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May 27 2011


#newsrw: ‘It’s almost as if the liveblog is the new home page’

Far from being the death of journalism, it is almost as if the liveblog is the new home page if it central to the coverage signposts to the rest of the coverage, according to Matt Wells, blogs editor of the Guardian.

Liveblogs are Twitter for people not on Twitter, panelists agreed in the fourth and final session at news:rewired – noise to signal, who demonstrated that liveblogging has not been killed by Twitter, as has been claimed.

Matt Wells, blogs editors, the Guardian responded to criticism that suggested journalism should only follow the the tried and tested format of a news story.

The inverted triangle is the single reason why journalism is so mistrusted and the search for the top line encourages sensationalism, Wells said

Liveblogs are good for stories that don’t have a beginning and an end, Wells explained, and cited the example of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation from the Egyptian presidency.

“Liveblogs can’t be printed, you can’t broadcast them on television or on a radio station. They only work on a digital screen.

“It’s the only format that has developed specifically for the digital media,” Wells said.

He responded to Tim Montgomery’s claim that “Twitter has killed live blogging,” giving this as a reason for not live blogging the AV vote.

So what is next for the Guardian’s live blogs? Wells said the team is working on ways to better signpost liveblogs, better navigation and to make it “easier to get out of if you don’t want to be there”.

Users want to read a live blog in different ways.

“Show me it from the start, show me it form the latest post, show me the best posts,” is what Wells is hearing from readers.

Alan Marshall, head of digital production at the Press Association, said liveblogging is bridging the gap between the PA wire service and other products

“It’s a natural extension of what PA has been doing for a long time,” he said.

PA uses ScribbleLive and reporters can file via Twitter, email, smartphone, which interact with the CMS.

Marshall used a liveblog of the Royal Wedding as an example and one he described as “a real watershed for PA”.

PA’s Royal Wedding liveblog was used by its customers, including Yahoo and Newsquest, both companies were able to integrate their own users content and comments onto their sites.

Reporters sent reports, including observations filed by Twitter, and the “the bits that don’t make the wire”.

Paul Gallagher, Manchester Evening News, explained how the MEN started liveblogging with an English Defence League rally in 2009. It received 3,000 comments and gratitude from readers for the information.

MEN has produced 30 liveblogs during the past 18 months, including reporting from all council meetings, and some liveblogs have resulted in a spike in web traffic, including the Manchester City parade celebrating its recent FA cup win.

“Every single person in our newsroom live blogs,” Gallagher explained.

As well as being popular, liveblogs result in people spending longer on the site which has led to people requesting for email alerts giving “the potential for a better profile of our audience”, he said.

Anna Doble, social media producer, Channel 4 News, gave the example of liveblogging the budget including a video comment of Faisal Islam from his desk, surrounded by piles of paper and not in a suit, who gave analysis while chancellor George Osborne was still on his feet.

The liveblog also included the “real person on the street” by inviting a carer, a mother and a student to post.

Doble also discussed liveblog following the death Osama bin Laden, and how it made use of the huge video resource of Channel 4 News.

She demonstrated increased audience engagement explaining that a farmer living near Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan contacted Jon Snow via Twitter and is now a regular contributor providing updates now the journalists have left the scene of the news story.


LIVE: Final session – Is liveblogging rewriting journalism? #newsrw

We have Matt Caines and Ben Whitelaw from Wannabe Hacks liveblogging for us at news:rewired all day. You can follow final session ‘Is live-blogging rewriting journalism?’, below.

Final session features:Matt Wells, blogs editor, the Guardian; Paul Gallagher, head of online content, the Manchester Evening News; Anna Doble, social media producer, Channel4 News; Alan Marshall, head of digital production, Press Association. Moderated by Marcus Warren, editor, Telegraph.co.uk.

March 08 2011


600 Lines of Code, 748 Revisions = A Load of Bubbles

When Channel 4′s Dispatches came across 1,100 pages of PDFs, known as the National Asset Register, they knew they had a problem on their hands. All that data, caged in a pixelated prison.

So ScraperWiki let loose ‘The Julian’. What ‘The Stig’ is to Top Gear, ‘The Julian’ is to ScraperWiki. That and our CTO.

‘The Julian’ did not like the PDFs. After scraping 10 pages of Defence assets, he got angry. The register may as well been glued together by trolls. The 5 year old data copied and pasted by Luddites from the previous Government was worse then useless.

So the ScraperWiki team set about rebuilding the register. Using good old-fashioned man power (i.e. me) and a PDF cropper we built a database of names, values and hierarchies that link directly to the PDFs.

Then Julian set about coding; 600 lines and 748 revisions! He made the bubbles the size of the asset values and got them to orbit around their various parent bubbles. This required such functions as ‘MakeOtherBranchAggregationsRecurse(cluster)’.

This scared our designer Zarino a little, who nevertheless made it much more user-friendly. This is where ScraperWiki’s powers of viewing live edits, chatting and collaboration became useful. The result was rounds of debugging interspersed with a healthy dose of cursing.

