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June 20 2013

14:02

The newsonomics of Spies vs. Spies

So who do you root for in this coming battle, as Google petitions the feds? Are you on the side of Big Brother or Little Brother — and remind me, which is which? It’s a 50-year-update on Mad Magazine’s iconic Spy vs. Spy.

The Surveillance State is — at least for this month — in front of the public. The Guardian’s rolling revelations of National Security Agency phone and web spying have again raised the bogeyman of Big Data — not the Big Data that all the airport billboards offer software to tame, but the Big Data that the unseen state can use against us. We’ve always had a love/hate relationship with big technology and disaster, consuming it madly as Hollywood churns out mad entertainments. We like our dystopia delivered hot and consumable within two hours. What we don’t like is the ooky feeling we are being watched, or that we have to make some kind unknowable choice between preventing the next act of terror and preserving basic Constitutional liberties.

Americans’ reactions to the stories is predictable. Undifferentiated outrage: “I knew they were watching us.” Outrageous indifference: “What do you expect given the state of the world?” That’s not surprising. Americans and Europeans have had the same problem thinking about the enveloping spider’s web of non-governmental digital knowledge. (See The Onion headline: “Area Man Outraged His Private Information Being Collected By Someone Other Than Advertisers.”)

While top global media, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, dig into the widening government spying questions, let’s look at the ferment in the issues of commercial surveillance. There’s a lot of it, and it would take several advanced degrees and decoder rings to understand all of it. No, it’s not the same thing as the issues surrounding PRISM. But it will be conflated with national security, and indeed the overlapping social and political questions are profound. Let’s look at some recent developments and some of the diverse players in this unfolding drama and see where publishers do — and could — fit in.

The commercial surveillance culture is ubiquitous, perhaps even less hemmed in by government policy than the NSA, and growing greatly day by day. While Google asks the FISA court to allow it to release more detail about the nature of federal data demands, its growing knowledge of us seems to have no bounds. From our daily searches, to the pictures (street to sky) taken of our homes, to the whereabouts relayed by Google Maps, and on and on.

It’s not just Google, of course. Facebook, whose users spend an average of seven hours per month online disclosing everything, is challenging Google for king of the data hill. A typical news site might have 30 to 40 cookies — many of them from ad-oriented “third parties” — dropped from it. That explains why those “abandoned” shopping carts, would-be shoe purchases, and fantasy vacation ads now go with us seemingly everywhere we move on the web. It’s another love/hate relationship: We’re enamored of what Google and Facebook and others can do for us, but we’re disquieted by their long reach into our lives. It’s a different flavor of ooky.

We are targeted. We are retargeted. Who we are, what we shop for, and what we read is known by untold number of companies out there. Though we are subject to so much invisible, involuntary, and uncompensated crowdsourcing, the outrage is minimal. It’s not that it hasn’t been written about. Among others, The Wall Street Journal has done great work on it, including its multi-prize-winning three-year series on “What They Know.”

Jim Spanfeller, now CEO of Spanfeller Media Group and the builder of Forbes.com, related the PRISM NSA disclosures to commercial tracking in a well-noticed column (“At What Price Safety? At What Price Targeted Advertising?”) last week. His point: We’re all essentially ignorant of what’s being collected about us, and how it is being used. As we find out more, we’re not going to be happy.

His warning to those in the digital ad ecosystem: Government will ham-handedly regulate tracking of consumer clicks if the industry doesn’t become more “honest and transparent.”

Spanfeller outlined for me the current browser “Do Not Track” wars, which saw its latest foray yesterday. Mozilla, parent of Firefox, the third most-popular browser by most measures, said it will move forward with tech that automatically blocks third-party cookies in its browser. Presumably, users will be able to turn back on such cookies, but most will go with the defaults in the browsers they use.

The Mozilla move, much contested and long in the works, follows a similar decision by Microsoft with its release of the latest Internet Explorer. Microsoft is using a “pro-privacy” stance as a competitive weapon against Google, advancing both Bing search and IE. Spanfeller notes that Microsoft’s move hasn’t had much effect, at least yet, because “sites aren’t honoring it.”

These browser wars are one front, and much decried by forces like the Interactive Ad Bureau, the Digital Ad Alliance, and its “Ad Choices” program — which prefer consumer opt-out. Another front is an attempt at industry consensus through the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. Observers of that process believe it is winding its way to failure. Finally, also announced yesterday was the just-baked Cookie Clearinghouse, housed at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. The driving notion, to be fleshed out: creating whitelists and blacklists of cookies allowed and blocked. (Good summaries by both Ad Age’s Kate Kaye and ZDNet’s Ed Bott.)

Never too far from the action, serial entrepreneur John Taysom was in Palo Alto this week as well. Taysom, a current senior fellow at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, is an early digital hothouse pioneer, having led Reuters’ Greenhouse project way back in the mid-’90s. His list of web startups imagined and sold is impressive, and now he’s trying to put all that experience to use around privacy issues. As a student of history, old and modern, his belief is this: “When they invented the Internet, they didn’t add a privacy layer.”

“We need a Underwriters Laboratory for our time,” he told me Wednesday. UL served a great purpose at a time (1894) of another tech revolution: electricity. Electricity, like computer tech these days, seemed exciting, but the public was wary. It wasn’t afraid of behind-the-scenes chicanery — it literally was concerned about playing with fire. So UL, as a “global independent safety science company” — a kind of neutral, Switzerland-like enterprise — was set up to assure the public that electrical appliances were indeed tested and safe.

Could we do the same with the Internet?

He’s now working on a model, colloquially named “Three’s A Crowd,” to reinsert a “translucent” privacy layer in the tech stack. His model is based on a lot of current thinking on how to both better protect individual privacy and actually improve the targeting of messages by business and others. It draws on k-anonymity and Privacy by Design principles, among others.

In brief, Taysom’s Harvard project is around creating a modern UL. It would be a central trusted place, or really set of places, that institutions and businesses (and presumably governments) could draw from, but which protect individual identification. He calls it an I.D. DMZ, or demilitarized zone.

He makes the point that the whole purpose of data mining is to get to large enough groups of people with similar characteristics — not to find the perfect solution or offer for each individual. “Go up one level above the person,” to a small, but meaningfully sized, crowd. The idea: increase anonymity, giving people the comfort of knowing they are not being individually targeted.

Further, the levels of anonymity could differ depending on the kind of information associated with anyone. ”I don’t really mind that much about people knowing my taste in shirts. If it’s about the location of my kids, I want six sigmas” of anonymity, he says. Taysom, who filed a 2007 U.K. patent, now approved, on the idea, is now putting together both his boards of advisors and trustees.

Then there are emerging marketplace solutions to privacy. What havoc the digital marketplace hath wrought may be solved by…the digital marketplace. D.C.-based Personal.com is one of the leading players in that emerging group. Yes, this may be the coming personal data economy. Offering personal data lockers starting at $29.99 a year, Personal.com is worth a quick tour. What if you could store all your info in a digital vault, it asks? Among the kinds of “vaults”: passwords, memberships and rewards programs, credit and debit card info, health insurance, and lots more.

It’s a consumer play that’s also a business play. The company is now targeting insurance, finance, and education companies and institutions, who would then offer consumers the opportunity to ingest their customer information and keep it in vault and auto-fill features then let consumers re-use such information once it is banked. Think Mint.com, but broader.

Importantly, while Personal.com deals potentially with lots of kinds of digital data, its business doesn’t touch on the behavioral clickstream data that is at the heart of the Do Not Track fracas.

Do consumer want such a service? Personal.com won’t release any numbers on customers or business partners. Getting early traction may be tough.

