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October 28 2010


Flyposting newspaper websites


Imagine the scene. I’m on the bus. I’ve found a seat that isn’t near the bloke who shouts at cars and smells vaguely of rabbits. My headphones are in (but not too loud,of course).

I take out my copy of the Birmingham Post and open it up. Scanning around the page I see an article that catches my eye. But just before I start reading…the person sat behind me pulls out a pot of wallpaper paste and slathers a great billboard poster across the top of the page.

It turns out that in scanning around I inadvertently caught the eye of an advert nestling in the corner of the page.

Sound plausable? No I didn’t think so.

So please stop doing it on your bloody websites newspaper people.

That is all.

October 21 2010


Creating an emergency notification system in 15 hours

I’ve written a post on the Scraperwiki blog about a hackathon I attended where a small group of developers and people with experience of crowdsourcing in emergencies created a fantastic tool to inform populations in an emergency.

The primary application is non-journalistic, but the subject matter has obvious journalistic potential for any event that requires exchanges of information. Here are just some that spring to mind:

  • A protest where protestors and local residents can find out where it is at that moment and what streets are closed.
  • A football match with potential for violence (i.e. local derby) where supporters can be alerted of any trouble and what routes to use to avoid it.
  • A music festival where you could text the name of the bands you want to see and receive alerts of scheduled appearances and any delays
  • A conference where you could receive all the above – as well as text updates on presentations that you’re missing (taken from hashtagged tweets, even)

There are obvious commercial applications for some of the above too – you might have to register your mobile ahead of the event and pay a fee to ensure you receive the texts.

Not bad for 15 hours’ work.

You can read the blog post in full here.

October 10 2010


Local newspaper data journalism – school admissions in Birmingham

data journalism at the Birmingham Mail - school admissions data

The Birmingham Mail has been trying its hand at data journalism with school admissions data. It’s a good place to start - the topic attracts a lot of interest (and so justifies the investment of time) while people tend to be interested in more than just who finishes top and bottom of the tables (justifying the choice of medium).

The results are impressive. Applications data is plotted on a Google map on the main page, while an “interactive chart” page allows you to compare schools across various criteria, and also narrow the sample by selecting from two drop down menus (town and school).

The charts have been made in Tableau, which includes a download link at the bottom. However, you need Tableau itself (free, but PC only) to open it.

A further page features links to tables for each area. Sadly, the pages containing tables do not contain any link to the raw data. This presents an extra hurdle to users – although you can scrape the table into a Google spreadsheet using the =import formula. If you want to see how, here’s a spreadsheet I created from the data by doing just that. Click on the first cell to see the formula that generates it.

I asked David Higgerson, Trinity Mirror’s Head of Multimedia and the man whose name appears on the Tableau data, to explain the process behind the project. It seems the information was a combination of freely available data and that acquired via FOI.

“The Mail took the data available – number of places available, number of first choice applicants and number of total applicants – and worked out a ratio of first choice applicants per place. This is relevant to parents because councils try to allocate places to children based on preference once they’ve decided which schools a child is eligible for. Eligibility varies depending on type of school.

“The figures showed how popular faith schools were, and also how fierce competition was for places at grammar schools. That’s the story which generated most interest.

“As you’ve said on your blog, the hardest part was making the data uniform, and the making it relevant to readers.

“In print, it ran across three days. Day one was grammar schools, day two was all schools and day three revealed how catchment areas for oversubscribed schools which use distance from school to fill their last few places.

“Online, Google Fusion was used to create maps, Tableau for the interactive chart which lets people choose based on town or school, and Tableizer for the quick tables which appear in the section too. We also had a play with Scribble Maps, which we think has real potential for print/online newsrooms.”

It seems education reporter Kat Keogh deserves the credit for spotting the stories in the data, “with the usual support you’d expect in the newsroom – newsdesk etc.”

David and Anna Jeys experimented with the online presentation and others laid out the data for print.

