Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

This post is for December’s Carnival of Journalism where we were asked to write what would be the best present from programmers/journalists that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree? Stick people courtesy of xkcd.

My  Christmas wish from both programmers and journalists would be the realisation that both cultures are dependent on the goodwill and morals of their community in order to avoid corruption and ultimately disintegration of the integrity of their relative professions. No institution can govern fast enough to police either party. And from both I would like to see a sense of solidarity in our relative hopeless cases, as illustrated below. (Also I would like more coding lessons – teach a man to fish and whatnot…)

The Crisis

The Confrontation

The Cure?

I consume, code and curate news. I am no longer in the ‘newsroom’ per se, but taking a step back and looking deeper in to the nuts and bolts of the news platform has given me time for reflection. I reflect off hard surfaces. As such, I would like to present three sources of information that has my brain waves bouncing and the resultant concoction of “Sink/Source Journalism” i.e. a news model for the digital age.

Here are three reasons why news organisations needed micro-startups:

  1. A journal paper titled “Network Journalism: Converging Competences of Media Professionals and Professionalism“*
  2. A blog post by Alan Mutter called “Newspapers need a jolt of Silicon Valley DNA
  3. And a TEDx video by Jeff Jarvis called “This is Bullshit”:

Now you have my materials here are my thoughts. Journalism constrains the medium around the story, creating the source. Online media builds a platform to allow stories to form, thus creating a sink. Unlike most journalism students, I didn’t set up a blog to put my picture and CV on and upload all my ‘work’. I created a sink, a semantic sink. I wasn’t searching for something. I wanted to gather sources in order to find out what might be out there that I had not heard about. I want a medium which gathers inwards rather than expels outwards. This is the opposite of what journalism is, but I think it’s worth trying.

Alan Mutter writes: “With new technologies, media formats and business models emerging at an ever-quickening pace, newspapers must learn to think and act like start-ups – or risk falling to the margins of the media world.” What I would like to see implemented at a news organisation is a micro-startup team which builds sinks. A sink needs to iterate at the speed of web and its success will depend on whether it metamorphoses into a source of its own accord. What do I mean by this?

Philip Meyer, in his book “The Vanishing Newspaper” (2004), predicts that the final copy of the final newspaper will appear on somebody’s doorstep one day in 2043. Bardoel & Deuze suggested ten years ago that:

This is not to say that the end of mediated communication is near, but it only shows that due to new technology the exclusive hold of journalists on the gatekeeping function to private households comes to an end. Ironically, it was the old (newspaper) technology that has brought journalists in this privileged position, and it is the new (on-line) technology that might remove journalists from that position again … technology does not determine what will happen here, but it will take a patient process of ‘social shaping’ that determines what will be the impact of the new communications technologies

And as Jeff put it “We should question the form”. Now The Guardian has gone digital first. More will follow. But will they follow the old form? Again, Bardoel & Deuze a decade ago write:

For journalists it is quite a challenge – or should we say less ironically a threat – to serve this multi-faced and fragmented public, for whom the news ‘product’ is no longer sacred in se. Since the scarcity of the offering has turned into abundance people can make a choice, for journalistic selection and scope or for other information intermediaries. This, again, shows that the power relation is shifting.

This was known (albeit in academic circles) before the explosion of twitter and social media. And the reliance on social media to turn ‘old’ media into ‘new’ media is misguided. If the medium is the message then the community is the code. The part of the social media model that should be taken is: build a sink for a community and let them make it into a news source. But, from a news angle, your sink should not be an application per se. It should be built from open data. Make it opensource. Why? Because you need to make a prototype/alpha fast. Make it quick and dirty. If it works, other people can fork the code but they can’t fork the community. And that’s what makes a sink a source.

What sort of projects am I talking about? Well, things like Schooloscope, Who’s Lobbying, and The Public Whip. These are brilliant public information service sites but they cannot make it as a business. They have been made by dedicated developers who cannot maintain them as they have no business model. These ‘code communities’ of scraped information need to be adopted by news organisation. They have the resources and community links to change these code sinks into sources. In the way that B2B media make their money by hoarding and reselling data to individual businesses so the news organisation in the new digital age should adopt this model by scraping public data and reselling it to the individual. This is Bardoel & Deuze’s conclusion at the turn of the millennium:

Journalism will become a profession that provides services not to collectives, but first and foremost to individuals, and not only in their capacity as citizens, but also as consumers, employees and clients

The Public Whip has had to find a new home. Schooloscope and Who’s Lobbying are shutting down. The databases they gather and feed off are a resource for journalists. Their design interface is a valuable resource to the public. By integrating them into a news model, into a community of readers and informed citizens, they can become powerful sinks around which you build a community. And this becomes a powerful source for a news organisation. A source of revenue even.