Embedded in the strategy: a pro-consumer tilt. Personal.com offers an “owner data agreement,” basically certifying that it is the consumer, not Personal.com, that owns the data. It is a tantalizing idea: What if we individually could control our own digital data, setting parameters on who could use what and how? What if we as consumers could monetize our own data?

Neither Personal.com nor John Taysom’s project nor the various Do Not Track initiatives envision that kind of individually driven marketplace, and I’ve been told there are a whole bunch of technical reasons why it would be difficult to achieve. Yet, wouldn’t that be the ultimate capitalist, Adam Smith solution to this problem of runaway digital connectedness — a huge exchange that would facilitate the buying and selling of our own data?

For publishers, all this stuff is headache-producing. News publishers from Manhattan to Munich complain about all the third-party cookies feeding low-price exchanges, part of the reason their digital ad businesses are struggling. But there is a wide range of divergent opinion about how content-creating publishers will fare in Do Not Track world. They may benefit from diminished competition, but would they be able to adequately target for advertisers? Will Google and Facebook do even better in that world?

So, for publishers, these privacy times demand three things:

  • Upscale their own data mining businesses. “There’s a big difference between collecting and using data,” says Jonathan Mendez, CEO of Yieldbot, that works with publishers to provide selling alternatives to Google search. That’s a huge point. Many publishers don’t yet do enough with their first-party data to adequately serve advertiser needs.
  • Take a privacy-by-design approach to emerging business. How you treat consumers in product design and presentation is key here, with some tips from Inc. magazine.
  • Adopt a pro-privacy position. Who better than traditionally civic-minded newspaper companies than to help lead in asserting a sense of ownership of individual data? If news companies are to re-assert themselves as central to the next generation of their communities and of businesses, what better position than pro-privacy — and then helping individuals manage that privacy better?

It’s a position that fits with publishers’ own interests, and first-party data gathering (publisher/reader) makes more intuitive sense to citzen readers. For subscribers — those now being romanced into all-access member/subscribers — the relationship may make even more sense. Such an advocacy position could also help re-establish a local publisher as a commercial hub.

News and magazine publishers won’t have to create the technology here — certainly not their strong suits — but they can be early partners as consortia and companies emerge in the marketplace.

Photo by Fire Monkey Fire used under a Creative Commons license.

June 17 2013

20:20

All journalism is advocacy (or it isn’t)

Jay Rosen wrote a insightful post forking the practice of journalism into “politics: none” (that is, traditional American journalism: objective, it thinks) and “politics: some” (that is, the kind just practiced by Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian). Jay catalogs the presumptions and advantages of each. As both he and The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan observe, Edward Snowden took his leaks to Greenwald and the Guardian because they exemplify “politics: some.”

I want to take this farther and argue first that what Greenwald and the Guardian were practicing was less politics than advocacy, and second that all journalism is advocacy (or is it journalism?).

To the first point: Greenwald and the Guardian were not bolstering their own politics in the NSA story. To the contrary, Greenwald and the Guardian both identify politically as liberal — the Guardian’s mission is to be nothing less than “the world’s leading liberal voice” — yet they attacked programs run and justified by a liberal American administration and no doubt caused that administration discomfort or worse. In so doing, Greenwald and the Guardian exhibited the highest value of journalism: intellectual honesty. That does not mean they were unbiased. It means they were willing to do damage to their political side in the name of truth. Greenwald and the Guardian were practicing advocacy not for politics — not for their team — but for principles: protection of privacy, government transparency and accountability, the balance of powers, and the public’s right to know.

Now to my second point: Seen this way, isn’t all journalism properly advocacy? And isn’t advocacy on behalf of principles and the public the true test of journalism? The choices we make about what to cover and how we cover it and what the public needs to know are acts of advocacy on the public’s behalf. Don’t we believe that we act in their interest? As James Carey said: “The god term of journalism — the be-all and end-all, the term without which the enterprise fails to make sense, is the public.”

When the Washington Post — whose former editor famously refused to vote to uphold his vision of Jay’s “politics: none” ethic — chooses to report on government secrecy or on abuse of veterans at a government hospital or, of course, on presidential malfeasance and coverups, it is, of course, advocating. When an editor assigns reporters to expose a consumer scam or Wall Street fraud or misappropriation of government funds, that’s advocacy. When a newspaper takes on the cause of the poor, the disadvantaged, the abused, the forgotten, or just the little guy against The Man, that’s advocacy. When health reporters tell you how to avoid cancer or even lose weight, that’s advocacy on your behalf. I might even argue that a critic reviewing a movie to save you from wasting your money on a turkey could be advocacy (though we don’t necessarily need critics for that anymore).

But what about a TV station sending a crew or a helicopter to give us video of the fire du jour, a tragic accident with no lesson to be learned? Is that advocacy? No. When a TV network — not to pick on TV — devotes hours and hours to the salacious details of, say, the Jodi Arias crime, which affects none of our lives, is that advocacy? No. When an online site collects pictures of cute cats, is that advocacy? Hardly. When a newspaper devotes resources to covering football games, is that advocacy? No. Is any of that journalism? Under the test I put forth here, no.

So what is it then, the stuff we call journalism that doesn’t advocate for people or principles, that doesn’t serve the public need? At worst, it’s exploitation — audience- or sales- or click- or ratings-bait — at best it’s entertainment. The first is pejorative, the second need not be, as entertainment — whether a journalistic narrative or a book or a show or movie — can still inform and enlighten. But if it doesn’t carry information that people can use to better organize their lives or their society, I’d say it fails the journalism test.

Journalism-as-advocacy has been bundled with journalism-as-entertainment for economic reasons: Entertainment can draw people to a media entity and help subsidize the cost of its journalism. But it was a mistake to then put an umbrella over it all: If a newspaper creates journalism then everything its journalists create in that newspaper is journalism, right? No. The corollary: People who are not journalists can do journalism. It’s a function of the value delivered, not the job title. (I’ll write another post later looking a pricing paradox embedded in this split.)

Why does what seems like definitional hair-splitting matter? Because when a whistleblower knocks on your door, you must decide not whose side you’re on but whom and what principles you serve. This is a way to recast the specific argument journalists are having now about whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Wrong question. As a journalistic organization, the Guardian had to ask whether the public had a right to the information Snowden carried, no matter which side it benefitted (so long as the public’s interests — in terms of security — were not harmed).

The next issue for the Guardian was whether and how it adds journalistic value. That is, of course, another journalistic test. Edward Snowden, like Wikileaks, delivered a bunch of raw and secret documents. In both cases, news organization added value by (1) using judgment to redact what could be harmful, (2) bringing audience to the revelation, and most important, (3) adding reporting to this raw information to verify and explain.

Based on his Q&A with the Guardian audience, I’d say that Snowden is proving to be big on rhetoric and perhaps guts but less so on specifics. I still am not clear how much direct operational knowledge he has or whether he — like Bradley Manning — simply had access to documents. So more reporting was and still is necessary. This Associated Press story is a good example of taking time to add reporting, context, and explanation to Snowden’s still-unclear and still-debated documents.

Both these organizations made their decisions about what to reveal and what to report based on their belief that we have a right and need to know. That’s journalism. That’s advocacy.

April 01 2013

11:59

March 28 2013

11:00

Fact-Checking Social Media: The Case of the Pope and the Dictator

Did Pope Francis play a major role in Argentina's Dirty War? Reporters claim they can substantiate this allegation. They published photos of dictator Jorge Videla with a cardinal, allegedly Jorge Bergoglio, the recently elected Pope Francis. But something was wrong with these findings.

