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July 01 2013


The independent Dish: We promised to keep you up to date

The Dish :: We promised to keep you up to date with the new independent Dish’s progress – and six months seems like a good time to summarize. The current number of subscribers to the Dish now stands at 27,349.


Read Andrew Sullivan, dish.andrewsullivan.com


Social Media Images Form a New Language Online “This is a...

Social Media Images Form a New Language Online

“This is a watershed time where we are moving away from photography as a way of recording and storing a past moment,” said Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography at Harvard, and we are “turning photography into a communication medium.”


Social Media Images Form a New Language Online “This is a...

Social Media Images Form a New Language Online

“This is a watershed time where we are moving away from photography as a way of recording and storing a past moment,” said Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography at Harvard, and we are “turning photography into a communication medium.”


TV salaries fall, radio stagnant

TV salaries fall, radio stagnant:

The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries actually fell 1.9% in 2012. With inflation a modest 2.1%, that meant that TV news salaries dropped in purchasing power by 4% last year. Radio salaries fared only slightly better, with an increase of 0.8% last year. That’s not enough to compensate for 2.1% inflation, leaving radio news salaries down 1.3% in terms of real wages.


TV salaries fall, radio stagnant

TV salaries fall, radio stagnant:

The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that local television news salaries actually fell 1.9% in 2012. With inflation a modest 2.1%, that meant that TV news salaries dropped in purchasing power by 4% last year. Radio salaries fared only slightly better, with an increase of 0.8% last year. That’s not enough to compensate for 2.1% inflation, leaving radio news salaries down 1.3% in terms of real wages.


New York Times launches new interactive ads for mobile

The New York Times is out with some interesting new ad formats specifically tailored for their iPad app. Developed by the Times’ Idea Lab, the new formats emphasize interactivity and a push to connect the app to other features on the iPad, including:

In-App Download: This capability allows for a user to purchase and download any selection of media that is available in iTunes, all within the ad unit. This includes music or video available in iTunes, but also proprietary apps that advertisers might wish to promote to users of The Times’s iPad app.

Direct Coupon Download: Users can download a special offer, ticket or coupon from an ad unit that saves directly to their iPad Photo Stream, resulting in it being saved to the consumer’s other devices, such as an iPhone.

Calendar: Allows users to download and save information directly into their iPad calendar to help them schedule appointments and reminders tied to special offers or events.

Panorama: Users can visually pan around a 360-degree environment using touch and swipe motions. For example, advertisers may use this feature to display a retail location.

A number of other Idea Lab custom units will also now be available in-app for the first time, including Pleats, which offers advertisers four distinct panels to showcase full-screen images in expanded format through an XXL unit; Unveil, which allows users to interact with a brand message by “wiping away” an initial image to reveal another one underneath it; and Product Zoom, a newsroom-inspired ad concept that can showcase a product’s finer details through magnification as a user moves the cursor over the image.


13 Latest Projects at the MIT Center for Civic Media

One of the most energetic sessions at the MIT Knight Civic Media Conference last week was the Civic Media Ignite, which presented thirteen projects by MIT teams and our partners.

(this session was reported with NewsPad, experimental software I'm building for collaborative live-editing of articles. Participation is currently anonymous. The quality in this post may vary.)

Mapping the News (Catherine D'Ignazio)

Ethan Zuckerman presented this session for Catherine, since she just gave birth.

What does media pay attention to? Mapping The News visualizes the connection between the geography of events paid attention to, and the geography of those paying attention. In this visualization of news coverage, we see that Boston Globe focuses on places that are a bit more privileged. Mapping the Globe also shows word clouds based on location, illustrating the differences of coverage received by a place, whether it's sports, business or violence.

In another project, Catherine D'Ignazio and Luisa Beck visualized International news coverage during the Boston bombings. Using CLAVIN, they were able to geolocate the country of news with 90% accuracy depending on the language used. Aljazeera, surprisingly, pays a lot of attention to Venezuela.

Another of Catherine's projects, Erase the Border, is a platform for voice petitions that visualizes place for communities split in half by US border protection.

Finally, iSkyTV is a networked art project that detects the user's location and animates the Google Street View sky above their heads. The project is a reimagining of SkyTV, Yoko Ono's famed video work from 1966.