September 27 2010


Hyperlocal Voices: Julia Larden (Acocks Green Focus Group)

Hyperlocal voices - Acocks Green Focus Group blog

Today’s Hyperlocal Voices interview is with Julia Larden, chair of the Acocks Green Focus Group blog, which campaigns to make Acocks Green a “better place to live, work and shop”. The group was established in 2004 and the blog followed in 2007. “We are less likely to get confused or get our facts slightly muddled” than professional journalists, says Julia. Here’s the full interview:

Who were the people behind the blog, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?

That’s a bit complicated. Originally the blog was set up, more as a straight website, by a member who has long since left the area. It was not working very well at that time, and the ex-member was also asking for quite a lot of money to carry it on. I don’t think the member had any particular background in IT – he was in education, although he has set up a few small websites of his own. I had done some work for it, written some materials and supplied some photographs. My son, who runs a small software company, agreed to take the whole thing into his care for a bit.

Things lay dormant and then, when my son had time he simply picked the content up and plonked the whole thing into a WordPress blog – one of the slightly posher ones that you have to pay a bit for, but he has some sort of contract and can get quite a few of these blogs, so the group just pays him a very nominal sum each year.

It then sat there for a bit longer with not very much happening except the occasional comment, and then several members pointed out that it was a valuable resource which we were not using properly.

One of the members had web experience (running his own online teaching company) and started to make it into a far more interesting blog, asking for more materials, creating new pages and adding in bits and pieces and an opinion survey of the area – as a launch gimmick. (We have kept that – it still gets a lot of interest – more since I shifted it to another page, for some reason.)

Eventually she didn’t have much time. At my son’s urging I nervously started to do tiny bits and pieces and then realized that WordPress is really, really simple. It’s ‘blogging by numbers’, as far as I can see. Now I enjoy it and do all of it. I have zero I.T. background. Again, my own background is education. Mainly I teach English Literature and Film Studies to adults.

I did sort of come into it with a background of amateur P.R. I suppose – have been doing press releases on and off for 30 years, mainly, previously, for the local CND group (and am launching a brand new CND group blog, properly, very shortly.) and, from time to time, to promote courses I am teaching – I still do that sometimes. Up until recently local papers generally used my press releases. In these times that is getting harder …

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

Nobody really – this was a couple of years ago and there wasn’t exactly a lot out there re: local blogs. (There is more on our blog that got ‘lost’ – we had one major crash last year.)

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?

We are the same in that we put the news, and our opinions out there. We are different because we can do more.

We are less likely to get confused or get our facts slightly muddled (Not knocking local journos, we know some great ones, but they don’t always live round the corner, and have other stories to cover!)

We can give more. We can put in as many links as we like – both down the side, and in posts, without cluttering things up. The sidebar links are a way of giving some idea who we like and/or work with, as well. (Two Lib-Dems but we have no political affiliations, incidentally.)

We can have big permanent collections of photos and other data on other pages than the main blog page – a ‘library’ in fact. We can put in whole documents, like local plans, which we often do, and set it up so things can be blown up large on screen. In fact we seem to be better than the local council at present, at providing this kind of facility!

We also have ‘quick response’ – a threatened local building of merit for example, can be on the blog the same day as we find out about it. We can help get the word out fast.

We also have a talk back facility, of course. We hope we don’t lose our local press though – they can still cover a lot of households quickly – and help point people to us, as well.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Blimey – probably each time someone took the blog over it was a ‘key moment’. Otherwise, I think it has just kind of developed gradually.

What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?

I just go by the posts that get the most attention. Those that give details of plans tend to get a lot of hits (which is satisfying), as do the latest posts. We get a huge amount of stuff about the old Swan centre at Yardley, which worries me, because we are only peripheral to that, and I think Yardley urgently needs its own blog.

We get quite a few people asking for ‘Acocks Green MP’ – no such person of course, but the constituency MP is John Hemming and there is a link to his blog from our site, so, hopefully, people looking for ‘Acocks Green MP’ find their way to that – quite a few people do click on the Hemming blog. Do they sometimes really want a councillor, though, I wonder?

