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April 19 2012

13:34

When data goes bad

Data is so central to the decision-making that shapes our countries, jobs and even personal lives that an increasing amount of data journalism involves scrutinising the problems with the very data itself. Here’s an illustrative list of when bad data becomes the story – and the lessons they can teach data journalists:

Deaths in police custody unrecorded

This investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism demonstrates an important question to ask about data: who decides what gets recorded?

In this case, the BIJ identified “a number of cases not included in the official tally of 16 ‘restraint-related’ deaths in the decade to 2009 … Some cases were not included because the person has not been officially arrested or detained.”

As they explain:

“It turns out the IPCC has a very tight definition of ‘in custody’ –  defined only as when someone has been formally arrested or detained under the mental health act. This does not include people who have died after being in contact with the police.

“There are in fact two lists. The one which includes the widely quoted list of sixteen deaths in custody only records the cases where the person has been arrested or detained under the mental health act. So, an individual who comes into contact with the police – is never arrested or detained – but nonetheless dies after being restrained, is not included in the figures.

“… But even using the IPCC’s tightly drawn definition, the Bureau has identified cases that are still missing.”

Cross-checking the official statistics against wider reports was key technique. As was using the Freedom of Information Act to request the details behind them and the details of those “ who died in circumstances where restraint was used but was not necessarily a direct cause of death”.

Cooking the books on drug-related murders

Drug related murders in Mexico
Cross-checking statistics against reports was also used in this investigation by Diego Valle-Jones into Mexican drug deaths:

“The Acteal massacre committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians is missing from the vital statistics database. According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

Diego also used the Benford’s Law technique to identify potentially fraudulent data, which was also used to highlight relationships between dodgy company data and real world events such as the dotcom bubble and deregulation.

Poor records mean no checks

Detective Inspector Philip Shakesheff exposed a “gap between [local authority] records and police data”, reported The Sunday Times in a story headlined ‘Care home loses child 130 times‘:

“The true scale of the problem was revealed after a check of records on police computers. For every child officially recorded by local authorities as missing in 2010, another seven were unaccounted for without their absence being noted.”

Why is it important?

“The number who go missing is one of the indicators on which Ofsted judges how well children’s homes are performing and the homes have a legal duty to keep accurate records.

“However, there is evidence some homes are failing to do so. In one case, Ofsted gave a good report to a private children’s home in Worcestershire when police records showed 1,630 missing person reports in five years. Police stationed an officer at the home and pressed Ofsted to look closer. The home was downgraded to inadequate and it later closed.

“The risks of being missing from care are demonstrated by Zoe Thomsett, 17, who was Westminster council’s responsibility. It sent her to a care home in Herefordshire, where she went missing several times, the final time for three days. She had earlier been found at an address in Hereford, but because no record was kept, nobody checked the address. She died there of a drugs overdose.

“The troubled life of Dane Edgar, 14, ended with a drugs overdose at a friend’s house after he repeatedly went missing from a children’s home in Northumberland. Another 14-year-old, James Jordan, was killed when he absconded from care and was the passenger in a stolen car.”

Interests not registered

When there are no formal checks on declarations of interest, how can we rely on it? In Chile, the Ciudadano Inteligente Fundaciondecided to check the Chilean MPs’ register of assets and interests by building a database:

“No-one was analysing this data, so it was incomplete,” explained Felipe Heusser, executive president of the Fundacion. “We used technology to build a database, using a wide range of open data and mapped all the MPs’ interests. From that, we found that nearly 40% of MPs were not disclosing their assets fully.”

The organisation has now launched a database that “enables members of the public to find potential conflicts of interest by analysing the data disclosed through the members’ register of assets.”

Data laundering

Tony Hirst’s post about how dodgy data was “laundered” by Facebook in a consultants report is a good illustration of the need to ‘follow the data’.

We have some dodgy evidence, about which we’re biased, so we give it to an “independent” consultant who re-reports it, albeit with caveats, that we can then report, minus the caveats. Lovely, clean evidence. Our lobbyists can then go to a lazy policy researcher and take this scrubbed evidence, referencing it as finding in the Deloitte report, so that it can make its way into a policy briefing.”

“Things just don’t add up”

In the video below Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation takes the US government to task over the inconsistencies in its transparency agenda, and the flawed data published on its USAspending.gov – so flawed that they launched the Clearspending website to automate and highlight the discrepancy between two sources of the same data:

Key budget decisions made on useless data

Sometimes data might appear to tell an astonishing story, but this turns out to be a mistake – and that mistake itself leads you to something much more newsworthy, as Channel 4′s FactCheck found when it started trying to find out if councils had been cutting spending on Sure Start children’s centres:

“That ought to be fairly straightforward, as all councils by law have to fill in something called a Section 251 workbook detailing how much they are spending on various services for young people.

“… Brent Council in north London appeared to have slashed its funding by nearly 90 per cent, something that seemed strange, as we hadn’t heard an outcry from local parents.

“The council swiftly admitted making an accounting error – to the tune of a staggering £6m.”

And they weren’t the only ones. In fact, the Department for Education  admitted the numbers were “not very accurate”:

“So to recap, these spending figures don’t actually reflect the real amount of money spent; figures from different councils are not comparable with each other; spending in one year can’t be compared usefully with other years; and the government doesn’t propose to audit the figures or correct them when they’re wrong.”

This was particularly important because the S251 form “is the document the government uses to reallocate funding from council-run schools to its flagship academies.”:

“The Local Government Association (LGA) says less than £250m should be swiped from council budgets and given to academies, while the government wants to cut more than £1bn, prompting accusations that it is overfunding its favoured schools to the detriment of thousands of other children.

“Many councils’ complaints, made plain in responses to an ongoing government consultation, hinge on DfE’s use of S251, a document it has variously described as “unaudited”, “flawed” and”not fit for purpose”.

No data is still a story

Sticking with education, the TES reports on the outcome of an FOI request on the experience of Ofsted inspectors:

“[Stephen] Ball submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking how many HMIs had experience of being a secondary head, and how many of those had led an outstanding school. The answer? Ofsted “does not hold the details”.

““Secondary heads and academy principals need to be reassured that their work is judged by people who understand its complexity,” Mr Ball said. “Training as a good head of department or a primary school leader on the framework is no longer adequate. Secondary heads don’t fear judgement, but they expect to be judged by people who have experience as well as a theoretical training. After all, a working knowledge of the highway code doesn’t qualify you to become a driving examiner.”

“… Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s new chief inspector, has already argued publicly that raw data are a key factor in assessing a school’s performance. By not providing the facts to back up its boasts about the expertise of its inspectors, many heads will remain sceptical of the watchdog’s claims.”

Men aren’t as tall as they say they are

To round off, here’s a quirky piece of data journalism by dating site OkCupid, which looked at the height of its members and found an interesting pattern:

Male height distribution on OKCupid

 

“The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution—except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be.

“Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5′ 8″, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.”

Do you know of any other examples of bad data forming the basis of a story? Please post a comment – I’m collecting examples.

13:34

When data goes bad

Data is so central to the decision-making that shapes our countries, jobs and even personal lives that an increasing amount of data journalism involves scrutinising the problems with the very data itself. Here’s an illustrative list of when bad data becomes the story – and the lessons they can teach data journalists:

Deaths in police custody unrecorded

This investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism demonstrates an important question to ask about data: who decides what gets recorded?

In this case, the BIJ identified “a number of cases not included in the official tally of 16 ‘restraint-related’ deaths in the decade to 2009 … Some cases were not included because the person has not been officially arrested or detained.”

As they explain:

“It turns out the IPCC has a very tight definition of ‘in custody’ –  defined only as when someone has been formally arrested or detained under the mental health act. This does not include people who have died after being in contact with the police.

“There are in fact two lists. The one which includes the widely quoted list of sixteen deaths in custody only records the cases where the person has been arrested or detained under the mental health act. So, an individual who comes into contact with the police – is never arrested or detained – but nonetheless dies after being restrained, is not included in the figures.

“… But even using the IPCC’s tightly drawn definition, the Bureau has identified cases that are still missing.”

Cross-checking the official statistics against wider reports was key technique. As was using the Freedom of Information Act to request the details behind them and the details of those “ who died in circumstances where restraint was used but was not necessarily a direct cause of death”.

Cooking the books on drug-related murders

Drug related murders in Mexico
Cross-checking statistics against reports was also used in this investigation by Diego Valle-Jones into Mexican drug deaths:

“The Acteal massacre committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians is missing from the vital statistics database. According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

Diego also used the Benford’s Law technique to identify potentially fraudulent data, which was also used to highlight relationships between dodgy company data and real world events such as the dotcom bubble and deregulation.

Poor records mean no checks

Detective Inspector Philip Shakesheff exposed a “gap between [local authority] records and police data”, reported The Sunday Times in a story headlined ‘Care home loses child 130 times‘:

“The true scale of the problem was revealed after a check of records on police computers. For every child officially recorded by local authorities as missing in 2010, another seven were unaccounted for without their absence being noted.”

Why is it important?

“The number who go missing is one of the indicators on which Ofsted judges how well children’s homes are performing and the homes have a legal duty to keep accurate records.