Great find, Brad: pope's connivance with dictatorship RT @delong Hugh O'Shaughnessy: Sins of the Argentine church bit.ly/XuR7k0

— Matt Seaton (@mattseaton) March 13, 2013

The buzz started just two hours after the waiting for white smoke was over. Hundreds of people, including reporters, tweeted a link to a 2011 story in The Guardian: "The Sins of the Argentinian Church."

Blogs came up with similar stories. Documentary maker Michael Moore forwarded a link to a photo of Videla with a cardinal -- allegedly, the new pope. For some newspapers, like the Dutch Volkskrant, these tweets were sufficient to break the story. "Pope sparks controversy," the newspaper wrote.

ogg.jpg

In the end, everybody had to correct their stories. Moore withdrew his tweet, The Guardian corrected the 2-year-old article in which Bergoglio was mentioned, and Volkskrant apologized for using the wrong photos.

CORRECTION: New Pope too young, photo circulating not of him giving communion to Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla

— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) March 14, 2013

With the help of basic Internet research skills this never would have happened. Let's try to debunk all four clues:

1. The Guardian article

free.jpg The story came from the "Comment is free" section, the opinion corner of the newspaper.

It wasn't a factual story that was tweeted, but an opinion.

2. Enough people retweeted it

The number of retweets by itself, does not tell much about the credibility of a story. Take, for example, a look at a fake Amber Alert that was retweeted thousands of times:

henk2.jpg

But fact checking social media starts with numbers. How many people retweeted something? From which countries? How many clicked on the link? To make an educated guess, you need tools.

Tracking links

Type in the link to the story you want to investigate in Backtweets

backtweet.png

You see it is quoted 23 times, but that is the latest results. Search for March 13, 2013 and March 14, 2013. If you click on "More Tweets" you can access an archive of 5,840 tweets.

Keep in mind that you will miss tweets that use a shortened link service like bit.ly. You have to investigate each possible link separately in Backtweets. That's boring work, but somebody has to do this. Only then you'll see reporters who retweeted the link, like this Italian reporter:

italian.png

She deleted the tweet, but with Backtweet you can still find it.

Shortening services

If you type the plus sign behind any bit.ly link, you will get link statistics.

statistics.png

The trick with to

If you search in Twitter for: to (name of source) several concerns came up. Usually, followers are the first to correct false tweets. Therefore, it makes sense to use to:@mattseaton or _@to:MMflint (Michael Moore) to find out if somebody warned the source of the story. Here you see the same Italian reporter has some doubts after she posted and removed the link to the Guardian article:

did you counter factcheck this or is the source just #Horacio_Verbitsky's book? @mattseaton @delong

— Anna Masera (@annamasera) March 13, 2013

Another warning:

@mattseaton @annamasera Please fact check,Verbitsky was friend of Kirchners , accusations against Pope seem to be retaliation..

— Karen La Bretonne (@Lady_BZH) March 14, 2013

3. Blogs

Blogs broke the news, like Consortium News.stolen.jpg

Who is behind that source? I use this little Google trick to find sources who talk about
the blog, but are not affiliated with it. Here's how you do that:

perry.jpg

The writer is Robert Perry, who has a serious problem "with millions of Americans brainwashed by the waves of disinformation." His site wants to fight distortions of Fox News and "the hordes of other right-wing media outlets." The blog constitutes mostly activism rather than journalism.

4. The pictures

Michael Moore corrected his tweet several hours after he had posted the original. Without his correction, however, validation would have been possible too. You can upload the specific photo -- in this case, the alleged photo of the pope and Videla, to Google Images and try to find the original source:

amazng.jpg

Google now presents a list of most popular search words in conjunction with the image. When I tried this on the exact day the pope was presented, the words were different: "corruption," "Argentina" and "church." This indicated the person who found the image probably typed these words in Google to find the particular image that later sparked so much controversy.

To find the first date the photo was published or that Google indexed the photo, you can go back in time. You can order Google to show you only photos older than, say 2004:

travek.jpg

Now you get to the original source, Getty Images. In the caption it says that Videla visited a church in Buenos Aires in 1990. The new pope isn't mentioned:

getty.jpg

Compare this with Pope's Francis biography from the Vatican:

org.jpg

It says he was a spiritual director in Córdoba, 400 miles away from Buenos Aires. Sure, they have buses and trains and plains in Argentina, but still.

Another tip now: Always think "video" when you see a picture. Just type some words from the event in Google's search engine. This will lead to a YouTube video of the same event as captured on the Getty photo.

youtube2.jpg

Here's that YouTube video.

Now you see both people from the Getty image moving. This doesn't make sense. Pope Francis was born December 17, 1936. Videla was born August 2, 1925. He is more than 10 years older. In the YouTube video, the ages don't seem to match.

We have uncovered enough reason to doubt the original claim about Pope Francis, so now it's time to go for the final check. Probably more people discovered what you just found out. So, order Google to search for fake photos:

"false" OR "falsely" OR "fake photo" "jorge videla" "jorge bergoglio"

Don't search in English, but go for Spanish and French. You can type the words in English, and Google translates the keywords and the hits are translated back into English.

frencj.jpg

The first hit leads to sources who claim that the Michael Moore photo is false:

henf.jpg

Other keywords can be "not true," "hoax" or "blunder."

It's also a good idea to send a tweet to Storyful -- they even have a hashtag #dailydebunk.

deubnked.png

There you have it. The Guardian amended its story from 2011 on March 14, 2013.

@lady_bzh @annamasera @delong Correction coming shortly. Verbitsky book does deal with Bergoglio, but O'Shaughnessy misreported story

— Matt Seaton (@mattseaton) March 14, 2013

Nevertheless, some newspapers broke the story afterwards, as Volkskrant did on March 15. They apologized the next day:

correct.png

By doing some background research, this could have been avoided. Had proper fact checking taken place, this story should not have been written in the first place.

Dutch born Henk van Ess, currently chairs the VVOJ, the Association of Investigative Journalists for The Netherlands and Belgium. Van Ess teaches internet research & multimedia/cross media at universities and news media in Europe. He is founder of VVOJ Medialab and search engines, Inside Search, Cablesearch.org and Facing Facebook. His current projects include consultancy for news websites, fact checking of social media and internet research workshops.

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August 15 2012

11:12

News sites should be Islands in the stream

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in-between
How can we be wrong

Dolly Parton! Well, actually the BeeGees (well if we are being really pedantic Hemingway). What the hell is that about Andy!

Well, Mary Hammilton (a must follow @newsmary on twitter) highlighted a post by entrepreneur, writer and geek living imploring us to stop publishing webpages and start publishing streams:

Start moving your content management system towards a future where it outputs content to simple APIs, which are consumed by stream-based apps that are either HTML5 in the browser and/or native clients on mobile devices. Insert your advertising into those streams using the same formats and considerations that you use for your own content. Trust your readers to know how to scroll down and skim across a simple stream, since that’s what they’re already doing all day on the web. Give them the chance to customize those streams to include (or exclude!) just the content they want.

I found it a little bit of a mish-mash really. In principle, lots to agree with but the practice was less clear. It makes sense if you’re in to developing the ‘native clients’ but harder to quantify if your’e a content creator.

More interesting was the twitter discussion it generated between Mary and her Guardian colleague Jonathan Haynes (the equally essential @jonathanhaynes) which I hitched my wagon to.  Haynes didn’t agree with the premise of the post and that generated an intersting discussion.