We also get a remarkable amount of people asking about the re-design at Kensington and miscellaneous enquiries, e.g. about bus routes, which suggest to me that there needs to be a general info website for every area, whilst we are a specialist site, focusing on the group work of campaigning on fixed features in the area (and some we would like to be unfixed)

Anything else you feel has been important in the development of the blog that hasn’t been covered?

Oh – photography. My partner does most of the photographs. He used to do them for press releases too, although we do fewer of those these days (just not getting so much stuff into the papers, so the blog is more important). We tend to work as a team. He’s won a mention on the Birmingham Post & Mail Flickr competition a couple of times now, and I think he is quite good. I think good photos help.

September 15 2010


Hyperlocal voices: Jon Bounds (Birmingham: It’s Not Shit)

Hyperlocal blog Birmingham: it's not shit

Jon Bounds surely has the claim to the most memorable title of a hyperlocal blog. Birmingham: It’s Not Shit (“Mildly sarcastic since 2002″) is a legend of the local and national blogging scene in which Jon has been a pioneer. In the latest of my ‘Hyperlocal Voices’ series, he describes the history of the site:

Who were the people behind BiNS, and what were their backgrounds before setting it up?

There was, and to a large extent still is, just me Jon Bounds. Although I’ve now got a couple of ‘columnists’ and feel that there are people around that I can call on to let me have a break.

I’ve an odd background of a Degree in Computer Science and a postgrad (CIty & Guilds) qualification in Journalism (and a brief, not entirely successful time as a freelancer on very poor music publications), but it was really working on internet design books in the late 90s that made me think about “the web” as a method of sharing.

As a kid I’d run fanzines (computer games and later football), but there were real creatives getting to grips with the web at that time and that was exciting.

What made you decide to set up the blog?

The blog part of the site came a couple of years after the site itself — which was originally a much flatter website with funny articles/video and a forum. The idea behind the site came as a direct reaction to the terribly drab view of the city that Marketing Birmingham/the Council put forward for the European City of Culture bid in 2002 — and the fact that all of the local media went unquestioningly with it.

Birmingham wasn’t – and still isn’t – a city of loft living and canalside bars, yet “organisations” only seemed comfortable with that little bit of it. To cover the bits of Brum that real people recognise and care about is still the main thrust of the site.

The forum was the real heart of the site, it was a great source of inspiration and support — but it waned after the switch to more in-depth blogging: people migrated to commenting instead. The community still exists, it’s just spread more widely — across people’s own sites, Twitter etc.

When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?

The first pass was hand-written by me in PHP — it was an easy way to add new content to the site, and be more flexible about what that was (with the link log/blog I could justify covering smaller and more time dependant things).

I later expanded it to a separate blog with Blogger, but that wasn’t very connected — so I quickly moved over to a self-hosted WordPress install so I could integrate the whole site.

For content, it started mainly giving links and information about local events — stuff which wasn’t and still to a certain extent isn’t easy to find in one place. It came from me searching the web and the media by hand. There wasn’t an attempt to do “news” as you’d conventionally see it.

What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?

There were very few blogs around when I started, at least none that were covering local areas that I’d seen — it was mostly inspired by the attitudes and community around Popbitch.com and b3ta.com. They handle community and real events in a very grown-up way — trusting people to contribute, self police and comment without hyperbole on news events and history.

For all that the communities are built around the creation and consumption of seemingly trivial they are fantastic sources of information. Popbitch was the only site still working on 11/09/01 and the people there handled the unfolding story in a genuine way — something that mainstream media just didn’t do.

When transitioning to a more standard blog format, Pete Ashton’s series of posts on Birmingham were useful (sorry best link is http://peteashton.com/page/2/?s=%22brum+blog%22) as something contemporaneous — Diamond Geezer (despite being about #thatlondon) was and is somewhat of an influence too.

How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation? How are you different and how are you the same?

I didn’t see any relation to trad news when BiNS started. We got a little bit of coverage (some patronising, some ‘shock horror’) when the site first started and then were roundly ignored for a good few years (except when the Sunday Mercury would dip in to the forums every so often for some filler).