“However, there is evidence some homes are failing to do so. In one case, Ofsted gave a good report to a private children’s home in Worcestershire when police records showed 1,630 missing person reports in five years. Police stationed an officer at the home and pressed Ofsted to look closer. The home was downgraded to inadequate and it later closed.

“The risks of being missing from care are demonstrated by Zoe Thomsett, 17, who was Westminster council’s responsibility. It sent her to a care home in Herefordshire, where she went missing several times, the final time for three days. She had earlier been found at an address in Hereford, but because no record was kept, nobody checked the address. She died there of a drugs overdose.

“The troubled life of Dane Edgar, 14, ended with a drugs overdose at a friend’s house after he repeatedly went missing from a children’s home in Northumberland. Another 14-year-old, James Jordan, was killed when he absconded from care and was the passenger in a stolen car.”

Interests not registered

When there are no formal checks on declarations of interest, how can we rely on it? In Chile, the Ciudadano Inteligente Fundaciondecided to check the Chilean MPs’ register of assets and interests by building a database:

“No-one was analysing this data, so it was incomplete,” explained Felipe Heusser, executive president of the Fundacion. “We used technology to build a database, using a wide range of open data and mapped all the MPs’ interests. From that, we found that nearly 40% of MPs were not disclosing their assets fully.”

The organisation has now launched a database that “enables members of the public to find potential conflicts of interest by analysing the data disclosed through the members’ register of assets.”

Data laundering

Tony Hirst’s post about how dodgy data was “laundered” by Facebook in a consultants report is a good illustration of the need to ‘follow the data’.

We have some dodgy evidence, about which we’re biased, so we give it to an “independent” consultant who re-reports it, albeit with caveats, that we can then report, minus the caveats. Lovely, clean evidence. Our lobbyists can then go to a lazy policy researcher and take this scrubbed evidence, referencing it as finding in the Deloitte report, so that it can make its way into a policy briefing.”

“Things just don’t add up”

In the video below Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation takes the US government to task over the inconsistencies in its transparency agenda, and the flawed data published on its USAspending.gov – so flawed that they launched the Clearspending website to automate and highlight the discrepancy between two sources of the same data:

Key budget decisions made on useless data

Sometimes data might appear to tell an astonishing story, but this turns out to be a mistake – and that mistake itself leads you to something much more newsworthy, as Channel 4′s FactCheck found when it started trying to find out if councils had been cutting spending on Sure Start children’s centres:

“That ought to be fairly straightforward, as all councils by law have to fill in something called a Section 251 workbook detailing how much they are spending on various services for young people.

“… Brent Council in north London appeared to have slashed its funding by nearly 90 per cent, something that seemed strange, as we hadn’t heard an outcry from local parents.

“The council swiftly admitted making an accounting error – to the tune of a staggering £6m.”

And they weren’t the only ones. In fact, the Department for Education  admitted the numbers were “not very accurate”:

“So to recap, these spending figures don’t actually reflect the real amount of money spent; figures from different councils are not comparable with each other; spending in one year can’t be compared usefully with other years; and the government doesn’t propose to audit the figures or correct them when they’re wrong.”

This was particularly important because the S251 form “is the document the government uses to reallocate funding from council-run schools to its flagship academies.”:

“The Local Government Association (LGA) says less than £250m should be swiped from council budgets and given to academies, while the government wants to cut more than £1bn, prompting accusations that it is overfunding its favoured schools to the detriment of thousands of other children.

“Many councils’ complaints, made plain in responses to an ongoing government consultation, hinge on DfE’s use of S251, a document it has variously described as “unaudited”, “flawed” and”not fit for purpose”.

No data is still a story

Sticking with education, the TES reports on the outcome of an FOI request on the experience of Ofsted inspectors:

“[Stephen] Ball submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking how many HMIs had experience of being a secondary head, and how many of those had led an outstanding school. The answer? Ofsted “does not hold the details”.

““Secondary heads and academy principals need to be reassured that their work is judged by people who understand its complexity,” Mr Ball said. “Training as a good head of department or a primary school leader on the framework is no longer adequate. Secondary heads don’t fear judgement, but they expect to be judged by people who have experience as well as a theoretical training. After all, a working knowledge of the highway code doesn’t qualify you to become a driving examiner.”

“… Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s new chief inspector, has already argued publicly that raw data are a key factor in assessing a school’s performance. By not providing the facts to back up its boasts about the expertise of its inspectors, many heads will remain sceptical of the watchdog’s claims.”

Men aren’t as tall as they say they are

To round off, here’s a quirky piece of data journalism by dating site OkCupid, which looked at the height of its members and found an interesting pattern:

Male height distribution on OKCupid

 

“The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution—except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be.

“Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5′ 8″, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.”

Do you know of any other examples of bad data forming the basis of a story? Please post a comment – I’m collecting examples.

09:08

When data goes bad

Incorrect-statistics

Image by Lauren York

Data is so central to the decision-making that shapes our countries, jobs and even personal lives that an increasing amount of data journalism involves scrutinising the problems with the very data itself. Here’s an illustrative list of when bad data becomes the story – and the lessons they can teach data journalists:

Deaths in police custody unrecorded

This investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism demonstrates an important question to ask about data: who decides what gets recorded?

In this case, the BIJ identified “a number of cases not included in the official tally of 16 ‘restraint-related’ deaths in the decade to 2009 … Some cases were not included because the person has not been officially arrested or detained.”

As they explain:

“It turns out the IPCC has a very tight definition of ‘in custody’ –  defined only as when someone has been formally arrested or detained under the mental health act. This does not include people who have died after being in contact with the police.

“There are in fact two lists. The one which includes the widely quoted list of sixteen deaths in custody only records the cases where the person has been arrested or detained under the mental health act. So, an individual who comes into contact with the police – is never arrested or detained – but nonetheless dies after being restrained, is not included in the figures.

“… But even using the IPCC’s tightly drawn definition, the Bureau has identified cases that are still missing.”

Cross-checking the official statistics against wider reports was key technique. As was using the Freedom of Information Act to request the details behind them and the details of those “ who died in circumstances where restraint was used but was not necessarily a direct cause of death”.

Cooking the books on drug-related murders

Drug related murders in Mexico
Cross-checking statistics against reports was also used in this investigation by Diego Valle-Jones into Mexican drug deaths:

“The Acteal massacre committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians is missing from the vital statistics database. According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

Diego also used the Benford’s Law technique to identify potentially fraudulent data, which was also used to highlight relationships between dodgy company data and real world events such as the dotcom bubble and deregulation.

Poor records mean no checks

Detective Inspector Philip Shakesheff exposed a “gap between [local authority] records and police data”, reported The Sunday Times in a story headlined ‘Care home loses child 130 times‘:

“The true scale of the problem was revealed after a check of records on police computers. For every child officially recorded by local authorities as missing in 2010, another seven were unaccounted for without their absence being noted.”

Why is it important?

“The number who go missing is one of the indicators on which Ofsted judges how well children’s homes are performing and the homes have a legal duty to keep accurate records.

“However, there is evidence some homes are failing to do so. In one case, Ofsted gave a good report to a private children’s home in Worcestershire when police records showed 1,630 missing person reports in five years. Police stationed an officer at the home and pressed Ofsted to look closer. The home was downgraded to inadequate and it later closed.

“The risks of being missing from care are demonstrated by Zoe Thomsett, 17, who was Westminster council’s responsibility. It sent her to a care home in Herefordshire, where she went missing several times, the final time for three days. She had earlier been found at an address in Hereford, but because no record was kept, nobody checked the address. She died there of a drugs overdose.

“The troubled life of Dane Edgar, 14, ended with a drugs overdose at a friend’s house after he repeatedly went missing from a children’s home in Northumberland. Another 14-year-old, James Jordan, was killed when he absconded from care and was the passenger in a stolen car.”

Interests not registered

When there are no formal checks on declarations of interest, how can we rely on it? In Chile, the Ciudadano Inteligente Fundaciondecided to check the Chilean MPs’ register of assets and interests by building a database:

“No-one was analysing this data, so it was incomplete,” explained Felipe Heusser, executive president of the Fundacion. “We used technology to build a database, using a wide range of open data and mapped all the MPs’ interests. From that, we found that nearly 40% of MPs were not disclosing their assets fully.”

The organisation has now launched a database that “enables members of the public to find potential conflicts of interest by analysing the data disclosed through the members’ register of assets.”

Data laundering

Tony Hirst’s post about how dodgy data was “laundered” by Facebook in a consultants report is a good illustration of the need to ‘follow the data’.

We have some dodgy evidence, about which we’re biased, so we give it to an “independent” consultant who re-reports it, albeit with caveats, that we can then report, minus the caveats. Lovely, clean evidence. Our lobbyists can then go to a lazy policy researcher and take this scrubbed evidence, referencing it as finding in the Deloitte report, so that it can make its way into a policy briefing.”

“Things just don’t add up”

In the video below Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation takes the US government to task over the inconsistencies in its transparency agenda, and the flawed data published on its USAspending.gov – so flawed that they launched the Clearspending website to automate and highlight the discrepancy between two sources of the same data:

Key budget decisions made on useless data

Sometimes data might appear to tell an astonishing story, but this turns out to be a mistake – and that mistake itself leads you to something much more newsworthy, as Channel 4′s FactCheck foundwhen it started trying to find out if councils had been cutting spending on Sure Start children’s centres:

“That ought to be fairly straightforward, as all councils by law have to fill in something called a Section 251 workbook detailing how much they are spending on various services for young people.

