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May 27 2011


#newsrw: Making sense of the numbers in data journalism

The next big developments in data journalism is live data and also getting your audience involved, according the Martin Stabe, an interactive producer of FT.com.

He was one of four data journalists giving tips on what is in the data journalism toolkit and advice on tools, many of which are free and how to find the data and clean it.

James Ball, data journalist, the Guardian investigations team, worked on the WikiLeaks cables and  discussed the “use and abuse of statistics”.

He showed “a really awful infographic” on the amount of water it takes to make a pizza and a slice of bread.

“You don’t have to do must research to realise that is just tosh,” he said.

“We have to sense-check numbers.” He gave the example of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt giving expected TV viewers for the Royal Wedding of the unrealistic figure of two billion. The estimated audience was 300 million.

He asked: “Why might it matter?” And explained the dangers of bad statistics and bad journalism. “The best bit of your toolkit is understanding a bit of maths,” he advised.

Kevin Anderson, data journalism trainer and digital strategist, trained as a journalist in US, gave more tips on tools. One of the revolutions is access to data, the other is the access to tools, he said.

One tool in his kit is Google Docs. Google Spreadsheets, which Anderson used when he was at the Guardian and recommended the OUseful blog.

“You can import data live data feed,” he said, and suggests collecting your own data in a form. You can ask questions, including multiple choice, and embed the form it into a story.

For easy mapping tools he advises Google and Zeemaps. Once you have the data he said the next process is “link scraping”.

You can “grab data” from existing sources. He gives an example of using Outwit Hub, a plugin which works with Firefox, which allows you to pull in links, with the URLs, from any search and then export it as a Google Spreadsheet or SQL.

Anderson also recommends tools to order data from text. He gives the example of OpenCalais, a Thomson Reuters tool, which “allows you to see patterns in your own coverage” and connections between stories.

He also pointed journalists towards ThinkMap and gave the example of ‘Who Runs Hong Kong’, a data visualisation showing the connections of power.

“The ability for news organisations to extract more value through data journalism is a huge opportunity,” he said.

Martin Stabe, interactive producer, FT.com, who, like Anderson, is orginally from the states, described how data-driven news stories at FT.com are handled by a team.

He explained the team consists of a reporter, “who really knows the story”, a producer, like Stabe, a designer and a developer.

“One of the best things you can do in your newsroom is to get your head round administrative geography,” he said and understand statistical data.

He said it is very difficult to get data on all local authorities, on when they hold local elections and how their public spending is changing. Local data is often coded in different ways, he explained and gave the example of the “Cuts of £6bn hit the elderly the hardest” report on FT.com.

When you have a large dataset you need to ask questions. But data maybe “dirty” with a mix of local of coding conventions.

“The very act of cleaning the data is the key step,” he said.

“Data is only useful if it’s personal”, Bella Hurrell from the BBC recently said on Paul Bradshaw’s blog, a quote echoed by Stabe, giving the example on data collected on how likely a 16-year-old receiving free school lunches will get good or bad GCSE results.

He pointed out that readers are usually only interested in one area, one school, so an interactive version allows people to drill down. The data journalism steps are to obtain, warehouse and publish the data.

In obtaining the data, “sometimes we ask for it nicely” Stabe said, but usually the FT scrapes the data, and it then goes into a database.

His tips for journalists include learning how to manipulate text in Excel.

Next came advice from Simon Rogers, editor of the Guardian’s Data Store and Datablog.

Newspapers are all about the geography of the newsroom, he said, describing how he sits beside the investigations team and news desk.

He spoke about the difficulty in getting usable public data and dealing with the government’s “annual resource accounts”.

The Guardian is now providing ordered data to the people in government who supplied it, he explained.

The Guardian’s data work flow is: getting sent data, data from breaking news, recurring events and “theories to be exploited”. The journalists then have to think about how to “mash it together”, as the combined data makes it more inetersting.

A couple of Rogers’ tips are to use ManyEyes, Google Spreadsheets but “sometimes numbers alone are interesting enough to make a story,” he said.

He gave the example of a map made using Google Fusion Tables showing “patterns of awfulness” every death in Iraq mapped – which took about half an hour.