There was originally no attempt to cover the same things — the site was a reaction against how the city was being shown. There was deliberately uncensored commenting (bar removal of libel/racism – of which there was very little) and a tendency to cover the more esoteric of Birmingham’s charms.

While I’d like to think that that’s how BiNS still operates, it has moved slightly towards news coverage – particularly in attempting to hold an eyeglass to the operations of the larger orgs that run the city. It’s also had a bit of a campaigning zeal to point out any churnalism or obviously uncritical reporting of (council especially) activity. There is a lot of this in Brum still.

What BiNS doesn’t try to do is to cover the same stuff that people will see in the trad news media — that would stretch resources and dilute the voice — when facts are there it’ll just link.

There has been a movement towards BiNS’s style by some of the proper outlets (including them asking me to contribute) – BBC Midlands Today’s coverage of the “Wolverhampton Ring Road Tramp” seemed to me to be something that they really wouldn’t have done when Birmingham: It’s Not Shit started – it tried to be sentimental and have an arched eyebrow about a story that it probably wouldn’t have touched years before. I’m not saying BiNS was responsible, but the way people could converse on the net has changed the media.

I think there are certain journalistic standards (although not the same often-false idea of neutrality) that the site shares with trad media – and some where I (unbowing to commercial or sales pressures) am free to have higher standards.

What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?

Interestingly, I feel it’s what I could leave out as other blogs and sites started up in Birmingham — the success of Created in Birmingham of rounding up (in a fairly uncritical manner) a lot of the creative stuff going on in the city meant that BiNS could concentrate on what it does best rather than trying to cover everything. The more blogs, the more linking there has been to replace what would otherwise be dry stuff as I don’t know enough about it — people with more knowledge and interest do it better.

My leaving the BBC, years ago now, gave me more freedom to comment on things — but it sort of coincided with the mainstreaming of the blog (a little after came the Birmingham Post putting me at number 14 in their Power 50 list).

Certainly being known personally (and knowing, to an extent) the people that I was covering made some posts more circumspect — and some items not covered at all. This could well be an inevitable problem for the more successful local blogs.

That said, knowing that some people in authority are irritated by it gives some reason behind some of the more campaigning coverage.

Anything else you feel has been important in the development of the blog that hasn’t been covered?

That I’m not a journalist, nor have aspirations to be one gives the site freedom — that it doesn’t solicit adverts (the few on the site are unpaid favours to friends) gives it a strength. A strength to not cover things that aren’t interesting, and to be seen as independent.

The name of the site was critical in both positioning it and getting attention in the early days, and while it no doubt hampers it at some junctions (it rarely gets a link from the press, for example) it sort of keeps it on track — there’s no point in going ‘mainstream’ with “shit” in the URL. It’s also a template for the sort of humour that I’d hope is still part of it.

September 13 2010


The first Birmingham Hacks/Hackers meetup – Monday Sept 20

Those helpful people at Hacks/Hackers have let me set up a Hacks/Hackers group for Birmingham. This is basically a group of people interested in the journalistic (and, by extension, the civic) possibilities of data. If you’re at all interested in this and think you might want to meet up in the Midlands sometime, please join up.

I’ve also organised the first Hacks/Hackers meetup for Birmingham on Monday September 20, in Coffee Lounge from 1pm into the evening.

Our speaker will be Caroline Beavon, an experienced journalist who caught the data bug on my MA in Online Journalism (and whose experiences I felt would be accessible to most). In addition, NHS Local’s Carl Plant will be talking briefly about health data and Walsall Council’s Dan Slee about council data.

All are welcome and no technical or journalistic knowledge is required. I’m hoping we can pair techies with non-techies for some ad hoc learning.

If you want to come RSVP at the link.

PS: There’s also a Hacks/Hackers in London, and one being planned for Manchester, I’m told.

August 03 2010


The New Online Journalists #9: Amy McLeod

As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, Amy McLeod talks about her path from the BBC to setting up a website offering graduate advice.