“… Brent Council in north London appeared to have slashed its funding by nearly 90 per cent, something that seemed strange, as we hadn’t heard an outcry from local parents.

“The council swiftly admitted making an accounting error – to the tune of a staggering £6m.”

And they weren’t the only ones. In fact, the Department for Education  admitted the numbers were “not very accurate”:

“So to recap, these spending figures don’t actually reflect the real amount of money spent; figures from different councils are not comparable with each other; spending in one year can’t be compared usefully with other years; and the government doesn’t propose to audit the figures or correct them when they’re wrong.”

This was particularly important because the S251 form “is the document the government uses to reallocate funding from council-run schools to its flagship academies.”:

“The Local Government Association (LGA) says less than £250m should be swiped from council budgets and given to academies, while the government wants to cut more than £1bn, prompting accusations that it is overfunding its favoured schools to the detriment of thousands of other children.

“Many councils’ complaints, made plain in responses to an ongoing government consultation, hinge on DfE’s use of S251, a document it has variously described as “unaudited”, “flawed” and”not fit for purpose”.

No data is still a story

Sticking with education, the TES reports on the outcome of an FOI request on the experience of Ofsted inspectors:

“[Stephen] Ball submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking how many HMIs had experience of being a secondary head, and how many of those had led an outstanding school. The answer? Ofsted “does not hold the details”.

““Secondary heads and academy principals need to be reassured that their work is judged by people who understand its complexity,” Mr Ball said. “Training as a good head of department or a primary school leader on the framework is no longer adequate. Secondary heads don’t fear judgement, but they expect to be judged by people who have experience as well as a theoretical training. After all, a working knowledge of the highway code doesn’t qualify you to become a driving examiner.”

“… Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s new chief inspector, has already argued publicly that raw data are a key factor in assessing a school’s performance. By not providing the facts to back up its boasts about the expertise of its inspectors, many heads will remain sceptical of the watchdog’s claims.”

Men aren’t as tall as they say they are

To round off, here’s a quirky piece of data journalism by dating site OkCupid, which looked at the height of its members and found an interesting pattern:

Male height distribution on OKCupid

“The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution—except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be.

“Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5′ 8″, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.”

Do you know of any other examples of bad data forming the basis of a story? Please post a comment – I’m collecting examples.

UPDATE (April 20 2012): A useful addition from Simon Rogers: Named and shamed: the worst government annual reports explains why government department spending reports fail to support the Government’s claimed desire for an “army of armchair auditors”, with a list of the worst offenders at the end.

Also:

09:08

When data goes bad

Incorrect-statistics

Image by Lauren York

Data is so central to the decision-making that shapes our countries, jobs and even personal lives that an increasing amount of data journalism involves scrutinising the problems with the very data itself. Here’s an illustrative list of when bad data becomes the story – and the lessons they can teach data journalists:

Deaths in police custody unrecorded

This investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism demonstrates an important question to ask about data: who decides what gets recorded?

In this case, the BIJ identified “a number of cases not included in the official tally of 16 ‘restraint-related’ deaths in the decade to 2009 … Some cases were not included because the person has not been officially arrested or detained.”

As they explain:

“It turns out the IPCC has a very tight definition of ‘in custody’ –  defined only as when someone has been formally arrested or detained under the mental health act. This does not include people who have died after being in contact with the police.

“There are in fact two lists. The one which includes the widely quoted list of sixteen deaths in custody only records the cases where the person has been arrested or detained under the mental health act. So, an individual who comes into contact with the police – is never arrested or detained – but nonetheless dies after being restrained, is not included in the figures.

“… But even using the IPCC’s tightly drawn definition, the Bureau has identified cases that are still missing.”

Cross-checking the official statistics against wider reports was key technique. As was using the Freedom of Information Act to request the details behind them and the details of those “ who died in circumstances where restraint was used but was not necessarily a direct cause of death”.

Cooking the books on drug-related murders

Drug related murders in Mexico
Cross-checking statistics against reports was also used in this investigation by Diego Valle-Jones into Mexican drug deaths:

“The Acteal massacre committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians is missing from the vital statistics database. According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

Diego also used the Benford’s Law technique to identify potentially fraudulent data, which was also used to highlight relationships between dodgy company data and real world events such as the dotcom bubble and deregulation.

Poor records mean no checks

Detective Inspector Philip Shakesheff exposed a “gap between [local authority] records and police data”, reported The Sunday Times in a story headlined ‘Care home loses child 130 times‘:

“The true scale of the problem was revealed after a check of records on police computers. For every child officially recorded by local authorities as missing in 2010, another seven were unaccounted for without their absence being noted.”

Why is it important?

“The number who go missing is one of the indicators on which Ofsted judges how well children’s homes are performing and the homes have a legal duty to keep accurate records.

“However, there is evidence some homes are failing to do so. In one case, Ofsted gave a good report to a private children’s home in Worcestershire when police records showed 1,630 missing person reports in five years. Police stationed an officer at the home and pressed Ofsted to look closer. The home was downgraded to inadequate and it later closed.

“The risks of being missing from care are demonstrated by Zoe Thomsett, 17, who was Westminster council’s responsibility. It sent her to a care home in Herefordshire, where she went missing several times, the final time for three days. She had earlier been found at an address in Hereford, but because no record was kept, nobody checked the address. She died there of a drugs overdose.

“The troubled life of Dane Edgar, 14, ended with a drugs overdose at a friend’s house after he repeatedly went missing from a children’s home in Northumberland. Another 14-year-old, James Jordan, was killed when he absconded from care and was the passenger in a stolen car.”

Interests not registered

When there are no formal checks on declarations of interest, how can we rely on it? In Chile, the Ciudadano Inteligente Fundaciondecided to check the Chilean MPs’ register of assets and interests by building a database:

“No-one was analysing this data, so it was incomplete,” explained Felipe Heusser, executive president of the Fundacion. “We used technology to build a database, using a wide range of open data and mapped all the MPs’ interests. From that, we found that nearly 40% of MPs were not disclosing their assets fully.”

The organisation has now launched a database that “enables members of the public to find potential conflicts of interest by analysing the data disclosed through the members’ register of assets.”

Data laundering

Tony Hirst’s post about how dodgy data was “laundered” by Facebook in a consultants report is a good illustration of the need to ‘follow the data’.

We have some dodgy evidence, about which we’re biased, so we give it to an “independent” consultant who re-reports it, albeit with caveats, that we can then report, minus the caveats. Lovely, clean evidence. Our lobbyists can then go to a lazy policy researcher and take this scrubbed evidence, referencing it as finding in the Deloitte report, so that it can make its way into a policy briefing.”

“Things just don’t add up”

In the video below Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation takes the US government to task over the inconsistencies in its transparency agenda, and the flawed data published on its USAspending.gov – so flawed that they launched the Clearspending website to automate and highlight the discrepancy between two sources of the same data:

Key budget decisions made on useless data

Sometimes data might appear to tell an astonishing story, but this turns out to be a mistake – and that mistake itself leads you to something much more newsworthy, as Channel 4′s FactCheck foundwhen it started trying to find out if councils had been cutting spending on Sure Start children’s centres:

“That ought to be fairly straightforward, as all councils by law have to fill in something called a Section 251 workbook detailing how much they are spending on various services for young people.

“… Brent Council in north London appeared to have slashed its funding by nearly 90 per cent, something that seemed strange, as we hadn’t heard an outcry from local parents.

“The council swiftly admitted making an accounting error – to the tune of a staggering £6m.”

And they weren’t the only ones. In fact, the Department for Education  admitted the numbers were “not very accurate”:

“So to recap, these spending figures don’t actually reflect the real amount of money spent; figures from different councils are not comparable with each other; spending in one year can’t be compared usefully with other years; and the government doesn’t propose to audit the figures or correct them when they’re wrong.”

This was particularly important because the S251 form “is the document the government uses to reallocate funding from council-run schools to its flagship academies.”:

“The Local Government Association (LGA) says less than £250m should be swiped from council budgets and given to academies, while the government wants to cut more than £1bn, prompting accusations that it is overfunding its favoured schools to the detriment of thousands of other children.

“Many councils’ complaints, made plain in responses to an ongoing government consultation, hinge on DfE’s use of S251, a document it has variously described as “unaudited”, “flawed” and”not fit for purpose”.

No data is still a story

Sticking with education, the TES reports on the outcome of an FOI request on the experience of Ofsted inspectors:

“[Stephen] Ball submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking how many HMIs had experience of being a secondary head, and how many of those had led an outstanding school. The answer? Ofsted “does not hold the details”.

““Secondary heads and academy principals need to be reassured that their work is judged by people who understand its complexity,” Mr Ball said. “Training as a good head of department or a primary school leader on the framework is no longer adequate. Secondary heads don’t fear judgement, but they expect to be judged by people who have experience as well as a theoretical training. After all, a working knowledge of the highway code doesn’t qualify you to become a driving examiner.”

“… Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s new chief inspector, has already argued publicly that raw data are a key factor in assessing a school’s performance. By not providing the facts to back up its boasts about the expertise of its inspectors, many heads will remain sceptical of the watchdog’s claims.”