I’ve created a storyfy below but it got me thinking about some general points which are a little ‘devils advocate’:

  • What is this stream anyway – is it the capacity to filter  or is the depth and breadth of content you have to filter. I would say it’s the latter. Facebook and Twitter are streams because of the sheer weight of numbers and diversity of users.
  • Why be the stream when you can be part of it – Part of what Anil posted about was making stuff available to use in streams. I can’t disagree with that but it strays in to the idea of feeding the content ecosystem that, in blunt terms, is often played as parasitic. For all the advocacy of allowing user control, the one thing news orgs are still loathed to do is move people outside the site. Is looking at new ways to recreate the stream experience within a site simply a way of admitting that you aren’t really part of the stream?
  • Are you confusing your consumption habits with your users – whilst the stream might be useful for information pros like journos is it really what consumers want for their news. The stream suits the rolling nature of journalism. Not in the broadcast sense, just in the sense of ‘whats new’. Do your audience consume like you do?
  • Are you removing the value proposition of a journalist? – by putting the control of the stream in the hands of the user are you doing yourself out of a job. I know what the reply to that will be: “No, because the content of the stream will be done by us and  we will curate the stream”. Well in that sense it’s not a stream is it. It’s a list of what you already do. Where’s that serendipity or the compulsion to give people what they need (to live,thrive and survive) rather than what they want?
  • Confusing presentation with creation - That last point suggests a broader one. You can’t simply repackage content to simply ride the wave when your core business different. It’s like calling a column a blog – we hate that don’t we. So why call a slightly different way of presenting the chronology of content a stream?

That’s before we have even got to the resource issue. News orgs can’t handle the social media flow as it is.

So, Islands in the stream?  Well, thinking about the points above, especially the first one, what’s wrong with being something different. What’s wrong with being a page is world of updates.  What’s wrong with being a place where people can step out of the stream and stay a while to dry off and get a bit of orientation.

[View the story "What should news sites be - pages or streams" on Storify]

What should news sites be – pages or streams

Entrepreneur, writer and geek Anil Dash has posted a request that people stop publishing pages and start creating streams.

Storified by Andy Dickinson · Wed, Aug 15 2012 04:17:12

Stop Publishing Web PagesMost users on the web spend most of their time in apps. The most popular of those apps, like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Tumblr and others,…
Start moving your content management system towards a future where it outputs content to simple APIs, which are consumed by stream-based apps that are either HTML5 in the browser and/or native clients on mobile devices. Insert your advertising into those streams using the same formats and considerations that you use for your own content. Trust your readers to know how to scroll down and skim across a simple stream, since that’s what they’re already doing all day on the web. Give them the chance to customize those streams to include (or exclude!) just the content they want.
An interesting post which generated some interesting discussion when Guardian Journo Mary Hamilton posted it to twitter. 
@newsmary I *hate* that piece. Am I the only person left who likes the web, and webpages, and tolerates apps whilst sincerely hating them?Greg Callus
@Greg_Callus No, I don’t think you are. But I do think there’s room for other presentations as well as single static URL.Mary Hamilton
@newsmary There is, I just hate the Appify movement & ‘streams’. And there’s a reason Guardian Network Front isn’t RSS feed of our content.Greg Callus
@newsmary Where’s the evidence readers ‘like’ streams & apps? Rather than utility sacrificed for convenience b/c that’s what mobile could doGreg Callus
@Greg_Callus Where’s the evidence they don’t? Don’t think people are using Facebook/Tumblr etc while disliking the approach that much.Mary Hamilton
@newsmary Drop/plateau in Facebook numbers since move from Profile to Timeline? Not universal but thnk his claim they ‘like streams’ not metGreg Callus
@Greg_Callus But significant rise since the introduction of the news feed, which is a stream.Mary Hamilton
@newsmary Touche! Thing is I love Twitter as a stream. Where chronological key, it works (like comments). Where content needs hierarchy, notGreg Callus
@Greg_Callus Yeah, there are def some big issues with streams wrt hierarchy – but also with pages too. It’s not a solved problem.Mary Hamilton
It wasn’t the only chat. Mary’s tweet had already attracted the attention of her Guardian colleague Jonathan Haynes who took issue with the basic premise.
@newsmary no! Much more important is: Stop thinking you’re the medium when you’re the content provider!Jonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes Different issues, surely? You can be a content provider with a stream.Mary Hamilton
@newsmary what’s a stream Mary, what’s a stream? it’s a load of contentJonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes Compared to a flat page, it’s a different way of organising that content. That’s not a difficult distinction…Mary Hamilton
@newsmary it’s the same content! *head desk*Jonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes And the point of the piece I linked is that news orgs should present it differently. Struggling to see your point.Mary Hamilton
@JonathanHaynes Compared to a flat page, it’s a different way of organising that content. That’s not a difficult distinction…Mary Hamilton
@newsmary present it how? it’s presented in every way alreadyJonathan Haynes
@alexhern @newsmary *head desk*Jonathan Haynes
I wondered whether, given the content hungry nature of the stream if media orgs had the resource or know-how to take Dash’s advice.
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes also the issue here that stream implies a constant flow. A mechanism of displaying constantly changing content.Andy Dickinson
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes not sure that most orgs can promise that without USB and sm. something most have no talent or resource for.Andy Dickinson
@digidickinson @newsmary indeedJonathan Haynes
Mary didn’t think that was the issue. It was more about what you did with what you had and how people used it.
@digidickinson @JonathanHaynes Not certain that’s true – using a single blog as the example. More talking about customisation & user flow?Mary Hamilton
@newsmary @digidickinson how does a blog show importance? it’s just a stream.Jonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes Sticky posts, design highlights. Not a new problem.Mary Hamilton
But that still didn’t answer the core question for me – where does the content needed to create a stream come from?
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary that’s about relevance- is timeliness relevance or curation. Can see a case for chronology but still needs ‘stuff’Andy Dickinson
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary stuff that is new to appear ‘chronologically’Andy Dickinson
Jonathan was still struggling with the idea of the stream
@newsmary @digidickinson then how is that a stream?Jonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes @digidickinson How is a blog a stream if it has sticky posts? *headdesk*Mary Hamilton
I could kind of see Jonathan’s point.
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes slightly different issue there. One to watch as you are talking about subverting (damming it with sticky posts)Andy Dickinson
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes that changes the consistency of presentation for publishers sake, without the users permission. Breaks the premiseAndy Dickinson
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes like twitter being able to keep one tweet at top of your feed when it suitedAndy Dickinson
But Dan Bentley pointed out that there are a number of sites that seem to do ‘the stream’ well. 
@digidickinson @newsmary @jonathanhaynes you can stream content and still tell people what’s important http://itv.co/NDpTxdDaniel Bentley
Latest News – ITV NewsTia accused faces Old Bailey No application for Hazell bail by Jon Clements – Crime Correspondent Lord Carlile QC (representing Stuart Ha…
@DJBentley @digidickinson @JonathanHaynes Good example, that. Cheers.Mary Hamilton
But sites like ITV rely heavily on UGC and that’s a big issue. It still comes down to where you get the content from and if the org is resourced to do that.
@DJBentley @newsmary @jonathanhaynes true but the itv example better illustrates the point I made about where the content comes fromAndy Dickinson
@DJBentley @newsmary @jonathanhaynes it’s curating content but it’s still content and it has to come from somewhere at regular intervals.Andy Dickinson
@DJBentley @newsmary @jonathanhaynes that’s not an impossibility but it is a core challenge for orgs – always has been online esp. with smAndy Dickinson
@JonathanHaynes @djbentley @newsmary think that highlights core issue here-presentation separate to mechanism to create content to presentAndy Dickinson
Another example 
@DJBentley @digidickinson @newsmary @jonathanhaynes Breaking News does similar with their verticals (sorry to butt in) http://breakingnews.com/TomMcArthur
Breaking news, latest news, and current events – breakingnews.comThe latest breaking news around the world from hundreds of sources, all in one place.
@TomMcArthur I like @breakingnews style for streams a lot – suits it perfectly.Mary Hamilton
But Jonathan is not a fan of the ITV approach.
@digidickinson @DJBentley @newsmary ITV site is a car crash though. and how a minority want news presented isn’t necessarily representativeJonathan Haynes
And has an example of his own to highlight that the page is not quite dead…
@digidickinson @TomMcArthur @newsmary @DJBentley most successful UK newspaper website is Mail Online. sticks rigidly to articles.Jonathan Haynes
Home | Mail OnlineMailOnline – all the latest news, sport, showbiz, science and health stories from around the world from the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday…
@JonathanHaynes @digidickinson @TomMcArthur @newsmary is the Mail Online a good news source?Daniel Bentley
Another example pops up later on as an aside to the conversations
The Reddit Editundefined
@newsmary @TomMcArthur The news site of the future looks a lot more like that or http://bit.ly/NDsuHw than 240 hyperlinks and 60 picturesDaniel Bentley
@DJBentley @TomMcArthur Yes, I agree.Mary Hamilton
and Mary takes the chance to voice her view of the term newspaper site.
@JonathanHaynes @digidickinson @DJBentley “Newspaper website” is an oxymoron that cannot die quickly enough for my liking.Mary Hamilton
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes @djbentley agree with sentiment but sadly it is still a very apt description of the general process and mentalityAndy Dickinson
@newsmary @digidickinson @DJBentley touché. sorry, news site.Jonathan Haynes
In the continuing conversations Jonathan is concerned that this might be a bit of the thrill of the new…
@DJBentley @digidickinson @TomMcArthur @newsmary consumption and creation are different. and early adopters are not the norm.Jonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes @DJBentley @digidickinson Thing is, stream consumption isn’t a minority or early adopter thing any more.Mary Hamilton
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes @djbentley true but danger is going for mode of presentation without considering the mechanics.Andy Dickinson
@newsmary @jonathanhaynes @djbentley number of individuals needed to make a stream vs number needed to present it.Andy Dickinson
So Jonathan asks about a concrete example.
@newsmary @digidickinson @DJBentley so how would that look for "the Guardian" streams works as multiple source and crows editingJonathan Haynes
@newsmary @digidickinson @DJBentley crowd, not crows. what I get from Twitter I want, but I also want websites to show me hierarchy.Jonathan Haynes
@newsmary @digidickinson @DJBentley and content is discrete elements. should be available in all forms but need to be ‘page’ to do soJonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes @digidickinson @DJBentley Let me subscribe to tags; filter my stream on my own interest & curated importance?Mary Hamilton
@newsmary @DJBentley @digidickinson you want to subscribe to tags?! might as well have an RSS feed! ;)Jonathan Haynes
Dan highlighted a problem which, I guess, he would see the stream as helping to solve.
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary @digidickinson I don’t feel current news site frontpages do a particularly good job at hierarchy. Too much stuff.Daniel Bentley
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary @digidickinson Google News or the new digg http://bit.ly/NDuNuc do a better job and that’s mostly algorithm.Daniel Bentley
Google News- As the courtroom emptied after Barry Bonds’ obstruction-of-justice conviction Wednesday afternoon, the slugger stood off to one side, h…
DiggThe best news, videos and pictures on the web as voted on by the Digg community. Breaking news on Technology, Politics, Entertainment, an…
@DJBentley @newsmary @digidickinson too much stuff? and yet you want an endless stream??Jonathan Haynes
But for Dan the stream has a purpose 
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary @digidickinson the stream tells me what’s new, the traditional frontpage doesn’t know what it’s doing.Daniel Bentley
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary @digidickinson Am I what’s new? Am I what’s important? Am I everything that has been written in the last 24hrs?Daniel Bentley
@DJBentley @newsmary @digidickinson no, you’re the carefully edited combination of all of the below!Jonathan Haynes
@JonathanHaynes @newsmary @digidickinson carefully edited? How is 240 links on Guardian and 797 (!) on Mail Online carefully edited?Daniel Bentley
@DJBentley @newsmary @digidickinson *sigh*Jonathan Haynes
Frustrating as it may be it’s a real problem and which Mary sums up with
@DJBentley @JonathanHaynes @digidickinson Part of problem with hierarchy on fronts is trying to be all things to all visitors.Mary Hamilton
But, to be honest, I can’t see how the stream would be any better other than to put the responsibility back on to the user. But I’ve more to add in a blog post….
News sites should be Islands in the stream | andydickinson.netIslands in the stream That is what we are No one in-between How can we be wrong Dolly Parton! Well, actually the BeeGees (well if we are …

