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May 10 2013

09:06

Free ebook: Citizen Video – training and engaging citizens in video journalism

Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.

The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.

I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.

09:06

Free ebook: Citizen Video – training and engaging citizens in video journalism

Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.

The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.

I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.

April 01 2011

10:45

Communities of practice: teaching students to learn in networks

One of the problems in teaching online journalism is that what you teach today may be out of date by the time the student graduates.

This is not just a technological problem (current services stop running; new ones emerge that you haven’t taught; new versions of languages and software are released) but also a problem of medium: genres such as audio slideshows, mapping, mashups, infographics and liveblogging have yet to settle down into an established ‘formula’.

In short, I don’t believe it’s wise to simply ‘teach online journalism’. You have to combine basic principles as they are now with an understanding of how to continue to learn the medium as it develops.

This year I set MA Online Journalism students at Birmingham City University an assignment which attempts to do this.

It’s called ‘Communities of Practice’ (the brief is here). The results are in, and they are very encouraging. Here’s what emerged:

‘Communities of Practice’

The ‘Communities of Practice’ assignment asks students to focus not just on developing technical skills around a particular medium of their choice, but on exploring the communities of practice that exist around it. In fact, at this stage the development of technical skills was one of the ways of making contact with those communities.

If, for example, you are developing skills in data journalism, it makes sense that you should be joining relevant mailing lists, following particular blogs, attending meetups, and having conversations (in person, or via email, Facebook or Twitter) around your area.

In addition, as a Masters level student, I’d say you should really be actively contributing to the development of the medium, by publishing your own experiences and reflections on those platforms, and on your own blog.

Two side benefits of this: you build your social capital within those communities (because you are contributing to them, not just taking away), and you build your professional status and reputation.

Hedy Korbee’s blogging on data journalism, for example, led to contacts with Microsoft Canada’s Open Source Strategy Lead, and raised awareness of her soon-to-be-launched hyperlocal website. Other students attended events and made other useful contacts in their fields.

A small aside here: the assignment constitutes a minor part of the Multimedia Journalism module on the course, accounting for 25% of the final marks, and it is assessed on 3 criteria: research, reflection, and creativity. The design of the assessment is geared to ensure that students focus more on learning than execution, and are therefore prepared to take more risks in their work (the second assignment, for which this builds the foundations, focuses more on execution).

The importance of a community’s culture

The culture of the communities of practice was important. Desi Velikova found a warm welcome on this Flash forum, and found that she was able to contribute without being an expert as one of the members needed to put himself in beginners’ shoes to write some tutorials.

Hedy Korbee, meanwhile, identified the divide between journalists and data experts and the problems for people joining those groups who, like her, don’t possess the expertise to actively contribute:

“I’ve learned that the culture of these groups requires asking practical, answerable questions based on specific problems that users face and I don’t think my skills are at a level yet where I can make a useful contribution.

“In light of this, I’ve also joined groups with meetups, such as Toronto OpenStreetMap, where I can interact with and hopefully get inspired by others who share an interest in data and mapping.  I am particularly looking forward to attending my first Hacks and Hackers Toronto meetup.”

Finding workarounds was key. In one instance, Hedy contacted a particularly approachable member of the community directly. Andy Watt, meanwhile, struggled to find communities around audio and video, so he created his own on LinkedIn, and two Twitter lists. Interestingly, he rejected the option of using his own website to host discussions “as it may have been perceived as a ploy to drive traffic to my own site.” Samuel Negredo identified communities around a blog, forums around particular software, and events.

Identifying best practice and reflecting on your own

Identifying best practice was a key process for students. Hedy Korbee’s ‘Five great audio slideshows‘ is a good example, and clearly influenced her own work. Desi Velikova compiled a list of resources for starting Flash 8.

Andy Watt’s blog focused more on documenting his own processes, posting various stages of particular experiments as he continued to edit them. Samuel blogged about the process of filming architecture. And Desi blogged about using one dataset as the basis for exploring 4 visualisation tools.

