniques, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s extensive tutorials.

For photography there’s this free book on DSLR Cinematography, while videographers can choose between this ebook (PDF) by Adam Westbrook on multimedia production and ImageJunkies’s free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking.

If you’re struggling for a reason to use multimedia, liveblogging is a particularly good opportunity to practise your skills: when there’s lots going on, what are the multimedia opportunities:

  • Do you need to be in position for when something visually or aurally striking happens?
  • Or do you need to interview the people taking part, for colour?
  • Do you capture the atmosphere somehow?
  • Do you map it?
  • Do you attempt to flesh out rumours with some actuality?

Every choice counts – be prepared to make a lot of wrong ones, or at least to accept that part of the journalist’s job is deciding what to leave out.

Your first attempts will be crude and frustrating – but they will point you to the key issues, and provide the motivation for learning the techniques.

For example, your video may have poor audio, or be too shaky. There may be too much of you in it. Your map may have too little information. Your audio drones on for too long, then sputters out.

Largely this is about planning: checking out the location and picking a place where background audio isn’t too loud. Briefing the interviewee and getting in close. Researching your subject and knowing the right questions to ask – and when not to accept an answer.

So practise. Learn how to edit your work, just as you would edit your words. Learn how to film closely, or with a microphone, or both to get clearer sound. Learn how to kick off and wrap up audio succinctly. Practise.

Step 3: Improve the technical side with an understanding of principles

An understanding of key principles is just as important as technical ability: you need to understand what works well in a chosen medium: being able to hold a camera is worthless if you point it at something dull. Being able to edit audio isn’t going to help if you don’t ask the right questions in the interview. As countless examples of citizen journalism have proved: people will forgive poor technical quality if the newsworthiness of the content is strong enough. Here are some key principles that come to mind – I’d welcome others:

  • Narrative: how to start, maintain interest, and end well.
  • Interviewing: what questions to ask, when and how.
  • Editing and composition: how to combine elements for maximum clarity and effect. Being ruthless in taking things out.
  • Visual design: how to compose an image for impact, or what is most effective in a chart

Just as the story provides a focus for the development of technical skills, so these core principles should refine those further. In particular, they should help you make choices quickly, including the difficult ones. What to start with and what to end with. When and what to cut away. How to be confident in what you’re doing, and push for the right result.

Step 4: Start simple, and go from there

With those three steps established, there may be a temptation to try something with multiple angles, cuts, sections, or layers. So the final step is to step back, and start simple.

Mobile video is a good discipline here: it prevents you from using cutaways and other techniques to disguise your content – and forces you to focus on core qualities: clear audio, good questions, and an engaging subject.

Maps and charts should focus on a few key data points, and link to the rest.

A short podcast, tightly edited, will develop your production skills much better than a flabby multi-section programme which pulls you in too many different directions.

If you’re already good at photography, an audio slideshow will stretch you a little further. Master one part, and then build on that.

Comments especially welcome

17:32

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Multimedia also has to deal with the style challenge I’ve written about previously:

“Not only must they be able to adapt their style for different types of reporting; not only must they be able to adapt for different brands; not only must they be able to adapt their style within different brands across multiple media; but they must also be able to adapt their style within a single medium, across multiple platforms: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, or anywhere else that their audiences gather.”

With that in mind, then, here are 4 steps to get started in multimedia journalism:

Step 1: Look for multimedia opportunities in your journalism

The style challenge outlined above means starting from a position of having to decide what medium to use – and the type of multimedia which is produced in this role will depend largely on the nature of the stories and investigations being pursued. Here are some typical examples of where multimedia can bring an extra dimension to a story:

  • Case studies: video or audio interviews with someone at the heart of the story: affected by the issue or working at the coalface
  • Reaction: video or audio interview with the person responsible: capturing their attempts to explain their role
  • Clarity: charts, maps or infographic turning data into something that users can understand more quickly. Tools useful here include Google Charts and Gadgets (in Google Docs), Many Eyes and Tableau for charts; Tagxedo, Wordle or Many Eyes for word clouds; Google Maps and BatchGeo for maps; and Infogr.am for infographics.
  • Explanation: taking something complex and making it accessible to a wider audience – this might be done through a graphic, or through a video or audio interview with an expert who can explain it clearly – including a member of the team
  • Conflict and chemistry: staging a podcast discussion to flesh out the key themes in the issue being explored. This can be done in an entertaining way if your presenters have chemistry, or it can be done in an engaging way if you have two camps in conflict (make sure you can add clarity and expertise into the noise)
  • Interactivity: producing something that users can interact with. Freedive is a useful tool for doing this with spreadsheets. There are also timeline tools like Dipity and Meograph, and charts and maps can be interactive too.
  • Curation: bringing together multimedia content by users in a way that adds value

The multimedia journalist needs to be able to spot those opportunities for multimedia to play a role – and develop the skills to see them through. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the story involve complex concepts that might be better illustrated through visual or aural means?
  • Does the story require a response from someone, or a description of an event, where non-verbal cues such as their tone of voice or facial expression may be key?
  • Are there different positions which would suit a discussion to flesh them out?
  • Is there so much information involved that users might want to explore it themselves to pull out the bits directly relevant to them?
  • Does the story involve figures or data that work better visually than in text?
  • Is there user generated content related to the issue – online or in offline archives, or individuals’ possession – which could be brought together and highlighted?