The gathering of the data, in the form of scraping, is a huge hurdle for developers but should be a standard for the new age of digital journalism. Now the barriers to building a prototype quick and dirty using a community is being significantly lowered. The company I work for, ScraperWiki (disclosure here), is being built for that. I wanted to be part of that process and the open data movement because I believe this is the route to go down when it comes to a news model for the digital age: Sink/Source Journalism.

*Bardoel, Jo, Deuze, Mark, (2001). Network Journalism: Converging Competences of Media Professionals and Professionalism. In: Australian Journalism Review 23 (2), pp.91-103.

This week the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual State of the Media Report. The findings are based on American media, which is the same species as the UK media but of a different tribe. Nevertheless, I think a lot of the findings ring true for the media sector here.

Unsurprisingly, newspapers are still in crisis and migration to the web gathered speed. But what struck me is the acknowledgement of what I’ve been realising since I started in the media around two years ago:

In the 20th century, the news media thrived by being the intermediary others needed to reach customers. In the 21st, increasingly there is a new intermediary: Software programmers, content aggregators and device makers control access to the public. The news industry, late to adapt and culturally more tied to content creation than engineering, finds itself more a follower than leader shaping its business.

The ideology which has kept the media industry bolstered as a self-regulating trade rather than a profession has crumbled. That is, news organizations are no longer the gatekeepers of information. Yes, the industry has changed. The market has changed. The users have changed. But what is key, which news organizations are frightened to admit, is that we are no longer gatekeepers. Journalism has lost its identity.

The report talks about data in the form of information on consumption. How, why and through what are people getting news. That’s no longer in the hands of the news organizations. We know this. We might not know what to do about it but we accept the reality.

What we haven’t accepted is that this is happening to the very substance on which we work, not just to the medium. We now have the community, formerly known as the audience. We now have the data, formerly known as information. And as a result we now have the platform, formerly known as the media.

What the social web has done is build a platform where users construct their own information gates. I didn’t realise this at the time, but that is what I was doing when I was exploring the web as a newsgathering tool. My media is what I’ve managed to create by social searching the web for applications and cultivating my data sources. Because I had access to the wires service, I found that not only was I able to be ahead of them on many occasions but the reality I was able to construct was a lot richer.

A tweet that recently got quite a bit of traction among the SXSW audience, was  this one:

@robinsloan The way to cover big news in 2011 is not “here’s what happened”. It’s “here’s how to follow the story”.

Because information is being made into data it can be uploaded, linked and shared. And because social media is making money at an alarming rate (more so than mainstream), it’s becoming easy for people to take information into their own hands and become gatekeepers.

Maybe it’s time for the media to start looking at data platforms as a new substance to use for reporting. That’s what I’m hoping to be about.

With the next set of WikiLeaks due out soon I thought I’d remind everyone that the first release of the Afghan War Logs highlighted the importance of datajournalism.

Here’s a guide the good people at The Guardian made. They are one of the few champions when it comes to datajournalism. Well recommended reading indeed.



Frontline Club


Find out  how top data-driven journalists collate, analyse and present vast amounts of facts and figures into interactive graphics, searchable databases and fascinating charts.


Wednesday, 22nd September at 07:00 PM


13 Norfolk Place
London W2 1QJ


What would you do if someone handed you 90,000 unfiltered documents and asked you to make a story out of it?


Amazing value with words of wisdom from all the presenters.

Simon Rogers (@smfrogers) from The Guardian talked about how data journalism involves treating numbers in a journalistic manner and not just publishing the press release that accompanies the release of data. Interestingly, he doesn’t think that data journalists necessarily need to code and that crowd-sourcing is not a realistic way of turning data into stories. I love the fact that he referred to his web developer as ‘Grand Master Flash’. I also think that The Guardian is now going to be the first place to go to for data not the ONS.

Julian Burgess (@aubergene) from The Times gave a really in depth presentation (as in depth as it can be for a coder to give to journalists) showcasing some of the Times work (sadly behind the paywall). I particularly liked their remembering 9/11 interactive which is just a notepad that reveals the texts and pagers sent from New York that day. I loved his rferral to scraping codes as ‘an infinite number of interns’.

David McCandless (@infobeautiful) from Information is Beautiful gave a hugely entertaining presentation saying you don’t need to be a designer to make information beautiful. He also pointed out that data needs a human filter so that you can structure your visual so that it tells a story. For him, the story is what matters. He’s right when he says you need to see what’s important in the data and concentrate on what people should focus on in the visual. Design is about reducing information.

And then there was Michael Blastland from the Frontline Club who can read data and pick apart its construction. For data journalists there are three stages: data hunger (where I am now), data savy (where I’m going), and data presentation (where I want to end up).  Some of his pearls of wisdom included: “Finding your data is tough, knowing what your data does is even tougher” and “data is always wrong, the question is how wrong”. Watch the full event