Men aren’t as tall as they say they are

To round off, here’s a quirky piece of data journalism by dating site OkCupid, which looked at the height of its members and found an interesting pattern:

Male height distribution on OKCupid

“The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution—except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be.

“Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5′ 8″, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.”

Do you know of any other examples of bad data forming the basis of a story? Please post a comment – I’m collecting examples.

UPDATE (April 20 2012): A useful addition from Simon Rogers: Named and shamed: the worst government annual reports explains why government department spending reports fail to support the Government’s claimed desire for an “army of armchair auditors”, with a list of the worst offenders at the end.

Also:


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: bad data, benford's law, BIJ, bureau of investigative journalism, Channel 4, Chile, Ciudadano Inteligente Fundacion, Clearspending, data laundering, dating, Deaths in custody, ellen miller, FactCheck, Felipe Heusser, height, IPCC, Lauren York, missing children, OKCupid, Philip Shakesheff, register of interests, S251, sex trafficking, simon rogers, sunday times, sunlight foundation, tony hirst
09:08

When data goes bad

Incorrect-statistics

Image by Lauren York

Data is so central to the decision-making that shapes our countries, jobs and even personal lives that an increasing amount of data journalism involves scrutinising the problems with the very data itself. Here’s an illustrative list of when bad data becomes the story – and the lessons they can teach data journalists:

Deaths in police custody unrecorded

This investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism demonstrates an important question to ask about data: who decides what gets recorded?

In this case, the BIJ identified “a number of cases not included in the official tally of 16 ‘restraint-related’ deaths in the decade to 2009 … Some cases were not included because the person has not been officially arrested or detained.”

As they explain:

“It turns out the IPCC has a very tight definition of ‘in custody’ –  defined only as when someone has been formally arrested or detained under the mental health act. This does not include people who have died after being in contact with the police.

“There are in fact two lists. The one which includes the widely quoted list of sixteen deaths in custody only records the cases where the person has been arrested or detained under the mental health act. So, an individual who comes into contact with the police – is never arrested or detained – but nonetheless dies after being restrained, is not included in the figures.

“… But even using the IPCC’s tightly drawn definition, the Bureau has identified cases that are still missing.”

Cross-checking the official statistics against wider reports was key technique. As was using the Freedom of Information Act to request the details behind them and the details of those “ who died in circumstances where restraint was used but was not necessarily a direct cause of death”.

Cooking the books on drug-related murders

Drug related murders in Mexico
Cross-checking statistics against reports was also used in this investigation by Diego Valle-Jones into Mexican drug deaths:

“The Acteal massacre committed by paramilitary units with government backing against 45 Tzotzil Indians is missing from the vital statistics database. According to the INEGI there were only 2 deaths during December 1997 in the municipality of Chenalho, where the massacre occurred. What a silly way to avoid recording homicides! Now it is just a question of which data is less corrupt.”

Diego also used the Benford’s Law technique to identify potentially fraudulent data, which was also used to highlight relationships between dodgy company data and real world events such as the dotcom bubble and deregulation.

Poor records mean no checks

Detective Inspector Philip Shakesheff exposed a “gap between [local authority] records and police data”, reported The Sunday Times in a story headlined ‘Care home loses child 130 times‘:

“The true scale of the problem was revealed after a check of records on police computers. For every child officially recorded by local authorities as missing in 2010, another seven were unaccounted for without their absence being noted.”

Why is it important?

“The number who go missing is one of the indicators on which Ofsted judges how well children’s homes are performing and the homes have a legal duty to keep accurate records.

“However, there is evidence some homes are failing to do so. In one case, Ofsted gave a good report to a private children’s home in Worcestershire when police records showed 1,630 missing person reports in five years. Police stationed an officer at the home and pressed Ofsted to look closer. The home was downgraded to inadequate and it later closed.

“The risks of being missing from care are demonstrated by Zoe Thomsett, 17, who was Westminster council’s responsibility. It sent her to a care home in Herefordshire, where she went missing several times, the final time for three days. She had earlier been found at an address in Hereford, but because no record was kept, nobody checked the address. She died there of a drugs overdose.

“The troubled life of Dane Edgar, 14, ended with a drugs overdose at a friend’s house after he repeatedly went missing from a children’s home in Northumberland. Another 14-year-old, James Jordan, was killed when he absconded from care and was the passenger in a stolen car.”

Interests not registered

When there are no formal checks on declarations of interest, how can we rely on it? In Chile, the Ciudadano Inteligente Fundaciondecided to check the Chilean MPs’ register of assets and interests by building a database:

“No-one was analysing this data, so it was incomplete,” explained Felipe Heusser, executive president of the Fundacion. “We used technology to build a database, using a wide range of open data and mapped all the MPs’ interests. From that, we found that nearly 40% of MPs were not disclosing their assets fully.”

The organisation has now launched a database that “enables members of the public to find potential conflicts of interest by analysing the data disclosed through the members’ register of assets.”

Data laundering

Tony Hirst’s post about how dodgy data was “laundered” by Facebook in a consultants report is a good illustration of the need to ‘follow the data’.

We have some dodgy evidence, about which we’re biased, so we give it to an “independent” consultant who re-reports it, albeit with caveats, that we can then report, minus the caveats. Lovely, clean evidence. Our lobbyists can then go to a lazy policy researcher and take this scrubbed evidence, referencing it as finding in the Deloitte report, so that it can make its way into a policy briefing.”

“Things just don’t add up”

In the video below Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation takes the US government to task over the inconsistencies in its transparency agenda, and the flawed data published on its USAspending.gov – so flawed that they launched the Clearspending website to automate and highlight the discrepancy between two sources of the same data:

Key budget decisions made on useless data

Sometimes data might appear to tell an astonishing story, but this turns out to be a mistake – and that mistake itself leads you to something much more newsworthy, as Channel 4′s FactCheck foundwhen it started trying to find out if councils had been cutting spending on Sure Start children’s centres:

“That ought to be fairly straightforward, as all councils by law have to fill in something called a Section 251 workbook detailing how much they are spending on various services for young people.

“… Brent Council in north London appeared to have slashed its funding by nearly 90 per cent, something that seemed strange, as we hadn’t heard an outcry from local parents.

“The council swiftly admitted making an accounting error – to the tune of a staggering £6m.”

And they weren’t the only ones. In fact, the Department for Education  admitted the numbers were “not very accurate”:

“So to recap, these spending figures don’t actually reflect the real amount of money spent; figures from different councils are not comparable with each other; spending in one year can’t be compared usefully with other years; and the government doesn’t propose to audit the figures or correct them when they’re wrong.”

This was particularly important because the S251 form “is the document the government uses to reallocate funding from council-run schools to its flagship academies.”:

“The Local Government Association (LGA) says less than £250m should be swiped from council budgets and given to academies, while the government wants to cut more than £1bn, prompting accusations that it is overfunding its favoured schools to the detriment of thousands of other children.

“Many councils’ complaints, made plain in responses to an ongoing government consultation, hinge on DfE’s use of S251, a document it has variously described as “unaudited”, “flawed” and”not fit for purpose”.

No data is still a story

Sticking with education, the TES reports on the outcome of an FOI request on the experience of Ofsted inspectors:

“[Stephen] Ball submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking how many HMIs had experience of being a secondary head, and how many of those had led an outstanding school. The answer? Ofsted “does not hold the details”.

““Secondary heads and academy principals need to be reassured that their work is judged by people who understand its complexity,” Mr Ball said. “Training as a good head of department or a primary school leader on the framework is no longer adequate. Secondary heads don’t fear judgement, but they expect to be judged by people who have experience as well as a theoretical training. After all, a working knowledge of the highway code doesn’t qualify you to become a driving examiner.”

“… Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s new chief inspector, has already argued publicly that raw data are a key factor in assessing a school’s performance. By not providing the facts to back up its boasts about the expertise of its inspectors, many heads will remain sceptical of the watchdog’s claims.”

Men aren’t as tall as they say they are

To round off, here’s a quirky piece of data journalism by dating site OkCupid, which looked at the height of its members and found an interesting pattern:

Male height distribution on OKCupid

“The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution—except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be.

“Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5′ 8″, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.”

Do you know of any other examples of bad data forming the basis of a story? Please post a comment – I’m collecting examples.

UPDATE (April 20 2012): A useful addition from Simon Rogers: Named and shamed: the worst government annual reports explains why government department spending reports fail to support the Government’s claimed desire for an “army of armchair auditors”, with a list of the worst offenders at the end.

Also:


Filed under: online journalism Tagged: bad data, benford's law, BIJ, bureau of investigative journalism, Channel 4, Chile, Ciudadano Inteligente Fundacion, Clearspending, data laundering, dating, Deaths in custody, ellen miller, FactCheck, Felipe Heusser, height, IPCC, Lauren York, missing children, OKCupid, Philip Shakesheff, register of interests, S251, sex trafficking, simon rogers, sunday times, sunlight foundation, tony hirst

September 02 2011

19:14

Different stories - Gordon Brown issues challenge over Sunday Times recordings

Independent (UK) :: Gordon Brown has stepped up his campaign against Rupert Murdoch’s News International media group, sending tape recordings to the Metropolitan Police earlier today which he says challenge the Sunday Times’s assurances that it broke no laws when investigating his personal financial affairs.