Being required to talk about process publicly in this way does two things: firstly, it engenders a reflexive approach to production, identifying what works and what doesn’t so that further work is of higher quality. Secondly, it provides material around which other members of the production community can talk: those who are not as proficient will learn from it, and be inclined to help in return in future; those who are more proficient may chip in with their own suggestions now. In short, it’s an investment.

Breadth versus depth

In terms of the structure of the MA, this assignment marks the point at which students move from breadth to depth. To my mind an online journalist needs an awareness of the wide range of storytelling possibilities in the medium, and the variety of newsgathering and distribution tools and techniques. But they also need to stand out in a particular field.

Communities of practice are key to both. One student commented that “Although I will never be a Flash expert, I will feel much more confident if I am in a situation to work on such a project”. Another said “Maybe I won’t be able to keep up with every development, every day, but the work I have done around communities of practice is helping me to identify and organize better the resources which are available”.

This is the nature of working in networks: our connections are key assets we need to work to build, and the ability to access expertise and advice a key skill. You do not achieve either by learning in isolation, producing in seclusion – the traditional mode of education. As these students go forward to specialise in online audio or video, slideshows, infographics and data, they do so within networks.

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February 16 2011

11:00

Assessing community

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about ‘Universities Without Walls‘. At its heart was a belief that community is an asset for news organisations, and reputation in at least one community is an asset journalists should be actively cultivating.

I’ve recently been asking students – at both City University London and Birmingham City University – to complete assignments that ask them to do just that.

The first assignment is a Community Strategy Analysis (you can read the brief here). This was given to students across the 8 Masters degrees at City University. They are required to identify a community that they can join and contribute to, with the objective of becoming a better journalist as a result (because they will have access to a wider range of sources, and sources will have access to them, they will build a diverse distribution network, and most of all they will have built reputation and relationships that form the basis for all the above)

The other assignment was given to Birmingham City University MA Online Journalism students last week. This is a Communities of Practice assignment, where students are asked to join groups of practitioners (e.g. online video makers; data journalists and developers; podcasters; and so on) to improve their multimedia journalism, contribute to the field, and build support networks for ongoing skills development.

Here’s what I’m learning so far.

I have to explain why community matters

The vast majority of my work with the City University students has been cultural. The idea of ‘the audience’ is so persistent, so resistant, that it takes a huge amount of work to unpick.

We are so precious about ‘our’ journalism, it seems, that we will do anything but let other people into it. More worrying, we seem to see journalism as either a glamorous profession, or a paternalist one. ‘Public interest’ is ‘our interest’; the ‘public sphere’ is ‘our sphere’.

Students understand the importance of building a network of contacts; they understand why they should make themselves contactable; and they are happy to get involved with distributing content online. But many expect all this to happen without building relationships. Some, indeed, worry about this being a “waste of time”.

I’m not sure whether this is a result of news organisations increasingly becoming content factories, or whether aspiring journalists have always expected ‘being a journalist’ to mean that the hard work of building relationships had already been done for them by the newspaper and their predecessors. It might be an inherited cultural attitude that sneers at readers. It could be all of the above, or none of those reasons. Whatever the reasons, I find it rather depressing that the communities we are supposed to serve are often seen as something we cannot be bothered with.

Common misunderstandings about community

At the module’s midway point I asked students to submit a draft of their community strategy so that I could make sure they were on the right track. It was a useful exercise in what you might call ‘Agile’ teaching – it allowed me to pull out some common misunderstandings and correct them. Normally this doesn’t happen until you’ve taught a module for the first time, and adapt it for the second and third times.

One recurring problem was students being too focused on content, or community, rather than both. The content-centric strategies started with what they were going to do – write a blog, etc. – and then positioned the ‘audience’ as a compliant distributor and contributor, with little thought around why they would do that.

The strategies that were too focused on community failed to identify the journalistic objectives that should remain important. The journalist was left helping a community, but without necessarily playing to their own journalistic strengths of communication and investigation.

A good strategy is specific – but too many failed to specify what they were going to do to stimulate interaction. Exceptions included one student who noted that many successful blog posts ended with an open question; and another who identified the questions that she would use to stimulate debate.

Likewise, tools needed to be chosen based on where the community is, and what the tools did. There’s no point starting a blog if all of your chosen community are using Facebook. And there’s no point choosing Facebook if you want the information to be available to search engines.