I had no idea that I wanted to be a journalist when I left university; I graduated with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from St Edmund Hall, Oxford University in 2008.  I had, however, made a number of short films which served as a useful starting point and got me work experience for the BBC.

Once in the building I talked my way into the current affairs development department and found myself working as a journalist.  I heard about the intriguing future plans for BBC content management and worked alongside Phillip Trippenbach, who was responsible for multimedia development – he made me realise the enormous potential that digital technology provides.  

In my spare time I learnt HTML and started work on a few fledgling coblogeration projects.  Thankfully I built up a relationship with a good web developer which meant I could be more ambitious with regard to the functionality of sites I was working on.


I needed training to progress and so I opted for a fast track NCTJ which was far more affordable than a Masters (but probably not as good value for money).

Digital journalism was not covered at all; I set up a hyperlocal site for the college locality and encouraged my fellow students to use the platform to build up their portfolios.

I had several work experience placements on newspapers but the employment prospects were bleak. I wanted to work online but concentrate on producing written content so I moved from London to my home town Birmingham and set up www.rightfield.co.uk - a website that offers advice to recent graduates on how to use online platforms when starting out.

Doing it yourself

I interviewed innovative people and discovered Birmingham’s lively social media scene.  Thanks to Twitter, that network and my online portfolio I was approached by the University of Warwick to write for a new pilot website project that was being developed to provide better access to their online and research resources.

I currently write articles, record podcasts and research stories for the site.  I mainly produce 800-1000 word feature pieces based on a particular academic’s research, but I also contribute to developing the longer-term strategy that will see academics publish content to the site themselves.  I really enjoy that part of the job – figuring out ways to help people make the most of new media – the more the merrier!

My plan is to continue investing time in learning digital technology skills, finding ways to make use of these new capabilities while all the time improving on the basics – interviewing, research and telling a good story.
I think it is vital to remain open-minded about your career progression so you can respond positively to opportunities that present themselves. At the moment I am experimenting with translating datasets into infographics.

July 03 2010


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


Announcing the Birmingham Hacks & Hackers day

If you are a journalist, blogger or developer interested in the possibilities of public data I’d be very happy if you came to a Hack Day I’m involved in, here in Birmingham on Friday July 23.

The idea is very simple: we get a bunch of public data, and either find stories in it, or ways to help others find stories.

You don’t need technical expertise because that’s why the hackers are there; and you don’t need journalistic expertise because that’s why the hacks are there.

What I’m particularly excited about in Birmingham is that we’ve got a real mix of people coming – from press and broadcast, and local bloggers, and hopefully a mix of people with backgrounds in various programming languages and even gaming.

And apart from all that there should be free beer and pizza. Which is the important thing.

So come.

The day is being organised by Scraperwiki and we’ve already got a whole bunch of interesting people signed up.

You can register for the day here.


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.

May 21 2010


#JEEcamp: What does the election result mean for publishers and start-ups?

We had breakout groups at today’s JEECamp pre-lunch and I got too absorbed in my chosen session (media law & ethics) to tweet or blog but you can find a summary by @owmyfoothurts here, at this link.

The next session:

Panel: What does the election result mean for publishers and startups? Sion Simon (former Labour creative industries minister), Matt Wardman (Blogger, The Wardman Wire), Stewart Kirkpatrick (Founder, Caledonian Mercury), and Mark Pack (co-editor, Liberal Democrat Voice).

A few notes:

The session kicks off with a discussion on government data. Sion Simon says he can’t imagine why the new Lib-Con coalition would not proceed with open data plans. But, he says, it would be a new government getting the credit for the spadework a previous government had done.

Then over to blogger Mark Pack: he says there’s huge amount of information out there and it’s a necessity for lots of people outside traditional media to make use of that data. This, he says, will give a huge boost to hyperlocal and outside traditional media coverage. It will be painful for local authorities to be held to account (but it’s important).

Matt Wardman pays tribute to Tom Watson (not in the room) and Sion Simon for their role in the campaign for open data. But for him the big trend is the possible break down of the Westminster “political bubble” and the London “media bubble”, as independent outlets break stories.