Continue to read James Cusick, www.independent.co.uk

July 10 2011

14:54

Ex-Murdoch editor Andrew Neil: everybody knew the NOTW newsroom was out of control

Guardian :: Andrew Neil, one of Rupert Murdoch's former leading editors, who edited the Sunday Times, said the News of the World, or NOTW, did not have a public interest defence for its practices, exposed by the Guardian, one of the most significant media stories of modern times. It suggests that rather than being a one off journalist or rogue private investigator, it was systemic throughout the News of the World, and to a lesser extent the Sun.

[Andrew Neil:] Particularly in the News of the World, this was a newsroom out of control … Everyone who knows the News of the World, everybody knows this was going on. But it did no good to talk about it. One News of the World journalist said to me … it was dangerous to talk about it.

Continue to read Vikram Dodd, www.guardian.co.uk

August 17 2010

09:04

Media Week: Times website loses 1.2m readers

Media Week reports on figures from ComScore, which suggest that unique users of the the Times and Sunday Times websites have fallen from 2.79 million in May to 1.61 million in July.

The new websites were launched on 25 May with compulsory registration introduced in June and the paywall for both sites going up on 2 July. According to the report, page views for the sites dropped from 29 million in May to 9 million in July.

Prior to the launch of the new websites, News International withdrew from the monthly Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic (ABCe) reports for newspaper website traffic.

Full story on Media Week at this link…Similar Posts:



August 09 2010

10:15

Sipho Ngcobo charts a ‘frightening’ week for South African journalism

Following the arrest of Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Sipho Ngcobo, Sunday Times investigative journalist and former deputy editor of Business Report, reflects on what he says was a “frightening” week for journalists in South Africa.

South African media are currently battling the Protection of Information Bill, which according to Ngcobo is fuelling fears the government will be able to “clampdown and muzzle media”.

There is virtually no real clarity as what Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested for. But we worry, I worry about him. I worry about the profession and the business of media. I am worried sick about the future of the industry.

But, he adds, the growth in poor quality journalism does warrant improved regulation of the media, or else reporters should prepare for the “death” of the industry.

I cannot say I am totally surprised by the proposed Bill. There has been a lot of shoddy journalism taking place. Some of it has been outright criminal, extremely libellous, demeaning to individuals and families and even contemptuous to the courts. It has been so bad that I have often wondered what the future holds.

See his full post on MoneyWeb here…Similar Posts:



August 04 2010

14:52

South African journalist arrested and detained at ‘undisclosed location’

Mzilikazi wa Afrika, a journalist for South African newspaper the Sunday Times, was arrested at the paper’s headquarters earlier today for possession of a letter, which police claim to be “a fraudulent letter of resignation” from premier of the Mpumalanga region, David Dabede Mabuza, to South African President Jacob Zuma.

The Sunday Times reports on the arrest via its Times Live website:

Wa Afrika was seized by police who became involved in a screaming match with senior editors about whether photographers could take pictures.

TheTimes editor Ray Hartley, adds in a blog post:

I am deeply concerned at the fact that a journalist can be arrested and held at an undisclosed location in a country where the rule of law ought to apply.

He was arrested by a large number of policemen in an operation which was clearly designed to intimidate and I can only conclude that this was the true motive for what took place today.

The empty desk of Sunday Times Journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika... on TwitpicThe Times used Twitter to help break the story of Wa Afrika’s arrest, including posting a picture of his empty desk:Similar Posts:

July 30 2010

14:15

This Week in Review: WikiLeaks’ new journalism order, a paywall’s purpose, and a future for Flipboard

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

WikiLeaks, data journalism and radical transparency: I’ll be covering two weeks in this review because of the Lab’s time off last week, but there really was only one story this week: WikiLeaks’ release of The War Logs, a set of 90,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan. There are about 32 angles to this story and I’ll try to hit most of them, but if you’re pressed for time, the essential reads on the situation are Steve Myers, C.W. Anderson, Clint Hendler, and Janine Wedel and Linda Keenan.

WikiLeaks released the documents on its site on Sunday, cooperating with three news organizations — The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel — to allow them to produce special reports on the documents as they were released. The Nation’s Greg Mitchell ably rounded up commentary on the documents’ political implications (one tidbit from the documents for newsies: evidence of the U.S. military paying Afghan journalists to write favorable stories), as the White House slammed the leaks and the Times for running them, and the Times defended its decision in the press and to its readers.

The comparison that immediately came to many people’s minds was the publication of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War in 1971, and two Washington Post articles examined the connection. (The Wall Street Journal took a look at both casesFirst Amendment angles, too.) But several people, most notably ProPublica’s Richard Tofel and Slate’s Fred Kaplan, quickly countered that the War Logs don’t come close to the Pentagon Papers’ historical impact. They led a collective yawn that emerged from numerous political observers after the documents’ publication, with ho-hums coming from Foreign Policy, Mother Jones, the Washington Post, and even the op-ed page of the Times itself. Slate media critic Jack Shafer suggested ways WikiLeaks could have planned its leak better to avoid such ennui.

But plenty of other folks found a lot that was interesting about the entire situation. (That, of course, is why I’m writing about it.) The Columbia Journalism Review’s Joel Meares argued that the military pundits dismissing the War Logs as old news are forgetting that this information is still putting an often-forgotten war back squarely in the public’s consciousness. But the most fascinating angle of this story to many of us future-of-news nerds was that this leak represents the entry of an entirely new kind of editorial process into mainstream news. That’s what The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal sensed early on, and several others sussed out as the week moved along. The Times’ David Carr called WikiLeaks’ quasi-publisher role both a new kind of hybrid journalism and an affirmation of the need for traditional reporting to provide context. Poynter’s Steve Myers made some astute observations about this new kind of journalism, including the rise of the source advocate and WikiLeaks’ trading information for credibility. NYU j-prof Jay Rosen noted that WikiLeaks is the first “stateless news organization,” able to shed light on the secrets of the powerful because of freedom provided not by law, but by the web.

Both John McQuaid and Slate’s Anne Applebaum emphasized the need for data to be, as McQuaid put it, “marshaled in service to a story, an argument,” with McQuaid citing that as reason for excitement about journalism and Applebaum calling it a case for traditional reporting. Here at the Lab, CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson put a lot this discussion into perspective with two perceptive posts on WikiLeaks as the coming-out party for data journalism. He described its value well: “In these recent stories, its not the presence of something new, but the ability to tease a pattern out of a lot of little things we already know that’s the big deal.”

As for WikiLeaks itself, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Clint Hendler provided a fascinating account of how its scoop ended up in three of the world’s major newspapers, including differences in WikiLeaks’ and the papers’ characterization of WikiLeaks’ involvement, which might help explain its public post-publication falling-out with the Times. The Times profiled WikiLeaks and its enigmatic founder, Julian Assange, and several others trained their criticism on WikiLeaks itself — specifically, on the group’s insistence on radical transparency from others but extreme secrecy from itself. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz said WikiLeaks is “a global power unto itself,” not subject to any checks and balances, and former military reporter Jamie McIntyre called WikiLeaks “anti-privacy terrorists.”

Several others were skeptical of Assange’s motives and secrecy, and Slate’s Farhad Manjoo wondered how we could square public trust with such a commitment to anonymity. In a smart Huffington Post analysis of that issue, Janine Wedel and Linda Keenan presented this new type of news organization as a natural consequence of the new cultural architecture (the “adhocracy,” as they call it) of the web: “These technologies lend themselves to new forms of power and influence that are neither bureaucratic nor centralized in traditional ways, nor are they generally responsive to traditional means of accountability.”

Keeping readers out with a paywall: The Times and Sunday Times of London put up their online paywall earlier this month, the first of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers to set off on his paid-content mission (though some other properties, like The Wall Street Journal, have long charged for online access). Last week, we got some preliminary figures indicating how life behind the wall is going so far: Former Times media reporter Dan Sabbagh said that 150,000 of the Times’ online readers (12 percent of its pre-wall visitors) had registered for free trials during the paywall’s first two weeks, with 15,000 signing on as paying subscribers and 12,500 subscribing to the iPad app. PaidContent also noted that the Times’ overall web traffic is down about 67 percent, adding that the Times will probably tout these types of numbers as a success.

The Guardian did its own math and found that the Times’ online readership is actually down about 90 percent — exactly in line with what the paper’s leaders and industry analysts were expecting. Everyone noted that this is exactly what Murdoch and the Times wanted out of their paywall — to cut down on drive-by readers and wring more revenue out of the core of loyal ones. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram explained that rationale well, then ripped it apart, calling it “fundamentally a resignation from the open web” because it keeps readers from sharing (or marketing) it with others. SEOmoz’s Tom Critchlow looked at the Times’ paywall interface and gave it a tepid review.

Meanwhile, another British newspaper that charges for online access, the Financial Times, is boasting strong growth in online revenue. The FT’s CEO, John Ridding, credited the paper’s metered paid-content system and offered a moral argument for paid access online, drawing on Time founder Henry Luce’s idea that an exclusively advertising-reliant model weakens the bond between a publication and its readers.