We then tried using it. We wanted the source of the data to hold provenance. We wanted to give the users the ability to explore the data. We wanted them to be able to see the bubbles that were too small. We prodded ‘The Julian’.

He hard coded the smaller bubbles to get into a ‘More…’ bubble orbit. This made the whole thing a lot clearer and changed the navigation from jumping to orbits to drilling down and finding out which assets are worth a similar amount.

He then got it to drill down to the source PDFs. ‘The Julian’ outdid himself and stayed up all night making a PDF annotator of the data. We have plans for this.

Oh, and we also made a brownfield map. The scraper can be found here. And the code for the visual here. the 25000 data points were in Excel form and so much easier to work with. This was nice data with lots of fields. Francis and Zarino created a very friendly visual application that allows a user to type in a post code and to see what is going on with their local authority. But due to the new government coming in, the Homes and Communities Agency have not yet finished collecting the 2009 data.

NAR and NLUD – you’ve been ScraperWikied!

June 02 2010


‘Keep your cool, but lose it if you must’: Jon Snow’s advice for journalists

Jon Snow has presented Channel 4 News for 21 years.He has worked in television news for more than three decades, always at ITN, but he is also the Visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Coventry University.

What he does not know about making TV news and Current Affairs probably is not worth knowing and late last week, Snow passed on the wisdom of his years to young wannabe hacks at Coventry University.

Five golden pieces of advice from the master:

1. Stay sober: a lesson he learned in his early days at ITN then awash, in his view, with alcohol.

    The truth is you had to be pissed to get on in television. People drank vast quantities whilst they were working. We had a bar inside the studios and people would put out the lunchtime news and go and have a few pints and then go back to work completely squiffy.

    His road to Damascus came one day when after the early evening news, the editor at the time and next most senior person invited him for a drink:

    I went across the road to the wine bar, sat down with them and after about an hour, realising I still had to do a piece for News at 10, there were six empty wine bottles on the table and only three of us, so I realised I must have drunk at least one-and-a-half of them. I was now squiffy in any case. After a time I wanted to go to loo, so I went downstairs to the gents and I was unsteady on my feet and lurched into the cistern. It detached itself from the wall and crashed into the throne and then exploded in an eruption of water cascading everywhere. I made a very fast retreat, shut the door, saw the water pouring out underneath. I saw these two guys sitting there and thought ‘they’re going to drown’ and I said ‘chap,s got to get back and get my piece on for news at 10′. I sat there watching out of the window thinking this was the end of my career.

    It wasn’t. Snow has not really drunk on the job since.

    2. Keep it simple: Jon explained how he had appreciated reporting from Haiti after the earthquake had struck in January, because it went back to his roots – finding stories and telling them, simply, to viewers using all original footage and through this simplicity touching the hearts of millions .He pointed to the fact that £100 million was given by the British public to Haiti Relief partly as a result of the messages from broadcasters. Snow is planning to return soon to Haiti to follow up on the stories.

    3. Expect the unexpected: Tuesday 11 May was a moment of “complete magic” for Snow, as Channel 4 News went live outside Downing Street to broadcast the resignation of Gordon Brown.

    At 18 minutes past seven the car comes out and we have no idea where things are going. Normally the great thing about anchoring any programme is that you’ve got this thing [an earpiece], the lifeline, the umbilical chord to the producer, and they’re saying, ‘Jon he’s going to the Palace’. But they didn’t – I was hearing nothing but silence. I suddenly realised I was on a one-to-one adventure with the viewer. The viewer and I were equally ignorant about what was going to go on; it was a sublime moment of total equality when we were both peering at this helicopter image and the car was turning right and turning left.

    4. Have a point, but keep away from pressure: Snow said that TV had made the 2010 election with the Prime Ministerial debates dominating the agenda and the tabloid press having to follow that. The Murdoch-owned press fared especially badly, he said: “The tabloid press had a terrible, terrible election. They got it seriously wrong. Murdoch was beaten, in a fantastic moment in history Murdoch, decided to try and elect David Cameron and the Sun went out to bat for him. We now have the first government for a long time not elected with Rupert Murdoch’s support.”

    Then when questioned about the success of Channel 4’s comedy election night coverage and what that says about the British public, Snow said: “It tells you that people are real who necessarily wants to watch drab results with people as old as the ark coming out and saying ‘bark, bark’.”

    5. Keep your cool, but lose it if you must: Snow was very sympathetic to Sky News Political editor Adam Boulton about his outburst on air to Alastair Campbell on 10 May.

    It’s no good asking, ’should anybody have lost anything?’ He lost it, so what? Good God, the world would be duller place if people didn’t lose it (…) what’s misconduct? If he’s guilty of it I’ll have to go to the hang man’s noose.

    Snow said he saw Boulton’s outburst as a possible result of pressures building up on Boulton and Sky News to move along the road to a more Fox News’ style approach.