How it will the coalition affect reportage?

Sion Simon says we’re in the honeymoon period of government at the moment (Tony Blair’s was ‘like living in a pink candyfloss cloud’ he says).  “Everybody loves it, it’s all great”. But, he adds, all the qualitative research that been done over the past few years shows that the public ask ‘why can’t they all get on with each other’. The public reaction to the coalition then, is positive.

The newspapers are motivated by, or reflect, the readers. Over time, it will give way to a negative dynamic: the tension between the fourth estate and the political classes.  Don’t expect the big society to save the coalition from the press, warns Simon.

Matt Wardman is hopeful for resources such as theyworkforyou.com, where you’ll be able to look up what ministers said 14 years ago. “I want to see that happen at a local level,” he says. Local bloggers need to pick up the sort of skills to do freedom of information requests. He wants to see the sort of skills that are used nationally and used more widely.

The Birmingham City students have liveblogged the session here.

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#JEEcamp: Simon Waldman – developing online businesses (beyond what Google would do)

Journalism.co.uk is at JEEcamp in Birmingham today. It’s the third such annual informal event for journalism experimentation and enterprise. But organiser Paul Bradshaw says it will be the last.

I’m trying a One Man and His Blog style live blog today, as long as the dongle holds up. You can also follow #jeecamp tweets here: http://bit.ly/aeb9BV.

First up, Simon Waldman the outgoing digital strategy and development director of Guardian Media Group. He’s off to Love Film as product director, and the session so far reflects that cross-sector flexibility.

He’s talking about what people like about the web: challenging authority (through Christmas number one campaigns for example) and stuff that’s free and cheap.

Each time technology comes out, our behaviour changes, he says. What has wifi changed, for example? Well, we can all sit round tweeting what he is saying. With wifi, you can watch TV and have the laptop on your lap (‘bellyvision’!).

Waldman says he thinks we’ve got another decade of “quite profound change”.

He says that  it’s not necessarily a Jeff Jarvis ‘what would Google do’ question, because Google would be doing it. The Guardian’s Sarah Hartley tweeted this great quote: ‘looking at what Google would do and attempting to copy it is like me looking at Rooney & attempting to play football like him’.

Waldman looked at IBM and says that if a company like that can turn its business around, there’s hope for the rest of us.

Companies need to transform their core business, he says: it’s about making sure your business as a whole is in good shape.

Innovation needs tight deadlines and speed. He’s not sure about the Economist’s Project Red Stripe for example. Entrepreneurs get on and do things, he says.

The kind of businesses editors and publishers think about are quite difficult to scale (at this point he says he’s not going to spill any beans about the Guardian – boo!).

There’s a load of challenges ahead – for at least the next decade and a half. Now is a fantastic time to be entrepreneurial, but think really carefully about how big it can be, says Waldman.

Find someone who can help you turn into a real business. “Do brilliant things,” he says.  Waldman can never stop being grateful that his career coincided with digital explosion, he says.

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#JEECamp: Follow live

Today we’re up in Birmingham for the JEECamp unconference. Follow the live blog below for tweets and comments from the conference.

JEEcamp is an opportunity for a range of people to get together to talk about how on earth journalists and publishers can make a living from journalism in the era of free information, what the challenges are, and what we’ve learned so far.

You’ll find details of the day at this link: http://jeecamp.pbwiki.com/. It has a flexible agenda, but the keynote will be given by Simon Waldman, digital director, Guardian Media Group.

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March 08 2010


The first Birmingham #data Coffee

On Thursday I’ll be hosting Birmingham’s first ‘Data Coffee’. Guests include The Times’ Jonny Richards, Talis’ Zach Beauvais and, hopefully, someone from Scraperwiki – along with a whole bunch of MA Online Journalism students.

There’s no agenda for the day – just turn up with questions and we’ll pick each other’s brains. I’m bringing my Mac and an intense desire to get to grips with Python.

It’s at Coffee Lounge on Navigation Street (free wifi). We’ll start to gather around 10 with the bulk of the day taking place from 12 onwards.

November 20 2009

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