Is crowd-sourcing edging into mainstream journalism — or is it just an online survey?

How far did asking readers for their input help Jay Rayner with his Observer article on genetically modified foods, published last Sunday? He found it a mixed bag — and a lot more work, he says.

It involved digesting hundreds of emails and online comments, says Rayner, including 159 comments on the original request online — but:

In the end, although I didn’t set out to do it this way, almost every single research paper I consulted came via our call to arms, as did three of the four main interviewees (two from each side).

My impression is that this kind of crowd-sourcing has been edging more into mainstream journalism — but often in a different way from Rayner’s “exercise in open-source journalism” (as he calls it).

Take another current example: the BBC’s iPM asking for readers/listeners to flag up what element of their spending has been hit hardest by the ‘credit crunch’, which it’s plotting on a map. Similarly, the Times Online sought readers’ comments on its 2008 Budget Survey, plotting them on a Google mapAndy Dickinson helped out. This survey-style approach is automated, of course, and so can handle large numbers of responses — clearly essential when we’re talking about more than 22,000 responses, as with iPM.

There may be a trade-off. Go for as many responses as possible, with a narrow set of questions and possible responses (so it can be readily automated). A large response might make results more reliable and/or representative. But it’s still essentially a survey, even if it has the online equivalent of bells and whistles.

On the other hand, a Rayner-style invitation to contribute is more blog-like and open-ended — which means a human has to read and digest the responses. But a ‘click here’ survey wouldn’t get you research papers and interviewees.

In the end I suspect there’s a place for open-ended crowd-sourcing, surveys, and much in between. Including pointers that help to produce a scoop.

YouTube offers journalism fellowship for video journalists

An opportunity for aspiring video journalists:

In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, YouTube presents Project: Report, a journalism contest (made possible by Sony VAIO & Intel) intended for non-professional, aspiring journalists to tell stories that might not otherwise be told.

In each of the three rounds, reporters will be given an assignment to complete. Winners of each round will receive technology prizes from Sony VAIO & Intel, and the grand prize winner will be granted a $10,000 journalism fellowship with the Pulitzer Center to report on a story abroad.

The assignment for the first round is to profile someone “in your community with a story you think the world should know about”. Max three minutes, deadline 5 October.

The contest home page includes a few resources, including video shooting and editing tips.

Taking Twitter reporting to the edge

The latest reporting use of Twitter that’s caught my eye is to cover a funeral, as undertaken (wordplay intended) by the Rocky Mountain News.

I make it 28 Tweets in just over 90 minutes — “pallbearers carry out coffin followed by mourners”, “people are viewing the body, which is lying in casket with teddy bear. some people falling on knees to pray”, for example. The texts are reproduced in one of the comments on the article linked above (no direct link; scroll down to the tenth comment).

Most of the comments are negative, perhaps not surprisingly — as was Michelle Ferrier on the Poynter blog.

More journalists seem to have been experimenting with Twitter over the last year or so. Paul Bradshaw provided a useful overview on his Online Journalism Blog and Jeff Jarvis weighed in here. It was only a question of time before theses on Twitter started to appear…

Geographic news filter goes live: Holovaty’s EveryBlock

Fascinating to see EveryBlock up and running, filtering material from databases, news articles, Flickr, blogs etc by neighbourhood and zip code. It launched yesterday for Chicago, New York and San Francisco. From my first quick look, building permits, crime reports and Flickr photos seem to dominate coverage of some areas.

In their launch announcement, Adrian Holovaty and the team make clear they see this as news:

We like to toss around the word “news” to describe all of this, and that might surprise you at first. Isn’t news what appears on the front page of the New York Times? Isn’t news something produced by professional journalists?

Well, it can be — and we include as much of that on EveryBlock as possible. But, in our minds, “news” at the neighborhood or block level means a lot more. On EveryBlock, “Somebody reviewed the new Italian restaurant down the street on Yelp” is news. “Somebody took a photo of that cool house on your block and posted it to Flickr” is news. “The NYPD posted its weekly crime report for your neighborhood” is news. If it’s in your neighborhood and it happened recently, it’s news on EveryBlock.

Online tools aid coverage of Heathrow crash

Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and a flight simulator PC game helped Rory Cellan-Jones cover this story for the BBC. Responding to comments on this blog post, he emphasises that:

I’m talking about extra help from technology, but that does not mean the old-fashioned journalistic skills go out of the window

Cellan-Jones then goes on to argue that:

We tend to romanticise the good old days when a journalist had nothing but a notebook, some decent contacts, and a plausible manner, but I think the competition is more intense now. My point is that the instant access to information and pictures makes every story move far more quickly. If you refuse to use the new tools – as well as the old ones – then you will be left behind.