Finding the community at all was a problem for some, a problem which came down to their search techniques. There’s plenty of advice on this, from the search engines you use to the phrasing, but the key issue is to imagine what your community is saying, not who they are: so don’t search for “twins”, search for “my twin sister” because that’s the sort of thing that only a twin is going to say.

How do you measure success? Many students saw volume as the key, aiming for round numbers of followers on Twitter, fans on Facebook or hits on their blogs. But engagement would be a much more relevant metric: how many comments do you want? How many @ messages, or even retweets?

Other problems including not looking at what else there was serving that community, and why it was successful, or trying to compete with it instead of working with it. If your community is mothers then best to build a reputation on Mumsnet instead of trying to beat it.

Communities of practice

The assignment for MA Online Journalism students is different. It is an acknowledgement that in a field like online journalism, where technology and knowledge is evolving all the time, Masters level education means having the professional contacts that allow you to remain at the forefront of the field in 2 or 5 years – not just in 6 months.

There are many similarities with the other assignment: the focus is on building relationships, and contributing something to the wider community, rather than just taking from it. The difference is that the objective is skills-based, not story-based.

One of the key features of education is what you learn from the people around you – not just the person lecturing you. That’s why e-learning has failed to take off in quite the same way as expected, and why the Open University still does it so well (they recognise that it is about more than content).

Having a ‘university without walls’ where students learn as much outside the classroom as they do in it is a key development in this respect. And as lecturers we need to help make that happen.

January 20 2011

08:00

A university without walls

This post forms part of the Carnival of Journalism, whose theme this month is universities’ roles in their local community.

In traditional journalism the concept of community is a broad one, typically used when the speaker really means ‘audience’, or ‘market’.

In a networked age, however, a community is an asset: it is a much more significant source of information than in other media; an active producer of content; and, perhaps most importantly, at the heart of any online distribution system.

You can see this at work in some of the most successful content startups of the internet era – Boing Boing, The Huffington Post, Slashdot – and even in mainstream outlets such as The Guardian, with, for example, its productive community around the Data Blog.

Any fledgling online journalism operation which is not based on a distinct community is, to my thinking, simply inefficient – and any journalism course that features an online element should be built on communities – should be linking in to the communities that surround it.

Teaching community-driven journalism

My own experience is that leaving the walls of academia behind and hosting classes wherever the community meets can make an enormous difference. In my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, for example, the very first week is not about newsgathering or blogging or anything to do with content: it’s about community, and identifying which one the students are going to serve.

To that end students spend their induction week attending the local Social Media Cafe, meeting local bloggers and understanding that particular community (one of whom this year suggested the idea that led to Birmingham Budget Cuts). We hold open classes in a city centre coffee shop so that people from Birmingham can drop in: when we talked about online journalism and the law, there were bloggers, former newspaper editors, and a photographer whose contributions turned the event into something unlike anything you’d see in a classroom.

And students are sent out to explore the community as part of learning about blogging, or encouraged to base themselves physically in the communities they serve. Andy Brightwell and Jon Hickman’s hyperlocal Grounds blog is a good example, run out of another city centre coffee shop in their patch.

In my online journalism classes at City University in London, meanwhile (which are sadly too big to fit in a coffee shop) I am currently asking students to put together a community strategy as one of their two assignments. The idea is to get them to think about how they can produce better journalism – that is also more widely read – by thinking explicitly about how to involve a community in its production.

Community isn’t a postcode

But I’ve also come to believe that we should be as flexible as possible about what we mean by community. The traditional approach has been to assign students to geographical patches – a relic of the commercial imperatives behind print production. Some courses are adapting this to smaller, hyperlocal, patches for their online assessment to keep up with contemporary developments. This is great – but I think it risks missing something else.

One moment that brought this home to me was when – in that very first week – I asked the students what they thought made a community. The response that stuck in my mind most was Alex Gamela‘s: “An enemy”. It illustrates how communities are created by so many things other than location (You could also add “a cause”, “a shared experience”, “a profession”, “a hobby” and others which are listed and explored in the Community part of the BASIC Principles of Online Journalism).