Trayvon / Attention Plotter (Erhardt Graeff)

Slides: bit.ly/trayvon-ignite

Erhardt researches full blown media firestorms using Berkman's MediaCloud software. He's asking how media attention is apportioned over time? For his study, Erhardt analysed newspapers data, TV transcripts, Google searches, tweets, Change.org signatures

Erhardt is building a tool set for this kind of analysis called Controversy Mapper. http://github.com/erhardt/attention-plotter.

Broad topic: Quantitative analysis of media ecosystems.

Postmarked! (Denise Cheng)


Read here: http://civic.mit.edu/blog/hidenise/postmarked-visualizing-disempowerment.

Where does a postcard sit, inbetween a letter and an online petition?

Spaces are reaction, no zero-sum property, while dormant spaces trap the vitality of areas that surround them.

PostMarked focuses on Vale Court, an abandoned building just off Central Square in Cambridge - a building that has been falling into disrepair for ages. Fire alarms go off sometimes, but no one can enter in. Neighborhood residents, passersby are impacted by this building. Postcards filled out by those folk, then sent on to the owners.

Denise created a postcard campaign with multiple inputs to produce one output -- postcards that get sent to the owners of the house, encouraging them to sell. She's working with the local YWCA to collect postcards. No one believed owners would respond, but didn't matter.

Quotes on Twitter about this talk:

@CivicInsight: We love @hiDenise's Postmarked - postcards mailed to owners of dilapidated properties to motivate action http://civic.mit.edu/blog/hidenise/postmarked-negotiating-disempowerment... … #civicmedia

!nstant (Ludovic Blecher, Borja Echevarria and Paula Molina)

This project is from a whole team of Nieman Fellows from Chile, El Pais (Spain), France, WaPo-- all of whom took Ethan Zuckerman's Participatory News class.

News consumers are used to using three kinds of devices: TV, laptops, mobiles. As journalists, we fact check and curate. Legacy media isn't good at organizing info in a social environment.
With participatory media, it's sometimes it's hard to get the big picture. User experience is lacking in live feeds.

Instant! is a mobile app for breaking news that sets out to combine the best of all these platforms. This separates signal from noise and adds context and visuals for live stories.

Their user experience prototype is an example of live reporting the sinking of the Titanic :)

They are looking for developers, programmers.They want help and monies!

Quotes from Twitter:

#Niemans speak at #civicmedia Ignite. Chuckles aplenty from their "Titanic tweeted live" example. pic.twitter.com/DxPeN3hu8Q

— Betsy O'Donovan (@ODitor) June 25, 2013

LazyTruth Email (Matt Stempeck)

Cinemagraph of Matt Presenting: http://memories.nokia.com/en/images/d8d9e9ab-379c-48a3-995f-01c2b54d33c2 LazyTruth offers an easy way to respond when presented with possible misinformation. Just forward your email to LazyTruth, and it will be checked against snopes.com, factcheck.com, and many other fact-checking websites.

CoDesign Collaboration with DS4SI (Lori Lobenstine and Kenny Bailey)

This talk was by the Design Studio for Social Intervention, who worked with the CoDesign Studio at the Center for Civic Media this year. Public Kitchen in Upham's Corner wanted to work with the codesign class in how to build out their initiative: making planning processes public (MPPP). They developed installation that ran for 5 days where people in the neighborhood got to come in and interact with it. The Co-design class built a station where they tested what happens when you accept input vs when you don't. This allowed the community to realize how giving input makes a difference. Their next project is the Tactical Urban Lab, which sets out to develop temporary interventions to see how it might change the way people feel about their neighborhood. Quotes on Twitter about the talk:

http://t.co/iHzc27ivP9 and #CivicMIT worked together on making public planning meetings more open and accessible #civicmedia — Ethan Zuckerman (@EthanZ) June 25, 2013


Boston Globe Labs (Chris Marstall, Adrienne Debigare)

Globe Labs is part of a group that develops tools at the Globe. The Globe has innovated since the beginning. In WWII they put up a map showing how things were updating on a board on the streets. Globe Labs thinks about the future of the news, specifically the role of technology in the newsroom.

What does collaborating with academia look like? It started with The Center for Civic Media, and now has grown outward throughout MIT and Northeastern University.

They try to create data sets to predict stuff, e.g. the weather (example).
Data set of Tweets shows how the news switched from explosion, to bombing, to manhunt. They have a big screen in their building that shows Instagram feed that they use to inform their stories. In the 68 Blocks project, they embedded themselves in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Boston.