 

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August 08 2012

13:00

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

If you missed Jessica Ennis’s gold, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find it where the big Twitter spike is. Indeed, if you missed something interesting – whether you know it happened or not – you should be able to find it by hitting the peaks in that Twitter histogram.

That’s useful whether you’re looking at the Olympics or any other ongoing event which would normally see news websites reaching for a liveblog. What’s more, it requires no human intervention or editorial decision making.

Of course, in this form it relies on people using Twitter – but you can adapt the principle to other sources of activity data: traffic volume to your site, for instance (compared to typical traffic for that time of day, if you want to avoid it being skewed by lunchtime rushes).

Indeed, that’s what the Guardian Zeitgeist does across the site as a whole.

Horizontal navigation, adopted by Second Screen as a whole, is a further innovation which bears closer scrutiny. The histogram lends itself to it, so how do you adapt from a vertically-navigated scrolling liveblog? Would you run the histogram up the side, kept static while the page scrolls? Or would you run the liveblog horizontally?

Either way, it’s a creative solution to a common liveblogging problem that’s worth noting.

13:00

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

If you missed Jessica Ennis’s gold, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find it where the big Twitter spike is. Indeed, if you missed something interesting – whether you know it happened or not – you should be able to find it by hitting the peaks in that Twitter histogram.

That’s useful whether you’re looking at the Olympics or any other ongoing event which would normally see news websites reaching for a liveblog. What’s more, it requires no human intervention or editorial decision making.

Of course, in this form it relies on people using Twitter – but you can adapt the principle to other sources of activity data: traffic volume to your site, for instance (compared to typical traffic for that time of day, if you want to avoid it being skewed by lunchtime rushes).

Indeed, that’s what the Guardian Zeitgeist does across the site as a whole.

Horizontal navigation, adopted by Second Screen as a whole, is a further innovation which bears closer scrutiny. The histogram lends itself to it, so how do you adapt from a vertically-navigated scrolling liveblog? Would you run the histogram up the side, kept static while the page scrolls? Or would you run the liveblog horizontally?

Either way, it’s a creative solution to a common liveblogging problem that’s worth noting.

August 02 2012

14:18

A case study in online journalism: investigating the Olympic torch relay

Torch relay places infographic by Caroline Beavon

For the last two months I’ve been involved in an investigation which has used almost every technique in the online journalism toolbox. From its beginnings in data journalism, through collaboration, community management and SEO to ‘passive-aggressive’ newsgathering,  verification and ebook publishing, it’s been a fascinating case study in such a range of ways I’m going to struggle to get them all down.

But I’m going to try.

Data journalism: scraping the Olympic torch relay

The investigation began with the scraping of the official torchbearer website. It’s important to emphasise that this piece of data journalism didn’t take place in isolation – in fact, it was while working with Help Me Investigate the Olympics‘s Jennifer Jones (coordinator for#media2012, the first citizen media network for the Olympic Games) and others that I stumbled across the torchbearer data. So networks and community are important here (more later).