As journalism departments we are particularly weak in seeing community in those terms. One of the reasons Birmingham Budget Cuts is such a great example of community-driven journalism is that it addresses a community of various types: one of location, of profession, and of shared experience and – for the thousands facing redundancy – cause too. It is not your typical hyperlocal blog, but who would argue it does not have a strong proposition at its core?

There’s a further step, too, which requires particular boldness on the part of journalism schools, and innovativeness in assessment methods: we need to be prepared for students to create sites where they don’t create any journalism themselves at all. Instead, they facilitate its production, and host the platform that enables it to happen. In online journalism we might call this a community manager role – which will raise the inevitable questions of ‘Is It Journalism?’ But in traditional journalism, with the journalism being produced by reporters, a very similar role would simply be called being an editor.

PS: I spoke about this theme in Amsterdam last September as part of a presentation on ‘A Journalism Curriculum for the 21st Century’ at the PICNIC festival, organised by the European Journalism Centre. This is embedded below:

Slides can be found below:

July 07 2010

09:04

An introduction to data scraping with Scraperwiki

Last week I spent the day playing with the screen scraping website Scraperwiki with a class of MA Online Journalism students and a local blogger or two, led by Scraperwiki’s own Anna Powell-Smith. I thought I might take the opportunity to try to explain what screen scraping is through the functionality of Scraperwiki, in journalistic terms.

It’s pretty good.

Why screen scraping is useful for journalists

Screen scraping can cover a range of things but for journalists it, initially, boils down to a few things:

  • Getting information from somewhere
  • Storing it somewhere that you can get to it later
  • And in a form that makes it easy (or easier) to analyse and interrogate

So, for instance, you might use a screen scraper to gather information from a local police authority website, and store it in a lovely spreadsheet that you can then sort through, average, total up, filter and so on – when the alternative may have been to print off 80 PDFs and get out the highlighter pens, Post-Its and back-of-a-fag-packet calculations.

But those are just the initial aspects of screen scraping. Screen scraping tools like Scraperwiki or scripts you might write yourself offer further benefits that are also worth outlining:

  • Scheduling a scraper to run at regular intervals (Adrian Holovaty compares this to making regular virtual trips to the local police station)
  • Re-formatting data to clarify it, filter it, or make it compatible with other sets of data (for example, converting lat-long coordinates to postcodes, or feet to metres)
  • Visualising data (for example as a chart, or on a map)
  • Combining data from more than one source (for example, scraping a list of company directors and comparing that against a list of donors)

If you can think of any more, let me know.

How Scraperwiki works

Scraperwiki is not the only screen scraping tool out there. In fact, you can do simple scraping with Google Spreadsheets, the OutWit Firefox extension, or Yahoo! Pipes, to name just a few. And if you’ve never done scraping before, those are probably better places to start.

Scraperwiki is probably the next step up from those – giving you extra functionality and flexibility above and beyond merely scraping data to a spreadsheet.

The catch is that you will need to understand programming – not necessarily to be able to write it from scratch, but to be able to look at programming and make some educated guesses about ways to edit it to bring about a different result.

But then, as a journalist, you should be more than used to rewriting material to suit a particular objective – the skill is the same, right? Think of it as programming churnalism.

Even if you don’t understand programming, the site provides a range of tutorials to show you how it works – and it’s a good place to learn some basic programming even if you never use it to write a scraper, particularly as you can look at and adapt other scrapers, or find others to talk to about the process.

The biggest attraction for me of the site is the fact that you don’t have to fiddle around with setting up the programming environment that makes your code work – a particularly big hurdle to get over if you’re programming from scratch.

Of course, the more you understand about programming, the more you will be able to do – even to the extent of writing code from scratch. But remember that part of the skill of programming is being able to find code from elsewhere instead of having to write it all yourself. It’s about standing on the shoulders of giants as much as being a great Romantic original. Journalists could learn a lot from that ethos.

What else Scraperwiki does

If you want some data scraped, and don’t have the time or desire to learn how to write one, you can set a bounty for someone else to do it. You can also request a private scraper if there’s an exclusive in there you want to protect. In other words, it’s a marketplace for data scraping.