Biggest recent project: responsive design for their web properties.

Fun recent Project: twitter broadcast. Shows every tweet coming out of their newsroom.

Get in touch: GlobeLab

@JenniferBrandel tweets about this session: "The @BostonGlobe's Globe Lab = rad. Say "may not be able to predict the future, but at least we can show up for the present" #civicmedia"

Changing Gender Bias in the Media (Nathan Matias)

Nathan starts out with the story of Yvonne Brill, a celebrated Rocket scientist that the New York Times introduced as a mother and great cook when she died, instead of a scientist.

What can we do about gender bias in the media, Nathan asks:

1. Take responsibility for our own biases. Nathan shows an app for personal tracking of twitter bias. You get a gender breakdown of the people you follow on Twitter, you can correct the automatic gender score and *reflect* on your biases. Data and experiments make things visible but also sustain long term change.

2. Cooperate, channel people's anger towards taking constructive action. Nathan shows an example of this with Passing On, a visualization of New York Times gender that directs readers towards improving Wikipedia's bios of women.

3. Make and Use Tools: Open Gender Tracker is a toolkit for analysis like this dataviz of UK newspaper gender and this analysis of gender in the citizen media site Global Voices.

1. Participate followbias.com
2. Partner by emailing Nathan Matias
3. Create

- Sarah Szalavitz (@dearsarah)
- Irene Ros (@ireneros)
- Sophie Diehl
- Adam Hyland (@therealprotonk)
- Lisa Evans (@objectgroup)

Data Murals (Lisa Brukilacchio and kristin DelViscio)

Data Murals is a project to involve community members in interpreting and presenting public information about community health. Fancy images are rarely effective at prompting activism, especially because images are often inaccessible.

Data Murals is developing a toolbox of how to tell data-driven stories through art where visual design tells the data story. People associated with the data create the art, gather and understand the data. Group work takes place to decide what was important and prototype the art.

Data presentation can be boring, but data murals make it fun, engaging, and people care about data. In a way they get people together, and get donors excited.


How can art be part of making data part of daily life?

How can you rethink your data?

Vine Tools for the Newsroom (Joanna Kao)

Joanna is an outgoing editor of MIT's The Tech and a CS Major. (She's looking for a job too ;) (@joannaskao http://vinetoolk.it)

Vine is a mobile app to create 3-6 sec short videos.

Joanna shows examples of vines: Runway model walk, USA TODAY vines.

Works well: Vines are easy to make, and they're easy to watch, because they're short. Vines are easily spreadable and friendly to people who cannot commit.

Not so good: interviewer asks a question but no one cares about repeating the video of someone's answer over and over. Also you cannot edit the Vine.

In journalism the big issue is lack of context. Adding context is even harder.

Her project: Vineyard: An aggregation and annotation platform for Vine. Annotate, embed, caption, aggregate. Search.

CoUrbanize (David Quinn, Karin Brandt)

Karin persents. She's the CEO of CoUrbanize, which just completed TechStars.

Long weekday planning meetings don't resonate with people, but pose a threat for the future of our communities. Even in cases of new buildings, you sometimes get a situation where an IKEA building is canceled after 14 years of planning because people finally realized it was happening.

Her goal: make the process more efficient, help developers respond faster to communities' feedback. Use CoUrbanize to find local projects, local meetings, and stay udpated from one place. Making information accessible will help and Making project data easy to understand.

For example, consider Real Estate. Better planning also reduces cost of delays. CoUrbanize is trying to make urban development open, efficient, and collaborative. Community management platform will inform and engage communities. Need fact-based conversations around all sorts of topics.

CoDesign Collaboration with CCTV (Clodagh Drummey, Susan Fleishmann, Neha Agrawal)

They use vojo.co. Normally to create media, you need a smartphone. But with Vojo, any phone can text in and leave a voicemail with a story of what's going on. And you can link it to your organization's website.

The Youmedia program asked people who they voted for and why. They aggregated the stories and showed them on community TV.

Neighbor Media occupied a parking space to ask people about Central Square's development, "what do you want to see in Central Square?" "what do you love about it?"

For more information, visit cctvcambridge.org

Opened Captions (Dan Schultz)

Opened Captions does Real-time transcript syndication.