Flipboard and the future of mobile media: In just four months, we’ve already seen many attention-grabbing iPad apps, but few have gotten techies’ hearts racing quite like Flipboard, which was launched last week amid an ocean of hype. As Mashable explained, Flipboard combines social media and news sources of the user’s choosing to create what’s essentially a socially edited magazine for the iPad. The app got rave reviews from tech titans like Robert Scoble and ReadWriteWeb, which helped build up enough demand that it spent most of its first few post-release days crashed from being over capacity.

Jen McFadden marveled at Flipboard’s potential for mobile advertising, given its ability to merge the rich advertising experience of the iPad with the targeted advertising possibilities through social media, though Martin Belam wondered whether the app might end up being “yet another layer of disintermediation that took away some of my abilities to understand how and when my content was being used, or to monetise my work.” Tech pioneer Dave Winer saw Flipboard as one half of a brilliant innovation for mobile media and challenged Flipboard to encourage developers to create the other half.

At the tech blog Gizmodo, Joel Johnson broke in to ask a pertinent question: Is Flipboard legal? The app scrapes content directly from other sites, rather than through RSS, like the Pulse Reader. Flipboard’s defense is that it only offers previews (if you want to read the whole thing, you have to click on “Read on Web”), but Johnson delved into some of the less black-and-white scenarios and legal issues, too. (Flipboard, for example, takes full images, and though it is free for now, its executives plan to sell their own ads around the content under revenue-sharing agreements.) Stowe Boyd took those questions a step further and looked at possible challenges down the road from social media providers like Facebook.

A new perspective on content farms: Few people had heard of the term “content farms” about a year ago, but by now there are few issues that get blood boiling in future-of-journalism circles quite like that one. PBS MediaShift’s eight-part series on content farms, published starting last week, is an ideal resource to catch you up on what those companies are, why people are so worked up about them, and what they might mean for journalism. (MediaShift defines “content farm” as a company that produces online content on a massive scale; I, like Jay Rosen, would define it more narrowly, based on algorithm- and revenue-driven editing.)

The series includes an overview of some of the major players on the online content scene, pictures of what writing for and training at a content farm is like, and two posts on the world of large-scale hyperlocal news. It also features an interesting defense of content farms by Dorian Benkoil, who argues that large-scale online content creators are merely disrupting an inefficient, expensive industry (traditional media) that was ripe for a kick in the pants.

Demand Media’s Jeremy Reed responded to the series with a note to the company’s writers that “You are not a nameless, faceless, soul-less group of people on a ‘farm.’ We are not a robotic organization that’s only concerned about numbers and data. We are a media company. We work together to tell stories,” and Yahoo Media’s Jimmy Pitaro defended the algorithm-as-editor model in an interview with Forbes. Outspoken content-farm critic Jason Fry softened his views, too, urging news organizations to learn from their algorithm-driven approach and let their audiences play a greater role in determining their coverage.

Reading roundup: A few developments and ideas to take a look at before the weekend:

— We’ve written about the FTC’s upcoming report on journalism and public policy earlier this summer, and Google added its own comments to the public record last week, urging the FTC to move away from “protectionist barriers.” Google-watcher Jeff Jarvis gave the statement a hearty amen, and The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby chimed in against a government subsidy for journalism.

— Former equity analyst Henry Blodget celebrated The Business Insider’s third birthday with a very pessimistic forecast of The New York Times’ future, and, by extension, the traditional media’s as well. Meanwhile, Judy Sims targeted a failure to focus on ROI as a cause of newspapers’ demise.

— The Columbia Journalism Review devoted a feature to the rise of private news, in which news organizations are devoted to a niche topic for an intentionally limited audience.

— Finally, a post to either get you thinking or, judging from the comments, foaming at the mouth: Penn professor Eric Clemons argues on TechCrunch that advertising cannot be our savior online: “Online advertising cannot deliver all that is asked of it.  It is going to be smaller, not larger, than it is today.  It cannot support all the applications and all the content we want on the internet. And don’t worry. There are other things that can be done that will work well.”

July 09 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Time’s non-pay paywall, free vs. pay in Britain and what to do with content farms

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

A Time quasi-paywall discovered: Thanks to some collaborative online sleuthing — OK, basically just wandering around on a website and asking some simple questions — we found out that Time magazine is planning an online paywall. Reuters’ Felix Salmon ran into the wall first a few weeks ago, but saw that it had disappeared by the next day. Then on Tuesday, the Lab’s Joshua Benton noticed it again, pointing out that this was an odd kind of paywall — one without any sort of way to pay online (“a paywall without a door,” in his words).

All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka got word the next day that the paywall is part of a company-wide strategy at Time Inc. to separate its print and iPad content from its online material. The Lab found out that Time does indeed have a plan to give that paywall a door and provide a way to purchase articles online, and The New York Times reported that this paywall sans pay is part of a gradual effort to retrain readers to pay for content online and noted that not everything from the magazine is gone from the website.

PaidContent’s Staci Kramer called the move not a paywall, but “the magazine equivalent of a condom” — a way to separate online readers from its print content. She noted that the move limits non-print access to Time to a very select group of people — namely, iPad owners. Essentially, it’s a hardware requirement to read Time magazine, something Publish2’s Scott Karp asked whether we’re going to start to seeing more of.

All Things Digital’s Kafka wondered why Time wouldn’t just offer its print articles for free if the magazine’s print and online audiences were as separate as they’re typically said to be. New York’s Chris Rovsar posited that the new wall is about protecting its $4.99 iPad app: If all your print stuff is available through the iPad browser for free, why buy the app? DailyFinance media critic Jeff Bercovici made the same point and argued that while Time may appear forward-thinking here, this move is really a regression. Newsweek’s Mark Coatney, a former Time staffer, was ruthless in his assessment of the strategy, saying that it all comes back to value, and Time hasn’t articulated why its print content is worth paying for, but its online stuff isn’t.

A paid-content contrast in Britain: Time was far from the only paywall news this past week: Three relatively small Gannett papers put up a $9.95-a-month paywall last Thursday, and the most important new paywall may have been at The Times of London and The Sunday Times, two of Britain’s oldest and most respected publications, which began charging for everything on their site last Friday. That development is particularly important because it’s the first move in the paid-content crusade that Rupert Murdoch has been gearing up for since last summer.

Steve Outing and Poynter’s Bill Mitchell noted that the Times’ paywall is among the most impenetrable we’ve seen yet in newspapers: All non-subscribers can see is the homepage, and even the headlines are blocked from online news aggregators. New York’s Chris Rovsar took stock of what The New York Times (planning its own paid-content system next year) could learn from how the Times rolled out its paywall, and basically, it boils down to, “Whatever they did, just don’t do it.” He and the Press Gazette’s Dominic Ponsford ripped the Times’ paid-content strategy, criticizing it for not being RSS-compatible, not linking, and giving away desperate-looking freebies. (Rovsar and Ponsford do acknowledge that the site is cheap and pretty, respectively.) British journalist Kevin Anderson used the Times’ paywall as an opportunity to light into the thinking that leads newspapers to charge for content online in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Guardian, another prominent British paper that is staunchly in favor of free online content, released a Wordpress plugin that allows blogs and websites to embed the full text of Guardian stories for free. (Steve Outing demonstrated with a post on the iPad.) It’s an unprecedented move, and one that made for a pretty easy contrast with the Times’ protectionist strategy online. Outing did it most explicitly in two posts, arguing that the Guardian’s strategy taps into a worldwide revenue potential, while the Times relies on its brand-loyal British readers. Murdoch “apparently still doesn’t understand that this whole pay-for-news-online thing is not about the needs of publishers like him. It’s about what the audience for news is willing to do and willing to pay for,” he wrote.

Learning from (and fighting with) content farms: Since acquiring the online content provider Associated Content in May, Yahoo has become the latest online media company to begin producing articles based on a calculation of search terms, including for its new news blog, The Upshot. The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford took a look at these “content farms,” focusing on why journalists hate them and what news organizations might be able to learn from them. (On the latter point, Stableford’s sources said content farms’ acute attentiveness to what people are interested in reading could be particularly instructive.)

One of the people Stableford quotes, NYU professor Jay Rosen, gets some extended time on the subject, and another, Jason Fry, posted some additional thoughts, too. Fry, who is quoted in the article as saying, “If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media,” clarified his stance a bit, saying that what bugs him is not the low pay, but the lack of quality. Still, he acknowledged that because of cost-cutting, many small- and medium-sized newspapers’ content is just as mediocre. Peter Berger, a CEO of Suite101.com, one of those content generators, said the concern from news organizations is a red herring, and his industry really presents the biggest threat to non-fiction books.

Canadian writer Liz Metcalfe voiced some similar thoughts, arguing that the problem with the “demand content” model isn’t the model itself, but the poor quality of what gets produced. Newspapers should find a way to incorporate the model while producing high-quality material, and beat the content farms at their own game, she said. On the other hand, Harvard prof Ethan Zuckerman said dictating content based on search would be a bad way to run a newspaper: “You’d give up the critical ability to push topics and parts of the world that readers might not be interested in, but need to know about to be an engaged, informed citizen.”

A private group called the Internet Content Syndication Council wants to do something about these dastardly villains, and they’re exploring a few options, including drafting a set of content-quality guidelines, licensing content syndicators and asking Google to tweak its search formula. CNET’s Caroline McCarthy wondered what a guideline or licensing system would do with bloggers.