It is also a data repository – so even if you never scrape anything yourself, it’s worth subscribing to the RSS feed of the latest scrapers.

In a future post I’ll try to pick apart the code of a web scraper written in Python. But for now, if you have a free evening, have a play with the tutorials yourself.

July 05 2010

14:04

77,000 pageviews and multimedia archive journalism (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt4)

(Read part 1 here; part 2 here and part 3 here)

The ‘breadth portfolio’ was only worth 20% of the Multimedia Journalism module, and was largely intended to be exploratory, but Alex Gamela used it to produce work that most journalists would be proud of.

Firstly, he worked with maps and forms to cover the Madeira Island mudslides:

“When on the 20th of February a storm hit Madeira Island, causing mudslides and floods, the silence on most news websites, radios and TV stations was deafening. But on Twitter there were accounts from local people about what was going on, and, above all, they had videos. The event was being tagged as #tempmad, so it was easy to follow all the developments, but the information seemed to be too scattered to get a real picture of what was going on in the island, and since there was no one organizing the information available, I decided to create a map on Google[ii], to place videos, pictures and other relevant information.

“It got 10,000 views in the first hours and reached 30,000 in just two days. One month later, it has the impressive number of 77 thousand visits.”

Not bad, then.

Secondly, Alex experimented with data visualisation to look at newspaper brand values and the online traffic of Portuguese news websites.

“My goal was to understand the relative and proportional position of each one, regarding visits, page views, and how those two values relate to each other. The data I got also has portals, specialized websites, and entertainment magazines so it has a broad range of themes (all charts are available live here �" http://is.gd/aZLXs)”

And finally, he produced a beautiful Flash interactive on Moseley Road Baths (which he talks about here).

All of which was produced and submitted within the first six weeks of the Multimedia Journalism module.

The other 80%: multimedia archive journalism

Alex was particularly interested in archive journalism and using multimedia to bring archives to life. As a way of exploring this he produced the Paranoia Timeline, a website exploring “all the events that caused some type of social hysteria throughout the world in the last 20 years.

“Some of the situations presented here were real dangers, others not really. But all caused disturbances in our daily lives … Why does that happen? Why are we caught in these bursts of information, sometimes based on speculative data and other times borne out of the imagination of few and fed by the beliefs of many?”

The site – which is an ongoing project in its earliest stages – combines video, visualisation, a Dipity timeline, mapping and the results of some fascinating data and archive journalism. Alex explains:

“The swine flu data came from Wolfram-Alpha[vi] that generated a rather reliable (after cross checking with other official websites) amount of data, with the number of cases and deaths per country. I had to make an option about which would be highlighted, but discrepancies in the logical amount of cases between countries made me go just for the death numbers. The conclusion that I got from the map is that swine flu was either more serious or reported in the developed countries. Traditionally considered Third World countries do not have many reports, which reflect the lack of structures to deal with the problem or how overhyped it was in the Western world. But France on its own had almost 3 million cases reported against 57 thousand in the United States, which led me to verify closely other sources. It seems Wolfram Alpha had the number wrong, there were only about 5000 reports, which proves that outliers in data are either new stories or just input errors.

“For the credit crunch[vii], I researched the FDIC �" Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation[viii] database. They have a considerable amount of statistical data available for download. My idea was to chart the evolution of loans in the United States in the last years, and the main idea was that overall loans slowed down since 2009 but individual credits rose, meaning an increase in personal debt to cope with overall difficulties caused by the crunch.I selected the items that seemed more relevant and went for a simple line chart. My purpose was served.”

“Though the current result falls short of my initial goals,” says Alex, “it is a prototype for a more involving experience, and I consider it to be a work in construction. What I’ll be defending here is a concept with a few examples using interactive tools, but I realize this is just a small sample of what it can really be: an immersive, ongoing project, with more interactive features, providing a journalistic approach to issues highly debated and prone to partisanship, many of them used by religious and political groups to spin their own ideologies to the general audience. The purpose is to create context.”