More recent examples include accessing data provided on the Nato Libya website. The site produces a daily archive for what happens each day, including data on missions.

Every day they add the NATO data to a map to show visually what has been hit where. It can also make stories as journalists notice patterns.


LIVE: Session 1A – The data journalism toolkit

We have Matt Caines and Ben Whitelaw from Wannabe Hacks liveblogging for us at news:rewired all day. You can follow session 1A ‘The data journalism toolkit’, below.

Session 1A features: Kevin Anderson, data journalism trainer and digital strategist; James Ball, data journalist, Guardian investigations team Martin Stabe, interactive producer, FT.com. Simon Rogers; editor, Guardian datablog and datastore. Moderated by David Hayward, head of journalism programme, BBC College of Journalism.

news:rewired – Session 1A: The data journalism kit

Sponsored post

February 14 2011


3 things that BBC Online has given to online journalism

It’s now 3 weeks since the BBC announced 360 online staff were to lose their jobs as part of a 25% cut to the online budget. It’s a sad but unsurprising part of a number of cuts which John Naughton summarises as: “It’s not television”, a sign that “The past has won” in the internal battle between those who saw consumers as passive vessels for TV content, and those who credited them with some creativity.

Dee Harvey likewise poses the question: “In the same way that openness is written into the design of the Internet, could it be that closedness is written into the very concept of the BBC?”

If it is, I don’t think it can remain that way for ever. Those who have been part of the BBC’s work online will feel rightly proud of what has been achieved since the corporation went online in 1997. Here are just 3 ways that the corporation has helped to define online journalism as we know it – please add others that spring to mind:

1. Web writing style

The BBC’s way of writing for the web has always been a template for good web writing, not least because of the BBC’s experience with having to meet similar challenges with Ceefax – the two shared a content management system and journalists writing for the website would see the first few pars of their content cross-published on Ceefax too.

Even now it is difficult to find an online publisher who writes better for the web.

2. Editors blogs

Thanks to the likes of Robin Hamman, Martin Belam, Jem Stone and Tom Coates – to name just a few – when the BBC did begin to adopt blogs (it was not an early adopter) it did so with a spirit that other news organisations lacked.

In particular, the Editors’ Blogs demonstrated a desire for transparency that many other news organisations have yet to repeat, while the likes of Robert Peston, Kevin Anderson and Rory Cellan-Jones have played a key role in showing skeptical journalists how engaging with the former audience on blogs can form a key part of the newsgathering process.

Unfortunately, many of those innovators later left the BBC, and the earlier experimentation was replaced with due process.

3. Backstage

While so many sing and dance about the APIs of The Guardian and The New York Times, Ian Forrester’s BBC Backstage project was well ahead of the game when it opened up the corporation’s API and started hosting hack days and meetups way back in 2005.

Backstage closed at the end of last year, just as the rest of the UK’s media were starting to catch up. You can read an e-book on its history here.

What else?

I’m sure you can add others – the iPlayer and their on-demand team; Special Reports; the UGC hub (the biggest in the world as far as I know); and even their continually evolving approach to linking (still not ideal, but at least they think about it) are just some that spring to mind. What parts of BBC Online have influenced or inspired you?

July 21 2010


#followjourn: @kevglobal – Kevin Anderson/freelance

#followjourn: Kevin Anderson

Who? Freelance journalist and digital strategist

Where? Kevin worked at the BBC for eight years, before being made the Guardian’s first blogs editor in September 2006. He went on to become digital research editor at the Guardian from 2009-2010. He writes on the blog Strange Attractor, and was a speaker at Journalism.co.uk’s June conference, news:rewired – the nouveau niche

Contact? @kevglobal

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips every day, we’re recommending journalists to follow online too. They might be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to laura at journalism.co.uk; or to @journalismnews.Similar Posts:

February 24 2010


Technology: both good and bad for human rights

At an interactive event at Amnesty UK on Monday, the panel, audience and back-channel contributors (tweets were beamed up on a screen behind) discussed the pros and cons of using technology for human rights. The underlying conflict was this: repressive governments and regimes can make as much use of new technology as pro-democracy activists.