Well said, whether directed to established reporters or student journalists.

Via Martin Stabe on Fleet Street 2.0.

The Observer’s tangle with science story — now removed from website

The Observer seems to have pulled a front-page story from its website, after problems emerged with the article, which was published on 8 July 2007.
Observer front page 8 July 2007

The case raises some interesting questions not only about science reporting — but also about corrections and clarifications, and the importance of some journalistic essentials.

Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column in The Guardian, has analysed the article in detail in his column and on his blog and in the British Medical Journal.

He’s expressed his concerns forcefully (follow the links above to read his detailed analysis):

I am pretty jaded and sceptical, but this front page story has completely stunned and astonished me. The misrepresentations and errors went way beyond simply misunderstanding the science, and after digging right to the bottom of it all, knowing what I know now, I have never resorted to hyperbole before, but I can honestly say: this episode has changed the way I read newspapers.

The difficulties lie not only with the original story, Ben suggests — but also with the clarifications from The Observer’s Readers’ Editor, Stephen Pritchard, which appeared in the two following issues: on 15 July and 22 July 2007.

Ben Goldacre’s assessment of the situation:

Two failed “clarifications” later that clarify nothing, and I am even less impressed. Retract. Delete. Apologise.

One of the journalistic failings seems to have been that no-one from The Observer apparently contacted Dr Fiona Scott, even before publishing the first clarification. She then posted some comments online, which The Observer published as part of its second clarification — again without having spoken to her or exchanged emails, it appears. However, it took Ben Goldacre a quick Google search and a couple of hours to get an email reply, as he notes in this post.

The original Observer article used to be online here. The Google cache of the original story is here — or at least it when I wrote this post. But if the article was pulled for legal reasons, perhaps it won’t be on Google’s cache for much longer.

Will The Observer run a third clarification next Sunday?

Meanwhile, credit to its sister paper, The Guardian, at least, for publishing Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column on the article.

Journalism education: matters of principle(s) from WJEC

Some discussion has been emerging about the journalism education principles (full text here) that were issued at the WJEC — in a few blog posts and comments etc such as those by:

Mindy McAdams (Teaching Online Journalism blog, University of Florida)

Martin Hirst (Ethical Martini blog, Auckland University of Technology)

Rebecca MacKinnon (RConversation blog, University of Hong Kong) — more WJEC reflections here

Guy Berger (Conversant blog, Rhodes University) — article in the SA Mail & Guardian

It was good to meet the latter three at the WJEC.

I have mixed feelings about the declaration itself. It’s more descriptive than aspirational or, indeed, inspirational — an opportunity missed?

More positively, the principles emphasise the importance of journalism practice, “a strong vocational orientation” and “experiential learning” (principle 7), and “strong links to media industries” (principle 8). And “journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners” (principle 3) — although I’m not clear whether this means every individual or collectively.

However, there is no reference to freedom, democracy, human rights, freedom of speech or of the press, censorship, media ownership etc. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the diversity of the organisations involved, including associations from Africa, China, Europe, North America and Russia, and of the political and cultural context in which they operate. I gather that the phrases “civil society” and “public service” dominated the discussions to agree the declaration — and neither appears in that form.

In part, the declaration probably reflects the ‘lowest common denominator’ effect — and key phrases such as “the effective and responsible practice of journalism” “serve the public” and “public interest obligations” are left open and undefined, and thus open to different (even divergent) interpretations. If you’re feeling cynical, try inserting “whatever that means”… (to add to the “where practical” phrases already present in places).

I would have liked it to say more about the teaching and learning of journalism. It can make a huge difference, and tends to be neglected — the focus being mostly on the content. Both need to be seen together, I believe.

Having said all this, it’s quite an achievement to pull together a statement of this kind, however imperfect. Work in progress, you might say.

Another factor is the purpose of the declaration, of course — and when he presented it to the WJEC session, Guo Ke from Shanghai International Studies University emphasised its role in representing journalism education to others. He’s pictured (right) with a slide making this point.

I wonder who will be using the declaration, and how. Some at WJEC suggested it might be of most use to journalism educators in developing countries and emerging democracies, particularly where they face state controls and other constraints. Guy Berger from Rhodes University suggests it could help to “reinvigorate journalism teaching and improve its effects on African media”.

In my situation, I don’t envisage using it much. The priority for editors and employers (of my students) will continue to be questions such as “are you turning out students who can do the job?” and “have they got a solid grasp of news, reporting, writing and interviewing?”

As for the position of journalism in the university world, I suspect academics in other disciplines would look more to what’s going on in practice (outcomes) rather than descriptive statements. But there was plenty of interesting discussion about that at WJEC — a subject for another post sometime.

