Notes from news: rewired – noise to signal
Journalists, developers, media executives and data specialists from The Guardian, the BBC, Thomson Reuters and other news outlets met to discuss data journalism and social media.
Held at Thomson Reuters’ London offices, the "News: Rewired" event could signal the dawn of a new, promising step for data-driven journalism in both the editorial and business side of the news industry.
Heather Brooke kicked off the event with a keynote on data journalism, based on her experience as a freedom of information campaigner advocating for more data transparency from UK government.
In Brooke's opinion the main problem facing data journalism in the UK is the lack of availability of meaningful data. For example, it was illegal to disclose the details of fire inspections, gather court information is a lengthy process and arrest reports are not publicly available documents. There is a reluctancy from the public authorities to release data as it is considered crucial to control public opinion.
Data can be the new dawn of journalism in the digital age as in a society overloaded with a constant stream of information coming in from multiple sources time-strapped people would need someone to signpost what is important - and that's what journalists and data specialists should concentrate on.
Data journalism isn't just about learning to use web tools and sofware, it's about having something meaningful to put on the table. This is what juornalists can offer because of their ability to sift through huge amounts of data for what is both important and true. According to Brooke, these skills and access to resources such as time and money to perform this tasks is the only thing that marks a professional journalist out from a citizen.
Asked about justified exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act, Brooke replied that we should think about the costs and dangers of keeping information secret rather than worry about the costs and dangers of making it public.
Some highlights from the sessions:
As highlighted in the following sessions, the digital revolution cut the cost of producing information opening up the newsmaking process to contribution of new players and offering new tools. However, human resources such as language skills are essential to verify information coming from the social media during the coverage of the japanese earthquake as demonstrated by the work of BBC Monitoring and Guardian.
Use and abuse of statistics
Powerful presentation of James Ball, ex Wikileaks now at the investigative team at the Guardian.
He highlighted how easy is to get data wrong if not managed carefully and how often wrong data gets published, in particular when using eye catching infographics.
OWNI’s Federica Cocco described as they had put together developers, designers and journalists to do great storytelling and innovative interactive content within a business model which sustains the not-for-profit activities by providing paid multimedia services to clients.
Tracking down eyewitnesses with social media
Interesting talk of Nicola Hughes from DataMinerUK explained how she had used social media tools such as Trendsmap, Tweetdeck and Topsy at CNN to track down eyewitnesses to events and get them on air.
Tips on tools in the data journalist’s toolkit
Tools suggested by speakers to help journalists develop their data stories:
-Outwit Hub a Firefox plugin which allows you to pull in and export links
-Zeemaps to create interactive maps
-Tableau as a data analysis and visualisation software
-Dipity a tool to create timelines
-OpenCalais, the Thomson Reuters’ toolkit of capabilities that allow to incorporate state-of-the-art semantic functionality within blog, content management system, website or application.
(By Andrea Menapace)