Alex is currently back in Portugal as he completes the final MA by Production part of his Masters. You might want to hire him, or Caroline, Dan, Ruihua, Chiara, Natalie or Andy.

July 03 2010

13:42

Using data to scrutinise local swimming facilities (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt3)

(Read part 1 here and part 2 here)

The third student to catch the data journalism bug was Andy Brightwell. Through his earlier reporting on swimming pool facilities in Birmingham, Andy had developed an interest in the issue, and wanted to use data journalism techniques to dig further.

The result was a standalone site – Where Can We Swim? – which documented exactly how he did that digging, and presented the results.

He also blogged about the results for social media firm Podnosh, where he has been working.

Andy’s techniques included creating a screen scraper using Yahoo! Pipes and Google Spreadsheets, visualising and mapping opening times, and, of course, some old-fashioned research (a recurring theme in the MA data journalism work).

What is particularly interesting is how Andy shows readers his working – explaining inconsistencies in the data, how it is gathered, and issues with making comparisons. Spreadsheets are embedded.

Instead of ‘not letting the facts get in the way of a good story’, Andy is refusing to let a good story get in the way of the facts: we are invited to build on top of the sterling work that he has done.

His early visualisations, for example, showed that the West Midlands was the worst region for swimming pool provision. Then in a later one:

“By clicking on the visualisation you should be able to see a correlation between demand and supply. In the top left-hand corner click on facility m2/1000 (this shows the amount swimming surface area per 1000 people). Now click on participation rate – and the map looks remarkably similar, with the same dark areas, while the West Midlands is one of the lightest regions. In other words, where there’s the most availability of swimming – in the South West, South East and in East, there are more people swimming.

“Now let’s look at the West Midlands – one of the worst regions for supply and demand … As you can see, it’s Birmingham that’s the worst offender, in fact it’s significantly worse than other regions within the West Midlands.

“Of course there’s a health warning over all of this. The report does point out that, even in Birmingham, supply is able to meet current demand – which sort of contradicts the evidence that superior supply leads to more demand. However, what we can say with reasonable confidence is that with doubts over the 50 metre pool and the only pool to have been rebuilt so far is Harborne, it seems Birmingham does indeed have a long way to go before it has anything like the supply of pools some other parts of England enjoy.”

Video stories, Flash interactivity and mapping the local music scene

Three other MA Online Journalism students developed skills in different areas to add specialist expertise to their broad online journalism toolkit.

Chiara Bolognini refined her Flash skills to produce a website for the Basel Social Media Apero that combined animation, video, and a Twitter feed.

Ruihua Yao explored video and produced a series of video profiles of members of the Chinese community in Birmingham. Ruihua filmed the subject speaking in their native language, then dubbed the video with their stories in English. What emerges is a picture of very highly educated Chinese citizens unable to use their education to contribute to British society.

Natalie Chillington set herself the challenge of creating a live map of upcoming gigs in Birmingham that would automatically update when new entries were added to the Google Doc (which also fed a listings). Both were for a new site covering the music scene in the city, The Music Quarter.

This was a technically ambitious project which hit a number of obstacles along the way. To Natalie’s credit, she overcame all of these to produce something which looks simple, but is actually very complex. This post explains the stages Natalie went through in exploring automatically updated maps.

In the next and final part of this series (live Monday) I’ll be talking about Alex Gamela’s work, which includes a Google map that has had over 80,000 views, a moving Flash interactive, and a piece of multimedia journalism combining video, visualisation and more data journalism.

July 02 2010

11:56

Local history as a game (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt2)

Following on from the previous post on serious music journalism using data, here’s some more detail on how MA Online Journalism students have been exploring multimedia journalism.

Using data to shed light on dangers for cyclists

Dan Davies explored video and mapping audio before catching the data bug – in this case, around cycling collisions. Like Caroline, he sourced data from a range of sources, including media reports, an RSS feed from FixMyStreet, another RSS feed from Google News, Freedom of Information requests – and getting out there and collecting it himself.