The panel included Google’s head of public policy and government relations, Susan Pointer; Guardian’s digital media research editor, Kevin Anderson; Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communication at SOAS; and author and blogger Andrew Keen: who spoke from the US via an iPhone held up to the mic by the event chair, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

At the end, the conversation turned to Amnesty’s own changing use of technology to fight battles: letters were still important, said Steve Ballinger from its media unit. While email now played an important role, there was still something very “physical” about sending a letter, he said.

The event was put on by the human rights charity to promote its annual media awards, which freelancers, or journalists at small online publications, may be able to enter for free.

Amnesty also used the occasion to remind us of the plight of two bloggers from Azerbaijan. After producing a spoof YouTube video critical of the Azeri government last year, the youth activists were sentenced to prison; Emin Abdullayev for 2.5 years; Adnan Hajizade for two years. An appeal hearing is due for 3 March. Amnesty is calling for people to send protest emails to the minister of justice in Azerbaijan at this link.

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February 23 2010


Election fall out – between journalists

Following last week’s election 2.0 debate at the Frontline Club, the Guardian’s digital media research editor, Kevin Anderson shared some fairly critical thoughts on his personal blog. Moderator, Sky News political correspondent Niall Paterson (social media practitioner but sceptic) wasn’t too impressed by Anderson’s charges against him.

It’s difficult to summarise this one fairly, so I’d urge you to follow the link and read the 11 comments – most of them mini-essays – in full, if you’re interested in the election, journalists and the influence of social media in politics. But mostly if you’re interested in the politics of journalism 2010.

The subsequent blog run-in is very illustrative of some of the ongoing tensions in newsrooms: the perceived regard held for online-only journalists or social media specialists; the tools-for-tools sake debate; and how (or how not) to prioritise social media in our work.

Maybe, like Anderson says, we need to start thinking about the impact of social media on the people not the journalism at these events, but in the meantime, this debate is worth a read.

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January 29 2010


Journalism’s future at the Frontline: ‘The snails attacked us!’

“Aagh, it’s the attack of the snails!” is how Kevin Anderson, digital research editor at the Guardian described the news industry’s reaction to revenue destroying online technology – just what were publishers doing in the mid-90s when the web was first growing, he asked.

Anderson, who describes himself as a digital native since the web’s earliest days, joined a panel of fellow digital enthusiasts at the Frontline Club last night to discuss the dreaded ‘future of journalism’ question: RBI’s head of editorial development, Karl Schneider; Peter Kirwan, media columnist; and Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at Reuters Consumer Media.

Kirwan commented how few of the audience actually paid for news. Anderson also played the sceptical card, pointing out how the Guardian was looking to Guardian Professional and events for alternative funding streams.

Anderson also flagged up the potential for social enterprise type start-ups and collaborative working groups, such as ‘newsroom’ cafes in the Czech Republic.

Karl Schneider – who talked about the value of journalism in providing specific business services -  said that 60 per cent of RBI’s revenue comes from online. The industry was “too negative” about the scope for digital advertising, he added.

But the most practical tips of the night came from Ilicco Elia, in our breakout groups: if you’ve got a website, build a mobile site. Don’t make it complicated, make it as simple as possible. (If you want pointers,  he’ll no doubt be happy to help point you in the right direction: he’s @ilicco on Twitter.)

The crowd was as good value as the panel, with many of Journalism.co.uk’s favourite media bloggers: organiser Patrick Smith; Adam Tinworth from RBI; Kate Day, head of communities at the Telegraph; Martin Stabe, online editor at Retail Week;  and Jon Slattery… of the Jon Slattery Blog.

Excitingly we also had chance to spot the newbie Guardian beat bloggers (who later headed off for dinner with Guardian Local mentor/boss Sarah Hartley and new  colleague Kevin Anderson): Hannah Waldram (Cardiff); John Baron (Leeds) and Tom Allan (Edinburgh).

Those interested in continuing the discussion should check out the UK Future of News Group – and its regional nests, springing up over the UK (Brighton, South Wales and West Midlands, so far).

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December 24 2009

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