Dan created this when he was part of Knight-Mozilla Fellowship. He did a hacky project that modified the text of campaign speeches to make it seem like candidates became more drunk the more boring they were. To do this, Dan realized he needed a transcript of talks. He wanted it in a format anyone can use.

His solution: API that shares data whenever words are spoken on CSPAN.

Opened Captions

Follow Dan on Twitter at @slifty


News organizations step on stage to experiment with new storytelling forms

Poynter :: Inside a cream-colored brick building in downtown Berkeley, Calif., journalists with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) tap out updates for the Web and gather to discuss their next projects.

Read Xandra Clark, www.poynter.org


How to make help microvideos for your website

One of the best things we've done at Soundslice is to create help "microvideos" walking people through the site's various features. I've fallen in love with this technique and want more sites to do this, so here's a brain dump on how I make them!

For an example of what I mean by "microvideos," see these two pages: Soundslice help and music transcription techniques. And giving credit where it's due: I stole the idea from Bret Victor's amazing Learnable Programming essay.


Soundslice lets people create guitar tabs that are synced with YouTube videos (example). Sort of out of necessity, the site has many rather complex editing features, and we're adding new ones frequently.

When we launched in November 2012, we put up a nine-minute tutorial video in which I tried to include everything -- from high-level overviews to low-level details on how to use it efficiently. This turned out to be a bad idea, for a bunch of reasons:

  • It's way too long. Nobody wants to watch a nine-minute help video.
  • It's hard to refer back to a specific spot. We tried to make this easier by giving it the Soundslice treatment (annotating sections of the video), but even with that, it's not ideal for quick reference.
  • It's monolithic and quickly became outdated. We've redesigned bits and pieces of the site dozens of times since November -- moving buttons around, improving legibility, changing various styles. It would be a huge pain to update only part of the video. And never mind the features we've added, which would easily double the length of the video.
  • It's hard to see what's happening in a full-screen screencast. Lots of the Soundslice UI details involve things like dragging and resizing, and it's hard to portray those interactions effectively if the screencast is displaying the entire screen.

The solution to these problems? Instead of one monolithic video, we decided to make dozens of tiny, five-second videos separately demonstrating features. Again, check out our main Soundslice help page to see what I mean.

These videos are much easier to consume and refer back to. They're easy for us to update when we add new features or change existing stuff. We can permalink directly to a specific series of videos (something I do frequently when responding to user emails). And each video can use an ideal screen zoom level to best illustrate what it needs to teach. In programming terms, the videos are loosely coupled.

How to make the videos

It's actually quite easy to make microvideos on a Mac, thanks to ScreenFlow, a screen recording app. It costs $99 but is well worth it.

  1. Plan what you're going to record. This is the hardest part -- determining how many videos/steps to record to demonstrate a particular feature. I try to limit videos to five seconds, so that directly influences how many videos I need to display a given feature/process.
  2. Get your website in a state that's ready to record. (Prepare whatever dummy data needs to be prepared, etc.)
  3. Open ScreenFlow and start recording. Don't worry about getting it right the first time -- you can always edit out bits later. Generally, when recording a video demonstrating some Soundslice UI feature, it takes me two to three tries to get a smooth, natural-looking video.
  4. Stop recording and edit it down to the ~5 seconds you need. ScreenFlow makes it easy to delete sections. Note that, in addition to deleting the extraneous bits before and after the "meat" of the video, I also often make tiny deletions within the video itself -- for example, to clean up a pause in mouse movement. Don't waste milliseconds of the video on the mouse not doing anything (unless you've edited it down so much that it looks unnatural).
  5. Use the ScreenFlow crop tool to crop the full-screen video to only the bit of the screen you want to highlight. At Soundslice, we always use the same aspect ratio -- 300 by 150 -- so that the videos look extra nice when lined up together.
  6. Export (File | Export) using the "Web - High" preset, which gives you an H.264 video with an MP4 extension. If your video has no audio, hit "Customize..." in the Export dialog and uncheck "AAC Audio."
  7. You'll now have an MP4 file. Because browser vendors can't agree on supported HTML5 video formats, you'll need to create a WebM version for Firefox. I use Miro Video Converter for this -- it's free and easy to use.
  8. Pop the two videos (.mp4 and .webm) on a server somewhere.
  9. In your own help page, include the markup and JS for the videos. Here's the code we use on Soundslice; feel free to use it (it's licensed as BSD).