Indeed, it turned out that the site couldn’t be scraped through a ‘normal’ scraper, and it was the community of the Scraperwiki site – specifically Zarino Zappia – who helped solve the problem and get a scraper working. Without both of those sets of relationships – with the citizen media network and with the developer community on Scraperwiki – this might never have got off the ground.

But it was also important to see the potential newsworthiness in that particular part of the site. Human stories were at the heart of the torch relay – not numbers. Local pride and curiosity was here – a key ingredient of any local newspaper. There were the promises made by its organisers – had they been kept?

The hunch proved correct – this dataset would just keep on giving stories.

The scraper grabbed details on around 6,000 torchbearers. I was curious why more weren’t listed – yes, there were supposed to be around 800 invitations to high profile torchbearers including celebrities, who might reasonably be expected to be omitted at least until they carried the torch – but that still left over 1,000.

I’ve written a bit more about the scraping and data analysis process for The Guardian and the Telegraph data blog. In a nutshell, here are some of the processes used:

  • Overview (pivot table): where do most come from? What’s the age distribution?
  • Focus on details in the overview: what’s the most surprising hometown in the top 5 or 10? Who’s oldest and youngest? What about the biggest source outside the UK?
  • Start asking questions of the data based on what we know it should look like – and hunches
  • Don’t get distracted – pick a focus and build around it.

This last point is notable. As I looked for mentions of Olympic sponsors in nomination stories, I started to build up subsets of the data: a dozen people who mentioned BP, two who mentioned ArcelorMittal (the CEO and his son), and so on. Each was interesting in its own way – but where should you invest your efforts?

One story had already caught my eye: it was written in the first person and talked about having been “engaged in the business of sport”. It was hardly inspirational. As it mentioned adidas, I focused on the adidas subset, and found that the same story was used by a further six people – a third of all of those who mentioned the company.

Clearly, all seven people hadn’t written the same story individually, so something was odd here. And that made this more than a ‘rotten apple’ story, but something potentially systemic.

Signals

While the data was interesting in itself, it was important to treat it as a set of signals to potentially more interesting exploration. Seven torchbearers having the same story was one of those signals. Mentions of corporate sponsors was another.

But there were many others too.

That initial scouring of the data had identified a number of people carrying the torch who held executive positions at sponsors and their commercial partners. The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Mail were among the first to report on the story.

I wondered if the details of any of those corporate torchbearers might have been taken off off the site afterwards. And indeed they had: seven disappeared entirely (many still had a profile if you typed in the URL directly - but could not be found through search or browsing), and a further two had had their stories removed.

Now, every time I scraped details from the site I looked for those who had disappeared since the last scrape, and those that had been added late.

One, for example – who shared a name with a very senior figure at one of the sponsors – appeared just once before disappearing four days later. I wouldn’t have spotted them if they – or someone else – hadn’t been so keen on removing their name.

Another time, I noticed that a new torchbearer had been added to the list with the same story as the 7 adidas torchbearers. He turned out to be the Group Chief Executive of the country’s largest catalogue retailer, providing “continuing evidence that adidas ignored LOCOG guidance not to nominate executives.”

Meanwhile, the number of torchbearers running without any nomination story went from just 2.7% in the first scrape of 6,056 torchbearers, to 7.2% of 6,891 torchbearers in the last week, and 8.1% of all torchbearers – including those who had appeared and then disappeared – who had appeared between the two dates.

Many were celebrities or sportspeople where perhaps someone had taken the decision that they ‘needed no introduction’. But many also turned out to be corporate torchbearers.

By early July the numbers of these ‘mystery torchbearers’ had reached 500 and, having only identified a fifth, we published them through The Guardian datablog.

There were other signals, too, where knowing the way the torch relay operated helped.

For example, logistics meant that overseas torchbearers often carried the torch in the same location. This led to a cluster of Chinese torchbearers in Stansted, Hungarians in Dorset, Germans in Brighton, Americans in Oxford and Russians in North Wales.

As many corporate torchbearers were also based overseas, this helped narrow the search, with Germany’s corporate torchbearers in particular leading to an article in Der Tagesspiegel.

I also had the idea to total up how many torchbearers appeared each day, to identify days when details on unusually high numbers of torchbearers were missing – thanks to Adrian Short – but it became apparent that variation due to other factors such as weekends and the Jubilee made this worthless.

However, the percentage per day missing stories did help (visualised below by Caroline Beavon), as this also helped identify days when large numbers of overseas torchbearers were carrying the torch. I cross-referenced this with the ‘mystery torchbearer’ spreadsheet to see how many had already been checked, and which days still needed attention.

Daily totals - bar chart

But the data was just the beginning. In the second part of this case study, I’ll talk about the verification process.

14:18

A case study in online journalism: investigating the Olympic torch relay

Torch relay places infographic by Caroline Beavon

For the last two months I’ve been involved in an investigation which has used almost every technique in the online journalism toolbox. From its beginnings in data journalism, through collaboration, community management and SEO to ‘passive-aggressive’ newsgathering,  verification and ebook publishing, it’s been a fascinating case study in such a range of ways I’m going to struggle to get them all down.

But I’m going to try.

Data journalism: scraping the Olympic torch relay

The investigation began with the scraping of the official torchbearer website. It’s important to emphasise that this piece of data journalism didn’t take place in isolation – in fact, it was while working with Help Me Investigate the Olympics‘s Jennifer Jones (coordinator for#media2012, the first citizen media network for the Olympic Games) and others that I stumbled across the torchbearer data. So networks and community are important here (more later).

Indeed, it turned out that the site couldn’t be scraped through a ‘normal’ scraper, and it was the community of the Scraperwiki site – specifically Zarino Zappia – who helped solve the problem and get a scraper working. Without both of those sets of relationships – with the citizen media network and with the developer community on Scraperwiki – this might never have got off the ground.

But it was also important to see the potential newsworthiness in that particular part of the site. Human stories were at the heart of the torch relay – not numbers. Local pride and curiosity was here – a key ingredient of any local newspaper. There were the promises made by its organisers – had they been kept?

The hunch proved correct – this dataset would just keep on giving stories.

The scraper grabbed details on around 6,000 torchbearers. I was curious why more weren’t listed – yes, there were supposed to be around 800 invitations to high profile torchbearers including celebrities, who might reasonably be expected to be omitted at least until they carried the torch – but that still left over 1,000.

I’ve written a bit more about the scraping and data analysis process for The Guardian and the Telegraph data blog. In a nutshell, here are some of the processes used:

  • Overview (pivot table): where do most come from? What’s the age distribution?
  • Focus on details in the overview: what’s the most surprising hometown in the top 5 or 10? Who’s oldest and youngest? What about the biggest source outside the UK?
  • Start asking questions of the data based on what we know it should look like – and hunches
  • Don’t get distracted – pick a focus and build around it.

This last point is notable. As I looked for mentions of Olympic sponsors in nomination stories, I started to build up subsets of the data: a dozen people who mentioned BP, two who mentioned ArcelorMittal (the CEO and his son), and so on. Each was interesting in its own way – but where should you invest your efforts?

One story had already caught my eye: it was written in the first person and talked about having been “engaged in the business of sport”. It was hardly inspirational. As it mentioned adidas, I focused on the adidas subset, and found that the same story was used by a further six people – a third of all of those who mentioned the company.

Clearly, all seven people hadn’t written the same story individually, so something was odd here. And that made this more than a ‘rotten apple’ story, but something potentially systemic.