Chronicling an accelerating shift to mobile: The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a couple of fascinating studies in the past week, the first on the future of social relations online and the second a survey of Americans’ mobile use. The latter study in particular turned up a raft of interesting statistics, led by the finding that 59 percent of adults go online wirelessly, including 47 percent of Americans with their laptops and 40 percent with their cell phones.

Poynter’s Mobile Media focused on the rise in “non-voice” uses for cell phones over the past year (Silicon Alley Insider has it in graphical form). The New York Times and Washington Post centered on the survey’s finding that African-Americans, Hispanics, young people and poorer Americans are among the heaviest mobile media users, with the Times stating that “the image of the affluent and white cellphone owner as the prototypical mobile Web user seems to be a mistaken one.”

Here at the Lab, Laura McGann seized on another tidbit from the study indicating that about a fifth of young adults have made a donation via their cell phone. She tied that finding to the public radio station WBUR’s attempt to find a way to allow users to donate via an iPhone app, something Apple doesn’t allow, asking how nonprofit news orgs might be able to find a way to tap into that willingness to give through their cell phones.

Reading roundup: Lots of really thoughtful stuff this week that’s well worth your time (I assume it is, anyway — maybe your time’s much more valuable than mine):

— The debate over objectivity and journalism raged on this week, fueled by the firing of CNN’s Octavia Nasr over a remark she made on Twitter. Many of the arguments circled around to the same ground we’ve covered with the Gen. McChrystal and Dave Weigel flare-ups, but I wanted to highlight three takes that stand out: Salon’s Dan Gillmor on America’s “technically good subservient press,” Jay Rosen on “objectivity as a form of persuasion,” and Mediaite’s Philip Bump on a journalism of individuals.

— Many new media folks have been following the fate of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, and the Columbia Journalism Review has a pretty definitive account of where they stand.

— ReadWriteWeb has a handy resource for zooming out and taking a look at the big picture — a summary of five key web trends so far at 2010’s halfway point.

— Spot.Us’ David Cohn takes a look at the short-lived journalism startup NewsTilt and comes away with some helpful lessons.

— Finally, Google researcher Paul Adams has a presentation on the problems with the way social media is designed that’s been making its way around the web. It’s a whopping 216 slides, but it’s a simple yet insightful glance at what feels just a little bit wrong about our social interactions online and why.

July 04 2010

11:08

HOW TO HAVE STRONGER NEWSPAPERS? EASY. DO REAL JOURNALISM. PERIOD!

Sullivan

I just subscribed to The Times and Suday Times websites.

Cheap and easy: 1 GBP for one month, and after that 2 GBP a week.

Why?

Because you cannot read anywhere else smart columns like this one.

Andrew Sullivan on the real crisis of American newspapers.

A few “tapas”:

-Many US newspapers have simply become pale, quivering shadows of what they once were.

-Once, they aggressively scrutinised the powerful and exposed secrets, but they have — with some exceptions — become mouthpieces for the powerful, enablers of propaganda and prim schoolmarms when it comes to telling people what they want to know.

-A Harvard study recently examined the full record. This was its finding: “[From the 1930s to 2002] The New York Times characterised waterboarding as torture in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and the Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, in 2002-8 the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture.

-The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterised the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture.”

-Over time this kind of editorial cowardice gets through to the average reader. She senses she is not reading a truly independent press, eager to offend, sceptical of the powerful and determined not to mince words. And so she looks elsewhere. The editors and producers of American journalism have long wondered why their industry has been in decline. Perhaps they should try looking in the mirror.

Oh, boy!

Talk about multimedia, citizens journalism, social media, new platforms, interactivity, tablets and other magic words…

That’s nothing.

That’s wrong.

That’s a distraction.

Newspapers will be saved not by gadgets, technology and buzzwords but by real journalism.

Period!

May 25 2010

16:40

Comment: Reaction to the new Times and Sunday Times websites

Having had a day to “browse and snack” on the new Sunday Times and Times websites, what’s the feedback so far? What’s the reaction to the new editorial layout, multimedia changes and approach to journalism behind a paywall?

Starting with those bloggers who were given a sneak preview of the sites the night before they went live:

Malcolm Coles on the Times:

Without the need to chase search engine traffic or page views for advertisers, the idea of covering fewer stories but in a better way sounds appealing (…) an article, for instance, with an information graphic and tabs to let you explore the history and different aspects of the story without leaving the page. This package of content is brilliant – it works much better as an experience than lists of related articles or auto-generated tag pages.

But, asks Coles, shouldn’t readers be allowed to subscribe to just one site with completely distinct sections and topics?

It strikes me that there is either sufficient distinction in the audience for the two brands that you let users subscribe to just one site; or the audiences cross over so much that you combine the two sites in one and think about what makes most sense from the user’s point of view.

Forcing people to subscribe to both sites but keeping them entirely separate, with no cross-linking, seems a bit odd.

Adam Westbrook on the experience of reading the Times and Sunday Times online:

Well, at first impressions I am not bowled over: black text on a white screen, size 12, serif font – just like every other news website out there (and even this blog!). A web page can be any colour and fully dynamic – a concept no major newsroom is yet to grasp.

Rory Cellan-Jones on how a smaller audience might offer a more engaged readership:

[T]he company is convinced that advertisers will find the smaller audience of committed readers more attractive than the 21 million promiscuous passers-by who flit through the free Times Online site each month at present. While there’s been plenty of sniping from the sidelines by News International’s rivals, I suspect they are all glad that someone is at least testing the waters.

Tim Fenton:

It’s a slick package, although whether well-bundled, good content is enough of a differentiator from everything on Google News remains to be seen. For me, the biggest surprise is that the Times is not planning a splashy ad campaign to launch the paywall – it is relying chiefly on promotion in the newspaper.

It’s a low-key – and very analogue – start to one of the biggest experiments in modern digital media.

Of those reviewing the sites today, TechCrunch Europe expands on concerns raised that the papers’ journalists will miss out on social media conversation around their work, with thoughts on what the paywall means for mobile and ecommerce developments:

I don’t know The Times’ development roadmap, but if it does not have an API for its content (I presume it won’t since the whole of the new sites will be paywalled and invisible to search engines) then there will be no opportunity to catch the Third Wave of social or indeed of mobile or commerce. The Times cannot possibly come up with all the ideas which will happen in the Third Wave, which is why third-party developers will be so important.

Will the Times and Sunday Times be taking themselves out of the social media conversation with paywalls that redirect deep links to a generic login page? (Interesting to note findings from a Pew Research Center study, which report that bloggers will share more links and stories produced by mainstream news organisations, Twitterers less so, suggesting there’s is still a reliance of the social media news world on traditional news outlets. Interesting also – digital director of Mirror Group Matt Kelly’s remarks last week about the importance of honing news sites to niches that their readers identify as the values of that particular paper or brand.)

Adam Tinworth provides food for thought on the issue with his post on the potential impact of a subscription wall on a site’s community:

People sharing what they think will be identifiable, and they will have paid an entrance fee to get in there. This is, in fact, a community model, just one that differs from the wide, inter-connected community model we’re used to on the open web.

I recall Lee Bryant saying at last year’s Social Media Influence conference that sometimes its the wall that defines the community. And that maxim will be tested on these sites.

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09:33

Do users really want to pay for separate Times and Sunday Times sites?

The Times and Sunday Times have launched their new paywalled sites at  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/ and http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/. But while the sites have some good features, which I was shown at a preview last night, I still can’t work out why users would want to pay for two different websites covering the same subjects …

What’s on offer?

The plan is to replace the current site – timesonline.co.uk – with two new sites, one for The Times and one for The Sunday Times. £2 a week (or £1 for an individual day) buys you access to both sites. There isn’t an option to get just one site.

The Times proposition

The Times won’t try to be a news wire – it’ll be offering fewer stories on its home page than most online newspapers with the aim being to enhance those stories.

Without the need to chase search engine traffic or page views for advertisers, the idea of covering fewer stories but in a better way sounds appealing.

Some articles, for instance, will have information graphic and tabs to let you explore the history and different aspects of the story without leaving the page. This package of content is brilliant – it works much better as an experience than lists of related articles or auto-generated tag pages.

The Sunday Times proposition

The Sunday Times site will look very different to the Times’s. It will have the sections people know from the paper. So, news, sport and  business – but also culture, style, travel, In Gear and the magazine.

The site won’t be updated much during the week – though the aim is still for it to function as a 7-days-a-week site.

But instead of trying to compete with the Times sites for news, it will offer readers the ability to browse and explore Sunday’s content over the week, concentrating on galleries, videos and interactive graphics.

Why two websites?

The decision to replace the current timesonline.co.uk site with two brands and two websites – thetimes.co.uk and thesundaytimes.co.uk – has obviously meant some thinking about how they work together.

They seem clear enough that they are two products – a daily news site and a site that you’re meant to browse all week. But it was interesting that the reasons they talked about for this were the different editorial teams, the “different but overlapping audiences”, the different values of the newspapers, and the different reasons why people buy the Sunday paper vs the weekday paper.

I get all that for print products that are published on different days.

