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October 06 2011

13:11

LIVE: Session 3B – Collaboration in investagative journalism

It has often been said that collaboration is key for the future of investigative journalism, be that working in partnership with other news outlets or media bodies, or harnessing the power of the community in investigations. This session gives advice on how best to make a go of large projects by sharing resources and inviting the community to help dig with you.

With Iain Overton, managing editor, Bureau of Investigative Journalism; Simon Perry, founder, Ventnor Blog; Paul Lewis, special projects editor, the Guardian and Christine Spolar, investigations and special projects editor, the Financial Times.

#newsrw 3B Investigative journalism

March 25 2011

13:50

All the news that’s fit to scrape

Channel 4/Scraperwiki collaboration

There have been quite a few scraping-related stories that I’ve been meaning to blog about – so many I’ve decided to write a round up instead. It demonstrates just the increasing role that scraping is playing in journalism – and the possibilities for those who don’t know them:

Scraping company information

Chris Taggart explains how he built a database of corporations which will be particularly useful to journalists and anyone looking at public spending:

“Let’s have a look at one we did earlier: the Isle of Man (there’s also one for Gibraltar, Ireland, and in the US, the District of Columbia) … In the space of a couple of hours not only have we liberated the data, but both the code and the data are there for anyone else to use too, as well as being imported in OpenCorporates.”

OpenCorporates are also offering a bounty for programmers who can scrape company information from other jurisdictions.

Scraperwiki on the front page of The Guardian…

The Scraperwiki blog gives the story behind a front page investigation by James Ball on lobbyist influence in the UK Parliament:

“James Ball’s story is helped and supported by a ScraperWiki script that took data from registers across parliament that is located on different servers and aggregates them into one source table that can be viewed in a spreadsheet or document.  This is now a living source of data that can be automatically updated.  http://scraperwiki.com/scrapers/all_party_groups/

“Journalists can put down markers that run and update automatically and they can monitor the data over time with the objective of holding ‘power and money’ to account. The added value  of this technique is that in one step the data is represented in a uniform structure and linked to the source thus ensuring its provenance.  The software code that collects the data can be inspected by others in a peer review process to ensure the fidelity of the data.”

…and on Channel 4′s Dispatches

From the Open Knowledge Foundation blog (more on Scraperwiki’s blog):

“ScraperWiki worked with Channel 4 News and Dispatches to make two supporting data visualisations, to help viewers understand what assets the UK Government owns … The first is a bubble chart of what central Government owns. The PDFs were mined by hand (by Nicola) to make the visualisation, and if you drill down you will see an image of the PDF with the source of the data highlighted. That’s quite an innovation – one of the goals of the new data industry is transparency of source. Without knowing the source of data, you can’t fully understand the implications of making a decision based on it.

“The second is a map of brownfield landed owned by local councils in England … The dataset is compiled by the Homes and Communities Agency, who have a goal of improving use of brownfield land to help reduce the housing shortage. It’s quite interesting that a dataset gathered for purposes of developing housing is also useful, as an aside, for measuring what the state owns. It’s that kind of twist of use of data that really requires understanding of the source of the data.

Which chiropractors were making “bogus” claims?

This is an example from last summer. Following the Simon Singh case Simon Perry wrote a script to check which chiropractors were making the same “bogus claims” that Singh was being sued over:

“The BCA web site lists all it’s 1029 members online, including for many of them, about 400 web site URLs. I wrote a quick computer program to download the member details, record them in a database and then download the individual web sites. I then searched the data for the word “colic” and then manually checked each site to verify that the chiropractors were either claiming to treat colic, or implying that chiropractic was an efficacious treatment for it. I found 160 practices in total, with around 500 individual chiropractors.

“The final piece in the puzzle was a simple mail-merge. Not wanting to simultaneously report several quacks to the same Trading Standards office, I limited the mail-merge to one per authority and sent out 84 letters.

“On the 10th, the science blogs went wild when Le Canard Noir published a very amusing email from the McTimoney Chiropractic Association, advising their members to take down their web site. It didn’t matter, I had copies of all the web sites.”

February 25 2010

11:52

February 24 2010

19:58

Why was Simon Perry ejected from Newport coroner’s court?

Very odd scenes at the coroner’s court at Newport in the Isle of Wight, where VentnorBlog’s Simon Perry was ejected by the coroner’s officer – at first, according to Perry, on the grounds that he had suddenly ceased to be a journalist (VentnorBlog have a fine record of attending meetings and hearings), then as a member of the public on the grounds that the court was full; and finally, “Telling him that someone had offered to step out of the court to make a space for us, he said that would make no difference.

“When we asked [coroner's officer] Richard Leedham if this had ever happened before, he said he hadn’t heard of such a case.”

Perry is a member of the NUJ and his VentnorBlog is particularly well known for covering the civic affairs on the Isle of Wight. I’d go as far as to say it’s an example of best practice in local blogging.

But his position as a journalist is irrelevant here. The question is why a coroner can be allowed to adopt this attitude towards any member of the public who wishes to attend their court. The more attention this gets, the better.

More at Journalism.co.uk and VentnorBlog.

17:02

Local news blogger refused entry to coroner’s court

VentnorBlog, the well-established Isle of Wight news blog, found itself thrown out of a coroner’s court on Tuesday.

Coroner officer Richard Leedham told Simon Perry of the VentnorBlog, who is a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and who has been writing VB for over four years, that the coroner did not wish him to be in the court – as a journalist or as a member of the public.

The Isle of Wight County Press was allowed to stay, however. Richard Leedham told Journalism.co.uk that the coroner’s court would not be making a comment, but that a statement had been made by the coroner after VentnorBlog had left the room.

The case concerns the death of a woman on the Island in September 2008; the coroner court case has been postponed twice. VB wrote that it had been “led to believe that circumstances surrounding her death may be of public interest”.

Leedham directed us to the local newspaper, the Isle of Wight County Press for details of proceedings, but its story has not yet been written.

The VentnorBlog was informed the decision was to do with previous correspondence from the Coroner over another case. VB said it had made a slight amendment to a story in 2008, after being alerted to do so by a police press officer, but that the subsequent Coroner’s letter had been a private warning, with no further action taken, VB said.

After publishing a video made outside the court, and details of the eviction from the court, many of VB’s followers left comments encouraging VB to take further action. “Ventnor blog seems our one source of reliable info on the Island,” wrote one.

Bringing it back to the case itself, a commenter who says she is the daughter of the woman concerned, said she was glad the VB was ejected, and that she wished no media were able to attend the case.

In a reply to the commenter, VB’s Simon Perry said that “access to a coroner’s inquest is a basic and important right for the public and press. Without it there are no checks on people’s deaths. As no notes are published from the inquest, the only way that it can be understood and reported is by people / press attending”.

The VentnorBlog is now considering its next step: “We’ve yet to properly consider this. Being a tiny set-up, it’s hard to balance being forced to deal with something unwanted like this and still keep the news going on the site.

“The NUJ would seem like an obvious start and we’ll also be having a good look at the suggestions that our readers left in the comments on the story.”

“Nine plus years of NUJ membership would surely point to me not being fly by night like the ignorant accuse bloggers of being,” Perry added.

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