Signals

While the data was interesting in itself, it was important to treat it as a set of signals to potentially more interesting exploration. Seven torchbearers having the same story was one of those signals. Mentions of corporate sponsors was another.

But there were many others too.

That initial scouring of the data had identified a number of people carrying the torch who held executive positions at sponsors and their commercial partners. The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Mail were among the first to report on the story.

I wondered if the details of any of those corporate torchbearers might have been taken off off the site afterwards. And indeed they had: seven disappeared entirely (many still had a profile if you typed in the URL directly - but could not be found through search or browsing), and a further two had had their stories removed.

Now, every time I scraped details from the site I looked for those who had disappeared since the last scrape, and those that had been added late.

One, for example – who shared a name with a very senior figure at one of the sponsors – appeared just once before disappearing four days later. I wouldn’t have spotted them if they – or someone else – hadn’t been so keen on removing their name.

Another time, I noticed that a new torchbearer had been added to the list with the same story as the 7 adidas torchbearers. He turned out to be the Group Chief Executive of the country’s largest catalogue retailer, providing “continuing evidence that adidas ignored LOCOG guidance not to nominate executives.”

Meanwhile, the number of torchbearers running without any nomination story went from just 2.7% in the first scrape of 6,056 torchbearers, to 7.2% of 6,891 torchbearers in the last week, and 8.1% of all torchbearers – including those who had appeared and then disappeared – who had appeared between the two dates.

Many were celebrities or sportspeople where perhaps someone had taken the decision that they ‘needed no introduction’. But many also turned out to be corporate torchbearers.

By early July the numbers of these ‘mystery torchbearers’ had reached 500 and, having only identified a fifth, we published them through The Guardian datablog.

There were other signals, too, where knowing the way the torch relay operated helped.

For example, logistics meant that overseas torchbearers often carried the torch in the same location. This led to a cluster of Chinese torchbearers in Stansted, Hungarians in Dorset, Germans in Brighton, Americans in Oxford and Russians in North Wales.

As many corporate torchbearers were also based overseas, this helped narrow the search, with Germany’s corporate torchbearers in particular leading to an article in Der Tagesspiegel.

I also had the idea to total up how many torchbearers appeared each day, to identify days when details on unusually high numbers of torchbearers were missing – thanks to Adrian Short – but it became apparent that variation due to other factors such as weekends and the Jubilee made this worthless.

However, the percentage per day missing stories did help (visualised below by Caroline Beavon), as this also helped identify days when large numbers of overseas torchbearers were carrying the torch. I cross-referenced this with the ‘mystery torchbearer’ spreadsheet to see how many had already been checked, and which days still needed attention.

Daily totals - bar chart

But the data was just the beginning. In the second part of this case study, I’ll talk about the verification process.

May 06 2012

08:15

Data journalism Guardian: WikiLeaks Iraq war logs, every death mapped

Another great visual data journalism example. The Guardian team used Google Fusion tables. A text-numbers only version wouldn't reveal how many have died.

Guardian :: The Wikileaks Iraq war logs provide us with a unique picture of every death in Iraq. These are those events mapped using Google Fusion tables (Fusion tables are downloadable).

Continue to read Simon Rogers, www.guardian.co.uk

April 26 2012

13:30

April 23 2012

05:43

Data journalism: Miso Project or how to create your own Guardian-style data visualisations

Guardian :: Here on the Guardian's data team, we've wanted to help you visualise our data and create new viz styles for a long time. And now, thanks to some great work by the Guardian's Interactive team, that dream has moved one step closer. This week, developers Alastair Dant and Alex Graul launched the first part of the Miso project. In this piece, Alex explains it.

Continue to read www.guardian.co.uk

April 21 2012

12:18

Ryan Thornburg: Pay walls and social media could shift the public agenda

Mediashift | IdeaLab :: If conversations around digital journalism have been dominated by anything in the first quarter of 2012, it's probably been about subscriptions, also known as pay walls. Walls are going up at the L.A. Times and Gannett papers, and getting higher at The New York Times. And the editor of The Guardian asked his readers, "What would you give the Guardian? Money, time or data?"  The conversation all this time has been focused on whether the shift toward digital subscriptions will save the news business. But the more interesting and important question is whether and how it will change the news content and public discourse.

Continue to read Ryan Thornburg, www.pbs.org

April 19 2012

05:16

Who watches the watchmen? Or: put your own house in order first

Niemanlab :: As Guardian journalists were preparing to launch their new investigative project on cookies and other online tools that track you around the web, they realized they had to figure out just what kind of trackers exist on their own website. Turns out this isn’t an easy task. “There are so many legacy ones from us that we forgot about — we had to do some research,” said Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian.

Continue to read Justin Ellis, www.niemanlab.org

April 10 2012

17:54

March 30 2012

14:00

This Week in Review: Grappling with ground-up activism, and a new ‘pay-less’ form of paywall

Activism and journalism from the ground up: Now that the story of Trayvon Martin’s killing has moved fully into the U.S.’ national consciousness, a few writers have taken a look back to examine the path it took to get there. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter traced the story’s rise to prominence, highlighting the role of racial diversity in newsrooms in drawing attention to it. Poynter’s Kelly McBride gave a more detailed review of the story’s path through the media, concluding: “This is how stories are told now. They are told by people who care passionately, until we all care.” (This week, there was also bottom-up sourcing of a more dubious nature on the story, as the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pointed out.)

The New York Times’ David Carr looked at the Trayvon Martin story and several other web-driven campaigns to assess the value of “hashtag activism,” acknowledging its limitations but concluding that while web activism is no match for its offline counterpart, it still makes the world a better place.

There were several other strains of conversation tying into digital activism and citizen journalism this week: the Lab re-printed a Talking Points Memo story on the unreliability of Twitter buzz as a predictor of election results, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing wondered whether social media movements have surpassed the impact of traditional journalism on many issues.

Meanwhile, the report of an embellished photo from a citizen journalist in Syria led some to question the reliability of that information, but GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram countered that citizen journalism isn’t displacing traditional journalism, but helping complement it when used wisely. One of Ingram’s prime examples of that blending of traditional and citizen-powered journalism was NPR tweeter extraordinaire Andy Carvin, who was the subject of a fine Current profile, in which he described Twitter as “the newsroom where I spend my time” and pinpointing news judgment as the key ingredient in his journalistic curation process.

Debating the effectiveness of news paywalls: Google formally unveiled its new paywall alternative in partnership with publishers this week: News sites include surveys that users need to answer in order to read an article. Google pays news sites a nickel per answer, advertisers pay Google for the survey, everybody goes home happy. Just a few publishers have signed up so far, though. (You might remember that the Lab’s Justin Ellis wrote on Google’s testing of this idea last fall.)

Elsewhere in paywalls: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said his paper has not ruled out a paywall plan, though he also clarified that there’s “nothing on the horizon.” His publication is, obviously, far from the only one grappling with the prospect of charging for content online: The New Republic’s new owner dropped the magazine’s paywall for recent articles, and The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, explained why he doesn’t see a paywall in that paper’s future.

Pexton said the Post first needs to build up its reader base and make sure the site’s technology runs better, and he cast some doubt on the helpfulness of The New York Times’ pay plan for its bottom line. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum picked apart Pexton’s analysis of the Times’ numbers, and asserted that a paywall’s purpose isn’t to be enormously profitable, and non-paywall digital revenue plans aren’t, either. “The point [of a paywall] is to stop or slow the bleeding and to help make the transition to an all-digital future five or ten years down the line — one that includes more than one flimsy revenue stream based on volatile and not-very-lucrative digital ads,” he wrote.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram suggested a “velvet rope” approach to paid content instead of a paywall, in which users would volunteer to pay in exchange for privileges and perks. The Times’ David Carr was skeptical — on Twitter, he summarized the post as, “Don’t build a paywall, create a velvet rope made out of socmedia pixie dust and see if that pays the bills.”