Overall, it takes a fair amount of setup to do all of this, but once you're up and running, it's easy to add and change videos. We've been doing this for several months and love it. Have fun, and go forth and make microvideos!


When building new news products, lightweight experimentation is key

Joey Marburger went into some detail for Source on the creation of The Washington Post’s The Grid. The Grid is meant to be a dynamic and interactive platform for staying up to date on breaking news stories, including an “even mix of photos, instagrams, tweets, articles, videos, animated gifs, quotes, and other content types.”

Marburger explains the collaborative process of building the front and back ends of The Grid and also offers some thoughts on responsive design — but most useful is his explanation of why flexible prototyping is important to building a product that can be widely and productively repurposed.

The media industry has to try new things. When we started conceptualizing The Grid we had no idea where it would take us. Prototyping unlocked more ideas and furthered the concept of The Grid to where it is today. It allows us to try new designs, test new features quickly, and above all, move fast. The Grid changed the culture of how we develop products in the Washington Post newsroom. Yes, the product has been successful, but many more products have been successful because of it. The cultural needle has shifted and that is what technologists do. They change how we work.


Monday Q&A: Denise Malan on the new data-driven collaboration between INN and IRE

Every news organization wishes it could have more reporters with data skills on staff. But not every news organization can afford to make data a priority — and even those that do can sometimes find the right candidates hard to find.

A new collaboration between two journalism nonprofits — the Investigative News Network and Investigative Reporters and Editors — aims to address this allocation issue. Denise Malan, formerly a investigative and data reporter at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, will fill the new role of INN director of data services, offering “dedicated data-analysis services to INN’s membership of more than 80 nonprofit investigative news organizations,” many of them three- or four-person teams that can’t find room or funding for a dedicated data reporter.

It’s a development that could both strengthen the investigative work being done by these institutions and skill building around data analysis in journalism. Malan has experience in training journalists in skills of procuring, cleaning, and analyzing data, and she has high hopes for the kinds of stories and networked reporting that will be produced by this collaboration. We talked about IRE’s underutilized data library, potentially disruptive Supreme Court decisions around freedom of information, the unfortunate end for wildlife wandering onto airplane runways, and what it means to translate numbers into stories.

O’Donovan: How does someone end up majoring in physics and journalism?
Malan: My freshman year they started a program to do a bachelor of arts in physics. Physics Lite. And you could pair that with business or journalism or English — something that was really your major focus of study, but the B.A. in physics would give you a good science background. So you take physics, you take calculus, you take statistics, and that really gives you the good critical thinking and data background to pair with something else — in my case, journalism.
O’Donovan: I guess it’s kind of easy to see how that led into what you’re doing now. But did you always see them going hand in hand? Or is that something that came later?
Malan: In college, I thought I was going to be a science writer. That was the main reason I paired those. When I got into news and started going down the path of data journalism, I was very glad to have that background, for sure. But I started getting more into the data journalism world when the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi sent me to the IRE bootcamp, where it’s a weeklong, intensive week where you concentrate on learning Excel and Access and the different pitfalls you can face in data — some basic cleaning skils. That’s really what got me started in the data journalism realm. And then the newspaper continued to send me to training — to the CAR conferences every year and local community college classes to beef up my skills.
O’Donovan: So, how long were you at the Caller-Times?
Malan: I was there seven years. I started as a reporter in June 2006, and then moved up into editing in May of 2010.
O’Donovan: And in the time that you were there as their data person, what are some stories that you were particularly proud of, or made you feel like this was a a burgeoning field?
Malan: We focused on intensely local projects at the Caller-Times. One of the ones that I was really proud of I worked on with our city hall reporter Jessica Savage. She found out that the city streets are a huge issue in Corpus Christi. If you’ve ever driven here, you know they are just horrible — a disaster. And the city is trying to find a billion dollars to fix them.

So our city hall reporter found out that the city keeps a database of scores called the Pavement Condition Index. Basically, it’s the condition of your street. So we got that database and we merged it with a file of streets and color-coded it so people could fully see what the condition of their street was, and we put it a database for people to find their exact block. This was something the city did not want to give us at first, because if people know the condition of their street scores, they’re going to demand that we do something about it. We’re like, “Yeah, that’s kind of the idea.” But that database became the basis for an entire special section on our streets. We used it to find people on streets who scored a 0, and talked about how it effects their life — how often they have to repair their cars, how often they walk through giant puddles.

