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July 15 2011


July 02 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

festival rainfall in the past 3 decades

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

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

July 01 2010


From Bryan Adams to Neil Young: Canadian Music Wiki

Wondered what Neil Young’s been up to lately? Or k.d. lang? Or Avril Lavigne?

If so…meet Canadian Music Wiki, the collaborative site dedicated to, yes, Canadian music. The project, the brainchild of the Vancouver-based j-school student and music journalist Amanda Ash, adds a new dimension to the crowdsourcing-of-information ethos behind projects like Wikipedia: It’s crowdsourcing culture. “This project,” the site explains, “is dedicated to using collaborative and social media to enrich Canada’s music scene by creating a comprehensive guide to Canadian music. We welcome your contributions.”

So the site’s not fully comprehensive yet (Justin Bieber’s not in there, for example, which means that the site is both incomplete and tasteful) — but, then, it’s also young. It came about as Ash’s masters thesis, part of the arts and culture journalism program at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism; the wiki was one aspect of a broader examination of public media’s new mandate in the digital world. (The digital journalist and UBC professor Alfred Hermida was Ash’s — and the project’s — adviser.) In August of 2009, Ash received a $15,000 grant from the internship facilitator MITACS Accelerate to develop her idea for a music wiki into a full-fledged, public site, in conjunction with CBC Radio 3. In September, she began her internship with Radio 3, working with the network to develop the wiki into a site that would become both a resource and an outlet for music fans in Canada and beyond.

The wiki had its public launch just over a month ago, in late May. Since then, it has generated around 14,000 page views, Ash told me, and — probably a more meaningful metric for a wiki — 2,300 pages of original, crowd-sourced content about Canadian music (everything from albums to songs, labels to venues, stores to studios). Ash and Hermida attribute that response in part to the wiki’s topic itself: Music is one of those things that, whether you’re into Broken Social Scene or the Crash Test Dummies or Shania Twain or even Justin Bieber (the hair, the hair, we get it), people tend to feel strongly about — and committed to. “It seems like people are happy to have a resource out there where the average fan can contribute,” Ash says. The wiki adds an extra element of democratization to music culture. “It’s kind of this two-way dialogue.”

That puts the wiki on the receiving end of one of the most sought-after resources in journalism: engagement. One mystery for news organizations — and, if solved, probably the closest we’ll come to a financial silver bullet — is how to leverage the interests, and the passions, of the crowd. And, yes, if there’s anything people tend to be passionate about, it’s music. But not just music, the product, tellingly — but music, the community: the concerts, the camaraderie, the shared knowledge of a group’s history and sensibility. Music is “one of those niche topics that people can create communities around,” Ash says. And while there’s no shortage of online outlets that serve those communities — MySpace, Pitchfork, and on and on — what a wiki offers is centralization by way of information. “MySpace is fragmented,” Hermida points out; and, on the other side of the scale, much of traditional music journalism focuses on pushing content out rather than pulling communities in. A wiki is a kind of middle ground: it gives and gets at the same time.

In that, the Canadian Music Wiki — a resource for journalism, more than a strict product of it — puts a culture-specific spin on the Wikipedia effect we’re seeing in journalism: It hints at a future of news that marries content with context, information with conversation, old news with new…all in a single platform. A wikified approach to music “flips the broadcast model on its head,” Hermida says. But it also fulfills a broader, and perhaps even more relevant, mandate: It “helps Canadians express themselves.”

March 17 2010


True/Slant: Can you crowdsource music journalism?

Leor Galil reviews AOL’s recent experiment in covering the music portion of massive US festival and conference SXSW: AOL offered 2,000 $50-assignments to create coverage of the event for its music site Spinner. The freelancers were recruited via freelance content site Seed.com with the aim of covering all 2,000 bands appearing at the festival.

There’s a certain crassness to AOL’s experiment. The very concept places more weight on quantity vs quality, and the setup undermines the very ideals and democratic nature of web publishing and blogging. With blogging, most bloggers pour their blood, sweat, tears, time and love into a little blog that may not get a lot of hits: many see zero monetary gain. It’s a labour of love, and the best content (or most creative, etc) tends to rise to the top and get noticed. And, one hopes, those who are able to create some fantastic content on a consistent basis can begin to establish themselves online and perhaps make some money for their hard work.

Full post at this link…

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March 07 2010


November 25 2009

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