I’m just not sure why this needs to translate into two different websites that aren’t physical products and can be accessed easily on the same day …

The Tuesday question

Take a Tuesday when I’m reading the online Times Arts section to decide what film or play to watch. If I want to use the Sunday Times interactive culture tool (which looked great and even lets you remote control your Sky+ box) to explore reviews and book tickets then I need to go to a physically different website and browse to this tool. There’s not even going to be a link to it. I don’t get why they don’t just make the tool available on the Times site as well …

Or if I’m reading news about the BP oil spill on Tuesday on the Times site. How will I know there is an amazing interactive infographic on the Sunday Times site explaining what has happened so far? Where there’s overlap in subject matters, the content and functionality are split  across two sites. And there’s no eaasy way for users to find out what’s on the other site without going there and looking – which surely people aren’t going to bother to do on a regular basis on the off chance there might be something there?

The Sunday question

The Times site isn’t going to get updated much on a Sunday, unless there’s breaking news. So it will be interesting to see how it covers Saturday’s news when they do get round to writing about it – particularly sport.

Take the Champion’s League final last Saturday. In print, the Times would have analysed it in its Monday paper edition, and the Sunday Times would have done a match report. Online I’m not sure what will happen. It doesn’t seem to make sense to split this content across two websites, though. Will the Times site publish a match report online, or will this just be on the Sunday Times site?

Having two match reports seems a bit odd. But reading the analysis on the Times without being able to easily get to the Sunday Times match report seems odd too.

Should they let people subscribe to just one site?

I like the different approach they are taking on the two sites. And having them as separate sites might make sense if they were comptitors or if you could subscribe to just one – but you can’t. Given you have to take both, when they have overlapping content, why physically separate it?

Why not just have one sport section or one culture section where you can see the differing Times / Sunday Times take on things?

It strikes me that there is either sufficient distinction in the audience for the two brands that you let users subscribe to just one site. Or the audiences cross over so much that you combine the two sites in one and think about what makes most sense from the user’s point of view. Forcing people to subscribe to both sites but keeping them entirely separate, with no cross linking, seems a bit odd.

How will people access the site?

There were, as you can imagine, several questions about how the paywall will work in practice. Only two pages will be accessible if you’re not logged in – the homepage of the The Times site and the homepage of the Sunday Times site.

NO FURTHER!

NO FURTHER!

If you click on a link to a story, a box appears telling you to sign up or log in (As I’ve said before about paywalls, I think they’re going to have to get this to work a LOT harder).

If you clicked on a deep link to a story, you are redirected to the homepage where the box appears (I think this sounds odder than it will be in practice although the page load speeds are a bit slow at the moment. To see it in action, click here (a deep link) and then wait for the overlay to appear ….).

If you log in / sign up you are then redirected to the URL you were after. The same is true of search engines, too – so Google won’t be able to access the pages, which won’t appear in Google’s news or web search – with one small caveat. Google will be able to see URLs that are shown on the homepage but as it sees a login box if it tries to crawl the URL, I’m not 100% clear what happens then.

What are you getting?

There will be a 4 week period after the launch of these two new sites (a launch which was said to be “very imminent” – ie today!) where the current site and the new sites will exist together. Last night I thought they said there wouldn’t be a paywall so the new sites will be fully accessible so people could see what the sites were all about. But you can’t get past the homepages at the moment.

All three sites will be updated, and you’ll be able to browse around the new Times and Sunday Times sites to see what they look like. After 4 weeks, the paywall goes up and you’ll need to pay to access the new sites. At that point, the old site will stop being updated. Confused? We were a bit!

As things stand, this means there will be the paid-for Times Archive, spanning 1785 to 1985. Then the current timesonline site will sit on the internet, not being updated from the end of June but with old stories still accessible. And the two new sites will run behind a paywall for any new content. Although this seems a bit weird, I don’t suppose it matters too much …

Marketing the sites

What will be interesting to see is how they encourage people to sign up once the paywall is there – how will they show people what they’ll be getting if they sign up? There was no discussion this evening of tours or free trials or anything. I’m sure they’ve got something planned.

To sum up …

Overall, they seemed to have some interesting views on what each product is and how it will work. And I do understand the distinction they were trying to draw between a daily news site on the one hand and a weekly site on the other.

But when the daily news site is actually only 6 days a week, and covers much of the same subject matter as the weekly site … and when they’re offered as part of the same subscription with no option to just get one … that’s when I start to get a bit confused.

Have they projected their internal structure onto the websites they offer customers at the expense of the user experience? Or do they have a much better grasp of what their audiences want on different days and in different modes? Only time – and The Timeses – will tell (< sorry).

07:52

Times and Sunday Times get new websites as Alton gets new job

We gave you a sneak preview of the Times’ new design a couple of weeks ago, but the new websites for The Times and Sunday Times have gone live today.

At the moment the homepage of each site is the only part freely available. Readers will have to sign up for an initial free trial, before a paywall comes down on both sites (£1 a day or £2 a week for access) in four weeks time.

Journalism.co.uk was given a talk through of the new site designs by their editorial teams last night, so we’ll be posting more details later, but for now see the homepages below or visit the sites.

Meanwhile former Observer and Independent editor Roger Alton is joining the Times as executive editor, according to this report from MediaGuardian.

TheSundayTimes.co.uk


TheTimes.co.uk

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May 17 2010

08:40

What next for the new generation of journalists?

First, a bleak piece by Ed Caeser in the Sunday Times on the realities of a career in journalism. According to Caeser:

Today, you’ll need luck, flair, an alternative source of income, endless patience, an optimistic disposition, sharp elbows and a place to stay in London. But the essential quality for success now is surely tenacity. Look around the thinning newsrooms of the national titles. Look at the number of applicants for journalism courses, at the queue of graduates – qualified in everything except the only thing that matters, experience – who are desperate for unpaid work on newspapers and magazines. Look at the 1,200 people who applied in September for one reporter’s position on the new Sunday Times website. You’d shoot a horse with those odds.

It includes quotes from members of what he calls the class of 2008: the under 26s nominated as Press Gazette Young Journalist of the Year two years ago.

But the piece lacks examination of new paths and opportunities in journalism. Adam Westbrook fills in one of the gaps on his blog:

Caeser gets one thing right: he realises journalism is changing. The advice he has sought, however, is for an era in the industry heading towards the grave. He is stuck in the mindset that to have any career worth having in journalism it has to be working on a national newspaper or big broadcaster (…) there is no mention of entrepreneurial journalism. Caeser hasn’t even thought about it.

The very concept that the next generation of journalists might take control of their careers, become the chess player and not the chess piece seems alien to him; that these ‘poor saps’ might see opportunity where he only sees despair.

So here’s my advice: if you’re just starting out in journalism don’t read this article. While you’re at it, don’t make yourself ill eating nothing but Supernoodles for a month (as I once had to) just to afford a shitty flat in Clapham. Don’t spend hours squeezing the desperation out of a desperate email to that sub on the Guardian you chatted to briefly at some conference somewhere. And don’t think you should give up just because you live in the North of England, or you’re poor, or because Ed Caeser says you should.

Instead, do this: Start looking for the brave, exciting new opportunities presented by this wonderful digital age we now live in.

Read Adam Westbrook’s post in full at this link…

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March 26 2010

09:01

Times and Sunday Times will be paywalled from June – £1 a day

More details for the Great Paywall of Wapping have been released:

Two new websites  www.thetimes.co.uk and www.thesundaytimes.co.uk are to launch in  May – free to registered users for a trial period until June.

Then, the content will be available for a charge of £1 (one day access) or £2 (a week’s subscription) – across both sites.

Seven-day subscribers to the Times and Sunday Times in print will also be given digital access.

“This is just the start. The Times and The Sunday Times are the first of our four titles in the UK to move to this new approach. We will continue to develop our digital products and to invest and innovate for our customers,” said Rebekah Brooks, chief executive, News International, in a release.

BBC Radio 4 Today had Media Show host Steve Hewlett commenting on the plans (07:42). The audio is not yet up on its site but will be available at this link later this morning.

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January 25 2010

09:51

Sunday Times: BBC considering sale of magazine division

While rumours circulate about the future of the Sunday Times, the newspaper reports on another potential sale – the magazine division of the BBC:

Radio Times and Gardeners’ World magazine could soon have new owners. The BBC is considering the sale of its magazine division, which produces 50 titles, after being ordered to curb its money-making activities.

In response, the BBC said that “no decisions have been taken about any of our businesses”.

Full story at this link…

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09:41

Re-tweet rumours: Is the Times and Sunday Times up for sale?

It looks like everyone has about as much as we do on this one – from Michael Wolff’s tweets alone. On Saturday the Vanity Fair columnist and Murdoch biographer suggested, via Twitter,  that News Corp could be looking to sell the Times and the Sunday Times: “Rumor in London banking circles: Times and Sunday Times up for sale.”

Before long, @michaelwolffnyc’s short message was on the re-tweet circuit:

But if Wolff knows more detail, he’s keeping it to himself for now. Meanwhile he’s asking other journalists if they know more…

@johngapper [Financial Times columnist] Working it right now. Being characterized as “strong rumor among private equity” that Times and Sunday Times could be on block.

@janinegibson [Guardian.co.uk editor] Funny how that happens. Have you heard anything – beyond tweets?

Michael Wolff on Twitter…

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