And then we paired it with a breakout box of every city council member and their score. We did a map online, which, for over a year, actually, has been a big hit while the city is discussing how they’re going to find this money. People have been using it as a basis for the debate that they’re having, which, to me, is really kind of how we make a difference. Using this data that the city had, bringing it to light, making it accessible, I think, has really just changed the debate here for people. So that’s one thing I’m really proud of — that we can give people information to make informed decisions.

O’Donovan: Part of your new position is going to be facilitating and assisting other journalists in starting to understand how to do this kind of work. How do you tell reporters that this isn’t scary — that it’s something they can do or they can learn? How do you begin that conversation?
Malan: [At the Caller-Times] we adopted the philosophy that data journalism isn’t just something that one nerdy person in the office does, but something that everyone in the newsroom should have in their toolbox. It really enhances eery beat at the newspaper.

I would do training sessions occasionally on Excel, Google Fusion Tables, Caspio to show everyone in the newsroom, “Here’s what’s possible.” Some people really pick up on it and take it and run with it. Some people are not as math oriented and are not going to be able to take it and run with it themselves, but at least they know those tools are available and what it’s possible to do with them.

So some of the reporters would be just aware of how we could analyze data and they would keep their eyes open for databases on their beats, and other reporters would run with it. That philosophy is very important in any newsroom today. A lot of what I’m going to be doing with IRE and INN is working with the INN members in helping them to gather the data and analyze it and inform their local reporting. So a lot of the same roles, but in a broader context.

O’Donovan: So a lot of it is understanding that everyone is going to come at it with a different skill level.
Malan: Yes, absolutely. All our members have different levels of skills. Some of our members have very highly skilled data teams, like ProPublica, Center for Public Integrity — they’re really at the forefront of data journalism. Other members are maybe one- or two-person newsrooms that may not have the training and don’t have any reporters with those skills. So the skill sets are all over the board. But it will be my job to help, especially smaller newsrooms, plug into those resources — especially the resources at IRE — the best they can, with the data library there and the training available there. We help them bring up their own skills and enhance their own reporting.
O’Donovan: When a reporter comes to you and says, “I just found this dataset or I just got access to it” — how do you dive into that information when it comes to looking for stories? How do you take all of that and start to look for what could turn into something interesting?
Malan: A lot of it depends on the data set. Just approach every set of data as a source that you’re interviewing. What is available there? What is maybe missing from the data is something you want to think about too? And you definitely want to narrow it down: A lot of data sets are huge, especially these federal data sets that might have records containing, I don’t know, 120 fields, but maybe you’re only interested in three of them. So you want to get to know the data set, and what is interesting in it, and you want to really narrow your focus.

One collaboration that INN did was using data gathered by NASA for the FAA, and it was essentially near misses — incidents at airports like hitting deer on the runway, and all these little things that can happen but aren’t necessarily reported. They all get compiled in this database, and pilots write these narratives about it, so that field is very interesting to them. There were four or five INN members who collaborated on that, and they all came away with different stories because they all found something else that was interesting for them locally.

O’Donovan: This position you’ll hold is about bringing the work of INN and IRE together. What’s that going to look like? We talk all the time about how journalism is moving in a more networked direction — where do you see this fitting into that?
Malan: IRE and INN have always had a very close relationship, and I think that this position just kind of formalizes that. I will be helping INN members plug into the resources of IRE, especially the data library, I’ll be working closely with Liz Lucas, the database director at IRE, and I’m actually going to be living near IRE so I can work more closely with them. Some of that data there is very underutilized and it’s really interesting and maybe hasn’t been used in any projects, especially on a national level.

So we can take that data and I can kind of help analyze it, help slice it for the various regions we might be looking at, and help the INN members use that data for their stories. I’ll basically be acting as almost a translator to get this data from the IRE and help the INN members use it.

Going the other way, with INN members, they might come up with some project idea where data isn’t available from the database library, or it might be something where we have to gather data from every state individually, so we might compile that and whatever we end up with will be sent back to the IRE library and made available to other IRE members. So it’s a two-way relationship.