Looking at plenty of examples of online multimedia is very important here. For the reasons explained above, broadcast journalism is not always the best example to follow. Look at David McCandless’s visualisation work or the discussions about best practice on Flowing Data. Look at the video work of Travis Fox and Michael Rosenblum’s students. Watch The Guardian’s video and the documentary channel on Vimeo. Listen to the most popular podcasts and micropodcasts; soak in audio slideshows – and ask yourself what makes them so effective.

The technical quality – and I know people will disagree with this – can wait.

Step 2: Plan and practise

The reason that I place technical skills second here is this: if you don’t have a story to tell, you are going to have neither the means nor the motive to develop your technical skills.

Furthermore, because there are now so many technical options available to the journalist, learning them all before going out to report is not the most efficient option.

So: story first, technicalities second.

Once you have a story, you have to decide how best to tell it. If it’s video, you will need to learn that. If maps, then look at that.

Don’t wait for someone to show you how: there are thousands of resources online to get you started, from Vimeo’s Video School and YouTube’s Playbook to the BBC College’s resources andMindy McAdams’s collection on audio and video production.

YouTube has tons of tutorials on pretty much any skill you might want to tackle, but there are also text resources such as The Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Handbook Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 which cover mapping and data visualisation, among other useful techniques, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s extensive tutorials.

For photography there’s this free book on DSLR Cinematography, while videographers can choose between this ebook (PDF) by Adam Westbrook on multimedia production and ImageJunkies’s free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking.

If you’re struggling for a reason to use multimedia, liveblogging is a particularly good opportunity to practise your skills: when there’s lots going on, what are the multimedia opportunities:

  • Do you need to be in position for when something visually or aurally striking happens?
  • Or do you need to interview the people taking part, for colour?
  • Do you capture the atmosphere somehow?
  • Do you map it?
  • Do you attempt to flesh out rumours with some actuality?

Every choice counts – be prepared to make a lot of wrong ones, or at least to accept that part of the journalist’s job is deciding what to leave out.

Your first attempts will be crude and frustrating – but they will point you to the key issues, and provide the motivation for learning the techniques.

For example, your video may have poor audio, or be too shaky. There may be too much of you in it. Your map may have too little information. Your audio drones on for too long, then sputters out.

Largely this is about planning: checking out the location and picking a place where background audio isn’t too loud. Briefing the interviewee and getting in close. Researching your subject and knowing the right questions to ask – and when not to accept an answer.

So practise. Learn how to edit your work, just as you would edit your words. Learn how to film closely, or with a microphone, or both to get clearer sound. Learn how to kick off and wrap up audio succinctly. Practise.

Step 3: Improve the technical side with an understanding of principles

An understanding of key principles is just as important as technical ability: you need to understand what works well in a chosen medium: being able to hold a camera is worthless if you point it at something dull. Being able to edit audio isn’t going to help if you don’t ask the right questions in the interview. As countless examples of citizen journalism have proved: people will forgive poor technical quality if the newsworthiness of the content is strong enough. Here are some key principles that come to mind – I’d welcome others:

  • Narrative: how to start, maintain interest, and end well.
  • Interviewing: what questions to ask, when and how.
  • Editing and composition: how to combine elements for maximum clarity and effect. Being ruthless in taking things out.
  • Visual design: how to compose an image for impact, or what is most effective in a chart

Just as the story provides a focus for the development of technical skills, so these core principles should refine those further. In particular, they should help you make choices quickly, including the difficult ones. What to start with and what to end with. When and what to cut away. How to be confident in what you’re doing, and push for the right result.

Step 4: Start simple, and go from there

With those three steps established, there may be a temptation to try something with multiple angles, cuts, sections, or layers. So the final step is to step back, and start simple.

Mobile video is a good discipline here: it prevents you from using cutaways and other techniques to disguise your content – and forces you to focus on core qualities: clear audio, good questions, and an engaging subject.

Maps and charts should focus on a few key data points, and link to the rest.

A short podcast, tightly edited, will develop your production skills much better than a flabby multi-section programme which pulls you in too many different directions.

If you’re already good at photography, an audio slideshow will stretch you a little further. Master one part, and then build on that.