    Simple, to the point, straightforward – but that’s Jon Snow for you.

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    May 03 2010


    “Maximum information in minimum time”: Gauging social media’s merits

    As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently attended the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. One theme that became clear on panel after panel: in Italy, one of the lowest-ranked countries for press freedom in Europe, innovation is hampered not only by legacy journalistic infrastructure, but also by cultural and governmental traditions.

    In that environment, social media simply aren’t top-of-mind for most Italian journalists — who, as Vittorio Zambardino mentioned during our chat the other day, operate under a licensing system that tends to emphasize traditional standards over innovation. (It’s a system that’s “literally medieval,” several Italian journalists put it to me, referring to the guild structure the licensing system is based on.) It wasn’t until last summer’s Iranian revolution, said Carlo Felice della Pasqua, the editor of Il Gazzettino, that many Italian journalists had even heard of Twitter.

    Still, there’s arguably a market for social media in Italy. In a country where, per one study, many more people trust online news than trust TV news, social media could make inroads; the challenge, it seems, is convincing mainstream journalists that it’s worth their while to engage in it.

    That was the theme, at any rate, of the festival’s Social Media Editing panel, which brought together social media mavens from Italy (della Pasqua and the ONA’s Mario Tedeschini Lalli, who served as moderator), the rest of Europe (Robert Baltus of the Netherlands’ NOS News and Vicky Taylor, commissioning editor for new media news and current affairs for the UK’s Channel 4), and the U.S. (Josh Young, social news editor for the Huffington Post) to discuss the role of social media in the overall media landscape.

    Instead of the standard “whence social media” discussion, the panel ended up focusing more on the benefits of integrating social media into newsrooms that currently lack them. Here are some of the arguments the participants laid out.

    Developing communities

    Robert Baltus began by taking on a common assumption: When it comes to journalists’ use of social media, “we don’t have to build a community,” he said. Not because community doesn’t matter, but because “the community is already there.” It’s up to news organizations not to be creators, but to be developers — to identify and nourish communities that already exist.

    To that end, “we encourage all reporters, all presenters, and all individual producers on each program to have their own Twitter accounts,” Taylor said — because, among other things, that practice “humanizes a side of the newsroom.” Channel 4 has also established a presence on Facebook, given that a whopping 80 percent of its users have Facebook accounts. But they’ve concentrated their efforts on Twitter, she noted, because though the Twitter audience is smaller than its Facebook counterpart, its users tend to be more engaged.

    Developing stories

    What The Huffington Post has found, Young said, is that Twitter is “a really good place to source stories — and that’s true not just in politics, not just in entertainment…but in every single vertical we come across.”

    Responding to Tedeschini Lalli’s question about managing the volume of information on social networks, Young noted the recent earthquake in Haiti, a situation (like the Iranian revolution) where there were relatively few professional reporters on the ground at first, but relatively many Twitterers: NGO staffers and the like. The outlet created a page, which contained three columns of tweets organized by group — journalist, aid worker, etc.— and preceded by banner text: “Should you be in one of these lists? Send us an email.” The point was to curate information in a way that leveraged technology to achieve two of journalism’s basic mandates: sourcing and verification.

    “One of the beauties of the Huffington Post is that we’re also a technology company,” Young pointed out. “We have about 100 people, give or take; probably 15-20 percent of those people are developers.” And “figuring out a technologically-driven solution doesn’t have to be all that hard,” he said. In the Haiti example, in fact, “you can imagine a whole range of clever little technological solutions to solve problems like this.”

    Distributing stories

    “I’ve found that a really good way to show the success of Facebook and Twitter is to show people the numbers,” Young said. “One upshot of working at the Huffington Post is that we’re obsessed with numbers.” And while “it can be taken to excess,” he acknowledged of the HuffPost’s (in)famous SEO facility, ultimately that obsession is about connecting with readers. “How much do the people you’re writing for actually like what you’re writing, as evidenced by the clicks on the page?”

    “As a journalist,” Taylor noted, “ultimately you want the most people as possible consuming your work.” And “social networks are a really efficient way of getting the maximum information out in the minimum time.”

    They’re also an efficient way of measuring distribution. “Social media makes content quantifiable,” Taylor noted — so “it’s giving a sense to journalists that people are actually reading their content.”

    Baltus echoed that sentiment: “In the Netherlands,” he said, “journalists always look for some proof of their findings.” And part of his job is to demonstrate that social media itself can act as a route to that proof — and to be, as well, “a kind of ambassador to the more conservative sites around.”

    Experimentation as an end in itself

    Ultimately, trying something and seeing whether it works — even though you risk failure — is much more valuable than trying nothing and sticking with the status quo, the panelists agreed. “Nobody really knows how social media is going to affect the news,” Young noted. Because of that, “I think the challenge for a lot of us is to find something vague but really fundamental that we can build experiments on” — and to keep “trying to iteratively get to something less vague and more concrete. Nobody really knows what the future will hold, and it’s important to be humble about that, and open-minded.”

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