O’Donovan: So in terms of managing this collaboration, what are the challenges? Are you think of building an interface for sharing data or documents?
Malan: We’re going to be setting up a kind of committee of data people with INN to have probably monthly calls and just discuss ideas, what they’re working on, brainstorming, possible ideas. I want it to be a very organic, ground-up process — I don’t want it to be dictating what the projects should be. I want the members to come up with their own ideas. So we’ll be brainstorming and coming up with things, and we’ll be managing the group through Basecamp and communicating that way. A lot of the other members are already on Basecamp and communicate that way through INN.

We’ll be communicating through this committee and coming up with ideas and I’l be working with other members to, to reach out to them. If we come up with an idea that deals with health care, for example, I might reach out to some of the members that are especially focused on health care and try to bring in other members on it.

O’Donovan: Do you foresee collaborations between members, like shared reporting and that kind of thing?
Malan: Yeah, depending on the project. Some of it might be shared reporting; some of it might be someone does a main interview. If we’re doing a crime story dealing with the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report, maybe we just have one reporter from every property, we nominate one person to do the interview with the FBI that everyone can use in their own story, which they localize with their own data. So, yeah, depending on the project, we’ll have to kind of see how the reporting would shake out.
O’Donovan: Do you have any specific goals or types of stories you want to tell, or even just specific data sets you’re eager to get a look at?
Malan: I think there are several interesting sets in the IRE data library that we might go after at first. There’s really interesting health sets, for example, from the FDA — one of them is a database of adverse affects from drugs, complaints that people make that drugs have had adverse effects. So yeah, some of those can be right off the bat, ready to go and parse and analyze.

Some other data sets we might be looking at will be a little harder to get, will take some FOIs and some time to get. There are several major areas that our members focus on and that we’ll be looking at projects for. Environment, for example — fracking is a large issue, and how environment effects public health. Health care, especially with the Affordable Care Act coming into effect next year is going to be a large one. Politics, government, how money effects influences politicians is a huge area as we come up on the 2016 elections and the 2014 midterms. And education is another issue with achievement gaps, graduation rates, charter schools — those are all large issues that our members follow. Finding those commonalties and dealing with data sets, digging into that is going to be my first priority.

O’Donovan: The health question is interesting. Knight announced its next round of News Challenge grants is going to be all around health.
Malan: I’m excited about that. We have several members that are really specifically focused on healt,h so I feel like we might be able to get something good with that.
O’Donovan: Health care stuff or more public health stuff?
Malan: It’s a mix, but a lot of stuff is geared toward the Affordable Care Act now.
O’Donovan: Gathering these data sets must often involve a lot of coordination across states and jurisdictions.
Malan: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I am a little nervous about is the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Virginia case where they can now require you to live in a state to put in an FOI. That might complicate things a little bit. I know there are several groups working on lists of people who will put an FOI in for you in various states. But that can kind of just slow down the process and put a little kink in and add to the timeline. I’m concerned of course that now they know it’s been ruled constitutional that every state might make that the law. It could be a huge thing. A management nightmare.
O’Donovan: What kind of advice do you normally give to reporters who are struggling to get information that they know they should be allowed to have?
Malan: That’s something we encountered a lot here, especially getting data in the proper format, too. Laws on that can vary from state to state. A lot of governments will give you paper or PDF format, instead of the Excel or text file that you asked for. It’s always a struggle.

The advice is to know the law as best you can, know what exceptions are allowed under your state law, be able to quote — you don’t have to have the law memorized, but be able to quote specific sections that you know are on your side. Be prepared with your requests, and be prepared to fight for it. And in a lot of cases, it is a fight.

O’Donovan: That’s an interesting intersection of technical and legal skill. That’s a lot of education dollars right there.
Malan: Yeah, no kidding.
O’Donovan: When you do things like attend the NICAR conference and assess the scene more broadly, where do you see the most urgent gaps in the data journalism field? Is it that we need more data analysts? More computer scientists? More reporters with the fluency in communicating with government? More legal aid? If you could allocate more resources, where would you put them right now?
Malan: There’s always going to be a need for more very highly skilled data journalists who can gather these national sets, analyze them, clean them, get them into a digestible format, visualize them online, and inform readers. I would like to see more general beat reporters interested in data and at least getting skills in Excel and even Access — because the beat reporters are the ones on the ground, using their sources, finding these data sets or not finding them if they’re not aware of what data is. I would really like this to be a bigger push to at least educate most general beat reporters to a certain level.
O’Donovan: Where do you see the data journalism movement headed over the next couple years? What would your next big hope for the field be?
Malan: Well, of course I hope for it to go kind of mainstream, and that all reporters will have some sort of data skills. It’s of course harder with fewer and fewer resources, and reporters are learning how to tweet and Instagram, and there are demands on their time that have never been there.

