By Guido Romeo
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)
This coming Sunday and the following Monday morning Italians will vote on their governement's decision to restart Italy's nuclear power production, entirely dismantled after the 1987 referendum.
Voters are called to decide not simply on a technology, but also on the long term consequences for the country's health and environment as well on their trust in their delegates (which, at the 150th anniversary of the Country seems at an historical low).
Supporters of the "Sì" (yes) aim at abolishing paragraphs 1 and 8 of article 5 of the governement's proposal while the "No" campaign for pursuing a nuclear infrastructure.
The issue seems slightly less ideological than 14 years ago, as many hardcore environmentalists, including Stuart Brand, author of "The Whole Earth Catalogue" and more recently "The Whole Earth Discipline" have expressed themselves in favor of fission, and it is interesting to see how the two fronts have made, at points, very different communication choices.
Forum Nucleare, the non profit association launched to stimulate a debate on atomic energy, has invested in a video communication aiming to address the issue in a simple and straightforward way. This has backfired as the clip has been widely perceived power and not as balanced as initially announced and quite biased in favour of nuclear.
More innovative is the work of the 12 information designers leading to the Atlante Nucleare (Nuclear atlas). This collaborative project supporting the Sì front was coordinated by
Gianni Sinni and Cristiano Lucchi, who also conceived it.
This is openly grass-roots communication. Those data are correct, well reported and selected to support the argument. Result: the "Say-No-to-Nuke" line comes across loud and clear.
Among the 12 infographics released under a Creative Commons licence to encourage republication in print and on the web, it is worth pointing out the first one, describing the growth of opposers to atomic energy as measured by Ipsos; as well as number seven, reacting to Professor Umberto Veronesi's communication blunder. Veronesi, oncologist, former health minister and now president of Italy's Nuclear safety agency, said on tv nuclear waste canisters are so safe you could store them in your bedroom.
Last but not least, we have a map of the country's eligible nuclear plant sites (table 6), drafted by Enea (enea.it), earlier known as Cnen, as well as the comparative grid (table 4) on the actual price of kilowatts produced from alternative sources, fossil fuels, and uranium.
A more in depth view fo the choices to be made comes from Marco Cattaneo, Le Scienze's editor in chief in a recent blogpost.
The problem,says Cattaneo (who also explains why the referendum is technically useless), is not how much we like nuclear, but those 29.000 MegaWatt. This, as shown by Terna's homepage. is the lowest average level of energy demand reached in Italy and those KW must always be produced.
Some arresa of italo are well endowed with sun and wind as data fremo Jrc and Italy's wind alta show. But not all, and those 29.000 MW must be produced even at 4:00 am of a night with no wind.
Maybe, as Luca De Biase suggested a few weeks ago in the wake of Fukushima's disaster, it's time to discuss Italy's strategic choices on energy supply with a more open mind.
The first step is improving information on what is actually at stake if Italians don't want to end up as gas-dependent citizens. In fact, according to the Word Energy Outlook this is the fastest growing energy source.
(By Guido Romeo)