He’s visualised the data in a range of ways at Birmingham Cycle Data, using tools such as Yahoo! Pipes and ManyEyes, and collaborated with cycling communities too. The results provide a range of insights into transport issues for cyclists:

“Click on the individual lines. If you click on the purple line it shows six southbound cars went through on two ocassions. Generally, the spikes alternate according to the traffic lights. But some traffic is so busy it hardly ever gets to zero. The safest time to cross for cyclists was at 16:46 when three bicycles got through the lights without other traffic piling across.”

“If you swap the three arrows at the top of the table around so it reads Road Name > Accident Severity > Ward it shows the most dangerous road in Birmingham. As any Brum cyclist might have anticipated, the answer is Stratford Road. However, the grey lines within the box currently mark accident severity so by that rationale it should be High St which has had 3 serious accidents. Until you realise these accidents took place on different High Streets. The same problem exists with Church Rd.”

They also provide useful lessons in interpreting and cleaning data.

Civic history as a game

In addition to the cycling data project, Dan created ‘Spaghetti Junctions‘ – a game centred on cultural facts and urban myths about Birmingham. The site – which is basically a Wordpress blog that allows users admin access – explains:

“You score 10 points if you post. You also score 10 points if you upload a photo with your post. And we give you another 10 points if you locate the post on the Spaghetti Junctions map.

“A fact is called a Bull’s Eye worth 50 points
“A myth is called a Chinny Reckon worth 25 points
“An entertaining myth is a Super Chinn worth 100 points
“You can state whether you think it is a Bull’s Eye or Chinny Reckon by selecting a category when you post. Only the Chinnmaster can award a Super Chinn.

“Anyone can dispute a fact or myth by leaving a comment under a post. The Chinnmaster will check this.”

Those familiar with local history in Birmingham will understand what a ‘Chinny’ refers to.

More information on how the site is constructed can be found in this blog post. It’s a fascinating experiment in engaging people with their local history – and checking those oft-repeated civic boasts.

Next: using data to scrutinise local swimming facilities.

11:27

Music journalism and data (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt1)

I’ve just finished looking at the work from the Diploma stage of my MA in Online Journalism, and – if you’ll forgive the effusiveness – boy is it good.

The work includes data visualisation, Flash, video, mapping and game journalism – in short, everything you’d want from a group of people who are not merely learning how to do journalism but exploring what journalism can become in a networked age.

But before I get to the detail, a bit of background…

We’re in the second of three parts of the MA – the Diploma stage (read about the Certificate stage here). Students are studying 2 modules: Multimedia Journalism, and Production Labs.

The Multimedia Journalism module sees students explore a range of media platforms – audio, video, interactivity, data and visualisation (I’ll write about Production Labs at another point).

In their first assignment students explore a few of these platforms (you can see Caroline Beavon’s blog post about hers here). They then specialise in one medium for their final assignment.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given my own current interests – a majority of students decided to specialise in exploring data in some format, with video also proving popular. Over a series of posts I’ll look at some of the most interesting work – beginning with an example of how data journalism skills can be applied to music journalism.

Visualising crime, VFM, rainfall and everything else about music festivals

Caroline Beavon’s portfolio of data journalism investigating and visualising every aspect of the UK’s music festivals is collected at Datamud.

If you wanted to know which festival was the safest in terms of numbers of arrests and numbers of crimes, you could now see at a glance (with the context of each festival’s footfall).

In addition, the investigation unearthed some curious anomalies, such as the crackdown on untaxed vehicles at one Festival, while data looking at capacity compared with estimated attendance highlighted the peak that preceded Glastonbury taking a break (presumably to resolve security and fencing issues).

For a consumer angle, Caroline used crowdsourcing to compile a ‘value for money’ chart showing how much it would cost to see each festival’s performers as separate concerts.

And for a viral-friendly piece of visualisation, it’s hard to beat this image of festival rainfall in the past 3 decades.

festival rainfall in the past 3 decades

The most impressive aspect of Caroline’s work was that underlying the data and graphics was some solid journalism: combining public data, Freedom of Information requests, personal connections and a critical eye that followed up and verified the devil in the detail. It shows that you can do in-depth investigations in the field of music journalism.

Next, I’ll look at how one student used game mechanics to explore civic history, and data and mapping to investigate cycling collisions.

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