But I would hope it would become just an normal part of journalism, that there would be no more “data journalism” — that it just becomes part of what we do, because it’s invaluable to reporting and to really helping ferret out the truth and to give context to stories.


Kick-start ‘Upstate Girls’

For nearly a decade, photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally has followed the lives of a group of young women living in Upstate New York. The stories of the women of Troy, NY are an intimate and powerful look at the cycle of class separation and economic inequality facing many Americans today.

Working in collaboration with students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the Visual Studies Workshop (VSW), Kenneally has been building a multi-platform documentary titled Upstate Girls to tell these stories. The project has now reached a point where its contributors’ hard work and good intentions need financial support. You can help them complete their work on Kickstarter.


According to the 2010 census approximately 20% of the households in Troy are headed by single females. Their jobs have evolved from the factory work of the industrial revolution that earned Troy the name “Collar City” to the post industrial service sector jobs like Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds, and other big box food chains that are now cemented in the American landscape. What has remained constant is the women of Troy’s ability to draw on their maternal skills to power them through long days at work and huge family demands when they return home.

The Upstate Girls project is not only a document of the America that we all share with these women, but more importantly a story of the emotional connections that are universal to being human.

The Project

The project’s goal is to create a platform for deep exploration of the complex issues inherent to Upstate Girls‘ stories through an interactive web documentary. Visitors will be able to discover the lives of the women of Troy through videos, photographs, letters, historical documents and scrapbooks and tie the pieces of the stories together in their own way.

The second phase of this work will be to open the database of information Kenneally has gathered over the past 9 years to those people who can activate change. It is the photographer’s hope that this project will reach beyond the traditional audience of documentary photography and news to support research and change.

How to Help

Your donation will help access the resources needed to bring Upstate Girls to its full potential. The students at both RIT and VSW will benefit greatly from collaboration with professional web designers, web programmers, and video editors.

Donate to the campaign by July 24, 2013 to help finance these expenses. Visit the Upstate Girls Kickstarter, Facebook, and Twitter page for more information.


Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism won’t be kicked off campus after all

If you missed it over the weekend, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism got a reprieve from the legislative attempt to boot it from its offices at the University of Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker blocked the measure via line-item veto.

Walker said arrangements between the university and private groups should be addressed by the UW Board of Regents, not lawmakers in the state budget.

“If there’s going to be a policy about those sorts of shared agreements or shared arrangements, that should be set by the regents and it shouldn’t be set specific to just this particular program,” Walker said.

We wrote about the initial attempt last month, along with how it fit in the history of public media innovation.

In response, the center is launching a WCIJ Education Fund.


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

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

read more


A Mother’s Day Card, Sent by V-Mail

This Mother’s Day “card” was loose among the letters that my mother had recovered from my grandmother when she died. There was also a loose envelope, with a May 13, 1944, postmark. The card isn’t dated. So I’m assuming the card goes with the envelope.

Babe was in the army for two Mother’s Days — 1943 and 1944 — and was killed shortly before Mother’s Day 1945. This could not have been for the 1943 Mother’s Day because he was still in the States at the time (no need for V-mail) and he notes his new rank of “Technician Fifth Grade” in the return address.

Perhaps he sent it for Mother’s Day 1944, which was on May 14. He also sent a letter dated May 14 (the next one you’ll read here). It’s probably not for Mother’s Day 1945; I’m just guessing, and I’m guessing that the loose envelope goes with the loose Mother’s Day card. Mother’s Day was May 13 in 1945, nine days after he died. Either way, in lieu of any other information, I’m publishing it here.



PDF: Mother’s Day Card, Sent by V-Mail


Sky News cleared over 'canoe man' email hacking

Guardian :: Media regulator news channel was acting in public interest but its conduct was 'at the boundaries of what is appropriate'

Read Mark Sweney, www.guardian.co.uk


How CrowdyNews is giving Digital First Media more social content

Journalism.co.uk :: More than 70 dailies around the US now feature locally-curated social media content and news reports from other sources on the front page of their site.

Read Alastair Reid, www.journalism.co.uk

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