The Guardian opens up: The Guardian is firmly positioning itself at the forefront of what it calls “open journalism,” as it hosted a festival last weekend called the Guardian Open Weekend, during which more than 5,000 readers visited its London offices. The paper recapped the event, and Polis’ Charlie Beckett urged The Guardian to go further and faster in incorporating readers into its production process, turning them from “readers” to “members.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger held a Q&A with readers on open journalism, in which he spoke of the tension between the print and digital products in enacting change: “In order to be effective digital companies newspapers have to free themselves of some of the thinking that goes into the creation or a printed product…But most of the revenue is still in print, so the transition is bound to be a staged one, involving fine judgements about the pace of change.” Rusbridger also tweeted the paper’s 10 principles of open journalism, which were helpfully Storified by Josh Stearns, along with some other open journalism resources.

New accusations against News Corp.: A new branch grew out of News Corp.’s ever-growing tree of scandals this week, when two news orgs in Britain and Australia almost simultaneously broke stories about alleged hacking by NDS Group, a British satellite TV company of which News Corp. owns 49 percent. According to the BBC and the Australian Financial Review, NDS hired hackers to break into its competitors’ systems and get codes for satellite TV cards to illegally leak them to the public, giving them pay-TV services for free. The New York Times knitted the two allegations together well.

The Australian Federal Police is now looking into the case, and Reuters reported on the growing pressure for new investigations against News Corp. in Britain and Australia. Meanwhile, Frontline aired a documentary on the scandal, and The Guardian reported on Rupert Murdoch’s attacks on the accusations on Twitter.

Mike Daisey, journalism, and advocacy: Interest in last week’s blowup over This American Life’s retraction of Mike Daisey’s fabricated story about abuses of Chinese factory workers turned out to be more intense than expected: As the Lab’s Andrew Phelps reported, the retraction was the most downloaded episode in TAL history, surpassing the previous record set by the original story. Daisey himself gave a much more thorough, less defensive apology this week, and Gawker’s Adrian Chen said he wished Daisey would have been so contrite in the first place.

In Current, Alicia Shepard examined the story from the perspective of Marketplace, the public radio program that exposed Daisey’s falsehoods. In a long, thoughtful post, Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center compared Daisey’s story to the Kony 2012 viral video, using them to pose some good questions about the space between journalism and advocacy.

Reading roundup: A few other interesting pieces that surfaced this week:

— A couple of pieces succinctly laying out some of the growing challenges for those trying to control online content and discourse: First, a piece in The Guardian by Michael Wolff on the trouble that the rise of mobile media poses for news business models, and second, a post by JP Rangaswami positing Africa as the next site of resistance against online media control.

— In a similar vein, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wrote about the ways in which the giants of tech are all moving in on the same territory of user data and control, arguing that the real challenge is getting users to care about whether we end up with an open or closed web.

— NYU j-prof Jay Rosen wrote an insightful piece on how journalists claim the authority to be listened to by the public: “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”

— Finally, at Poynter, Matt Thompson put together an interesting typology of journalists: Storyteller, newshound, systems analyst, and provocateur. He’s got some great initial tips on how to work with each type, and play to each one’s strengths within a newsroom environment.

March 29 2012

21:22

Guardian hyperlocal platform n0tice open to all

journalism.co.uk :: The Guardian’s latest venture into hyperlocal publishing is now open to all with the “full open release” of n0tice. Matt McAlister, director of digital strategy for the Guardian Media Group, presented the social, local, mobile offering at Changing Media Summit. The seed of the idea came out of a Guardian Hack Day project inspired by geolocation services.

Continue to read Sarah Marshall, blogs.journalism.co.uk

Tags: Guardian
13:06

Comparing apples and oranges in data journalism: a case study

A must-read for any data journalist, aspiring or otherwise, is Simon Rogers’ post on The Guardian Datablog where he compares public and private sector pay.

This is a classic apples-and-oranges situation where politicians and government bodies are comparing two things that, really, are very different. Is a private school teacher really comparable to someone teaching in an unpopular school? What is the private sector equivalent of a director of public health or a social worker?

But if these issues are being discussed, journalists must try to shed some light, and Simon Rogers does a great job in unpicking the comparisons. From pay and hours worked, to qualifications and age (big differences in both), and gender and pay inequality (more women in the public sector, more lower- and higher-paid workers in the private sector), Rogers crunches all the numbers:

“[T]he proportion of low skill jobs in the private sector has increased, and the proportion of high skill jobs in the public sector increased to around 31% of all jobs by 2011, compared 26% of all private sector jobs.

“But, at the same time, people who are most highly qualified actually get paid worse in the public sector.

“… Public sector workers tend to be older … Average mean hourly earnings peak in the early 40s in both sectors. They decline slightly approaching retirement although the decline happens earlier in the private sector than in the public sector, possibly because the higher earners in the private sector are more likely to leave the labour market earlier.

“It also shows that if you’re older in the public sector, you get paid better than in the private sector.

“… [T]he bottom 5% of workers in the public sector earn less than £6.91 per hour, whereas in the private sector, 5% of workers earn less than £5.93 per hour.”

When you find yourself in an apples-and-oranges situation you can’t avoid, this is the way to do it. Any other examples?

13:06

Comparing apples and oranges in data journalism: a case study

A must-read for any data journalist, aspiring or otherwise, is Simon Rogers’ post on The Guardian Datablog where he compares public and private sector pay.

This is a classic apples-and-oranges situation where politicians and government bodies are comparing two things that, really, are very different. Is a private school teacher really comparable to someone teaching in an unpopular school? What is the private sector equivalent of a director of public health or a social worker?

But if these issues are being discussed, journalists must try to shed some light, and Simon Rogers does a great job in unpicking the comparisons. From pay and hours worked, to qualifications and age (big differences in both), and gender and pay inequality (more women in the public sector, more lower- and higher-paid workers in the private sector), Rogers crunches all the numbers:

“[T]he proportion of low skill jobs in the private sector has increased, and the proportion of high skill jobs in the public sector increased to around 31% of all jobs by 2011, compared 26% of all private sector jobs.

“But, at the same time, people who are most highly qualified actually get paid worse in the public sector.

“… Public sector workers tend to be older … Average mean hourly earnings peak in the early 40s in both sectors. They decline slightly approaching retirement although the decline happens earlier in the private sector than in the public sector, possibly because the higher earners in the private sector are more likely to leave the labour market earlier.

“It also shows that if you’re older in the public sector, you get paid better than in the private sector.

“… [T]he bottom 5% of workers in the public sector earn less than £6.91 per hour, whereas in the private sector, 5% of workers earn less than £5.93 per hour.”

When you find yourself in an apples-and-oranges situation you can’t avoid, this is the way to do it. Any other examples?

March 28 2012

12:36

Data journalism - Guardian Open Weekend: How to use Google Fusion Tables

journalism.co.uk :: At the Guardian Open Weekend Kathryn Hurley from Google and Simon Rogers, editor of the Guardian’s Datablog, ran a session on using data and working with Google Fusion Tables. Kathryn Hurley has helpfully published her workshop notes on Google Fusion Tables online. They act as a step-by-step guide to getting started in data journalism using the free software from Google. Simon Rogers has also published his slides on Fusion Tables and an explanation of how the Guardian uses data.

All links and summary - Continue to read Sarah Marshall, blogs.journalism.co.uk

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