Comments especially welcome


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: david mccandless, Flowing Data, liveblogging, multimedia

August 16 2012

08:27

Hyperlocal Voices: Matt Brown, Londonist

The fifth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices explores the work done by the team behind the Londonist. Despite having a large geographic footprint – Londonist covers the whole of Greater London - the site is full of ultra-local content, as well as featuring stories and themes which span the whole of the capital.

Run by two members of staff and a raft of volunteers, Editor Matt Brown gave Damian Radcliffe an insight into the breadth and depth of the site.

1. Who were the people behind the blog?

Everyone in London! We’re a very open site, involving our readers in the creation of many articles, especially the imagery. But more prosaically, we have an editorial team of 5 or 6 people, plus another 20 or so regular contributors. I act as the main content editor for the site.

We’re more than a website, though, with a weekly podcast (Londonist Out Loud, ably presented and produced by N Quentin Woolf), a separate Facebook presence, a daily e-newsletter, 80,000 Twitter followers, the largest FourSquare following in London (I think), a Flickr pool with 200,000 images, several e-books, occasional exhibitions and live events every few weeks. The web site is just one facet of what we do.

2. What made you decide to set up the blog?

I actually inherited it off someone else, but it was originally set up as a London equivalent of certain sites in the US like Gothamist and Chicagoist, which were riding the early blogging wave, providing news and event tips for citizens. There was nothing quite like it in London, so my predecessor wanted to jump into the gap and have some fun.

3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

It dates back to 2004, when it was originally called the Big Smoker. Before too long, it joined the Gothamist network, changing its name to Londonist.

We now operate independently of that network, but retain the name. It was originally set up in Movable Type publishing platform, but we moved to WordPress a couple of years ago.

4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Obviously, the Gothamist sites originally. But we’re now more influenced by the wonderful ecosystem of London blogs out there, all offering their own take on life in the capital.

The best include Diamond Geezer (an incisive and often acerbic look at London), Ian Visits (a mix of unusual site visits and geeky observation) and Spitalfields Life (a daily interview with a local character). These are just three of the dozens of excellent London sites in my RSS reader.

5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

Complementary rather than competitors. We cover three or four news stories a day, sometimes journalistically, but our forte in this area is more in commentary, features and reader involvement around the news.

And news is just a small part of what we do — most of the site is event recommendation, unusual historical insights, street art, food and drink, theatre reviews and the like. As an example of our diversity, a few months back we ran a 3,000-word essay on the construction of Hammersmith flyover by an engineering PhD candidate, and the very next item was about a beauty pageant for chubby people in Vauxhall.

6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

I think most of these would be technologically driven. For example, when Google mapping became possible, our free wifi hotspots and V2 rocket maps greatly increased site traffic.

Once Twitter reached critical mass we were able to reach out to tens of thousands of people, both for sourcing information for articles and pushing our finished content.

The other big thing was turning the site into a business a couple of years ago, so we were able to bring a little bit of money in to reinvest in the site. The extra editorial time the money pays for means our output is now bigger and better.

7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

We’re now seeing about 1.4 million page views a month. It’s pretty much doubling year on year.

8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?

Transforming from an amateur site into a business.

We started taking different types of advertising, including advertorial content, and had to make sure we didn’t alienate our readers. It was a tricky tightrope, but I’d hope we’ve done a fairly good job of selecting paid-for content only if it’s of interest to a meaningful portion of our readers, and then making sure we’re open and clear about what is sponsored content and what is editorially driven.

9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of? 

I’m rather enjoying our A-Z pubcrawl at the moment, and not just because of the booze.

Basically, we pick an area of town each month beginning with the next letter of the alphabet (so, Angel, Brixton, City, Dalston, etc.). We then ask our readers to nominate their favourite pubs and bars in the area, via Twitter, Facebook or comments.

We then build a Google map of all the suggestions and arrange a pub crawl around the top 4.

Everyone’s a winner because (a) we get a Google-friendly article called, for example, ‘What’s the best pub in Farringdon?‘, with a map of all the suggestions; (b) we get the chance to use our strong social media channels to involve a large number of people – hundreds of votes every time; (c) the chance to meet some of our readers, who are invited along on the pub crawl, and who get a Londonistbooze badge as a memento; (d) a really fun night out round some very good pubs.

The next part (G for Greenwich) will be announced in early September.

10. What are your plans for the future?

We’re playing around with ebooks at the moment, as a way to sustain the business directly through content. We’ve published a book of London pub crawls (spotting a theme here?), and a history of the London Olympics by noted London author David Long. Our next ebook will be a collection of quiz questions about the capital, drawn from the numerous pub quizzes we’ve ran over the years.

Basically, we’re looking to be the best organisation for finding out about London in any and every medium we can get our hands on.

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