Finally, a modest prediction for where the WJEC declaration will crop up: look out for journal articles referencing and/or discussing the principles. As well as blogs, of course!

Newspapers’ online video: it depends where you look…

So what are local papers in London doing with online video at the moment? In many cases, not much.

Spurred by discussions at the AJE and in the exchange of comments on this podcast at Paul Bradshaw’s blog, including those from Neil Benson of Trinity Mirror, I’ve looked at a (small and unrepresentative) sample of websites of newspapers covering areas I know — and only one out five appears to have local video content online (as of 21 June 2007).

Here’s the run-down, in no particular order:
South London Press (Trinity Mirror): No local video content. Four ‘celebrity videos’, eg “UK nanny and TV star Stella Reid”; Joe Wadsack, “wine expert on Richard and Judy” talking about “the secret behind Aussie wines”.

Southwark News (Southwark Newspaper Ltd): No video.

Islington Gazette (Archant): No video.

Sutton Guardian (Newsquest): Separate ‘video news’ section, with six in ‘latest’ section, dated 30 May-18 June 2007. These six videos appear specific not to Sutton but to other areas covered by Newsquest South London (eg Croydon, Tooting, Kingston). In one case the video comes from another Newsquest title (Watford Observer) but is relevant because the story has a Surrey link.
‘Archive’ indicates a further 47 videos, ie 53 in total, dating back to 10 October 2006, which suggests one or two new videos going on the site each week (average 1.4 per week).

Croydon Advertiser (Trinity Mirror): No video — but soundslides (still pics plus audio and/or text) hosted at a blog run by David Berman, picture editor. I recalled reading about these on the blogs of Andy Dickinson and Martin Stabe. The lack of links to the soundslides from the Croydon Advertiser website seems odd: for example, the latter ran two stories about a crane collapsing (links here and here) but with no mention of the soundslide about it.

I also tried to look at the Hackney Gazette (Archant) but its site was not available. I don’t recall seeing any video there when I last looked.

Given some of the uncertainties, there may be good reasons for some newspapers NOT to dive into online video. Other papers in some of these groups are doing interesting things with online video — as is clear from those shortlisted for Website of the Year in the Regional Press Awards 2007. In addition, some of Trinity Mirror’s titles may be changing hands soon, and my sample does not include any Johnston Press titles.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop at these sites (and elsewhere) — and not only with video, of course.

Convergence in journalism — online video

A few thoughts on video, which more newspaper websites are carrying, from discussions at the AJE meeting (where the focus was primarily on regional/local papers online, not nationals). These are some pointers that I’ve taken from the seminar, as someone with a background in print journalism, with an eye on the practicalities of journalism education.

  • It’s not TV or radio, so think web and the specific context there — eg complementing online text and perhaps hyperlinks. If the story is going on paper, too, what extra does the online video offer?
  • For similar reasons, there are good reasons to keep the technology simple. The video isn’t destined for a 72″ plasma HD screen or whatever, so a half-decent camcorder (or even a regular digicam in movie mode).
  • Similarly for editing software: something to be said for using free software such as iMovie, Audacity (for audio), Windows Movie Maker. I can vouch for the first two, in terms of ease of use for the essentials.
  • Think of such software as the equivalent of Word for text etc.
  • Remember that good quality audio is crucial — location (background noise), decent microphone etc (a downside to regular digicams).
  • A slideshow might work well — still pics and audio might outdo video for some stories.
  • Emphasise journalism rather than top-end production values.
  • Concentrate on visual storytelling — think this way from the start.
  • But don’t throw out print priorities of grabbing readers’ attention, relevance, focus etc.

Much of this came from the session led by Andy Dickinson (UCLAN). A podcast featuring him and Andy Price (University of Teesside) is now on Paul Bradshaw’s blog.

Press Gazette and hackademic.net — thinking alike

Pure coincidence, of course, that Press Gazette‘s diarist, Axegrinder, picked up on two of the same stories featured on hackademic.net last week. You saw them here first — if you were one of my early readers, anyway.
pgonhouseprices.jpg
The ‘Grammer School’ billboard is on the PG blog, and the Mail and Express front pages about house prices appear in the print version (right).

Any sub knows the difficulty of avoiding occasional mistakes. Such as ‘backpeddling’ in an Axegrinder headline. Confusing pedal and peddle seems to be a classic — one of The Guardian’s homophone horrors missed by spellcheckers. After making the error in a review of a cycling book, The Observer corrected succintly:

Our review […] included the phrase: ‘The story of her lonely peddling makes for evocative reading.’ Cyclists pedal. Pedlars peddle.

But I bet we’ll see pedal/peddle cropping up again. Can you tell that I used to be a sub, by the way?