Are data journalism and online engagement coming of age?

It’s more complicated than a one-word answer, of course, but data and online community work (developing communities and engaging users) seem to be moving from niche ‘extras’ to core essentials in much of journalism.

The word ‘data’ has been creeping into advertisements for reporters. “Experience of data journalism” in a vacancy on Health Service Journal and Nursing Times, for example. A reporting role at Times Higher Education asked for “skills to handle large data sets to identify trends and spot stories, and the ability to use the data to create news graphics”.

Data journalism and social media are not only for specialists

My point is that these are not specialist “data journalist” roles: breaking news stories lies at the core of both jobs. My colleague Paul Bradshaw offers two reasons why every journalist should know about web-scraping, a key part of data journalism.

Similarly, using social media in reporting — to find stories and sources, for example — is now an accepted part of the skill-set for most journalists, I hope. At least for those now entering journalism.

It’s no surprise that The Huffington Post UK, online-only of course, expects that applicants “will already be utilising and fully understand the power of social media to promote content” for a blogs assistant editor role. But — as with data — social media and engaging users online seem increasingly to be an explicit element.

Channel 4 News advertised for a political correspondent who would “use social media to maximise the impact of your stories and engage with our audience”, for example. A junior writer on The Sun’s Fabulous Magazine online will be “helping to manage our strong community of Facebook and Twitter followers”. A reporter on Farmers Weekly will be “using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and forums, to engage with readers”.

Again, these are not specialist social media or community roles – but jobs that require skills and experience in these areas.

Specialist jobs growing alongside ‘integrated’ roles

Fortunately for those coming into journalism, specialised roles appear to be thriving alongside those in which online community, social media (and/or data journalism) are ‘integrated’ into reporting or other roles. Engaging communities and building networks lie at the heart of a new Thomson Reuters project — with *nine* new jobs — for example. Metro has been recruiting for a social media executive as well as a head of insight and social.

This picture of specialised plus ‘integrated’ roles is reinforced by two other sources. First, discussions at the news:rewired event last month, where data journalism and online communities were key themes. Many people were there to learn how to do things better, and/or to benchmark their (or their publication’s) own activities.

Jobs in interactive journalism and online

Second, it’s an impression consistent with the jobs gained by students from the first year of our MA Interactive Journalism (at City University London). One is working as a data journalist at The Guardian, for example – while two others there are in content coordinator roles in which community and social media are part of a broader brief that includes writing, editing and commissioning. Others again have gone on to more specialised web analytics and social media work – as well as more ‘traditional’ journalism jobs, reporting on a regional paper and sub-editing for a national newspaper.

PS: Anyone unconvinced by the importance of mastering online/digital skills should look at some current job advertisements. A business reporter at The Telegraph will be managing the flow and placement of web content. An assistant features editor at The Sun will be “keen to adapt to digital platforms”. “An interest in digital publishing/social media would be an advantage” for a senior editor at The Economist group. And so on. [NB The job ads on Gorkana will to be taken down at some point.]

It is also worth noting that data, multimedia and technology topped the list of skills in a survey about journalism training, undertaken by the Poynter Institute.

PPS: I have resisted expanding this post to take in another key area, mobile platforms (also a focus at news:rewired), where news organisations are expanding their activities. Nor have I mentioned the demand beyond journalism for people with a good grasp of data, social media engagement and online/digital skills more generally…

Paying the price: cost of Johnston Press’s debt

Sobering stuff as Peter Kirwan spells out the numbers underlying Johnston Press’s refinancing of £485m debt. As he puts it, “the maths are grim”, concluding that:

the running total for bank payments comes to £75.2m during the next year. Remarkably, this equates to an annualised interest rate of neither 5% nor 10%, but 15.5%.

This, remember, is before Johnston Press repays any of its outstanding loans. Here, too, the terms of the deal are draconian. In addition to everything else, the company has promised to repay £85m of debt by next May.

Now clearly, this is a lot of money for a rapidly-shrinking regional newspaper publisher that turned in £27.5m in pre-tax profits during the first six months of this year.

Kirwan then raises the prospect — if Johnston is unable to repay that £85m by May 2010 — of payment in kind (PIK) penalties, which could take the effective interest rate to 20% or more. Gulp.

Andrew MacKay MP told local paper ‘nothing in expenses stood out’

Spot the contrast:

Andrew MacKay tells his local paper:

I have checked through all my expense claims over the past four years and there is nothing that stands out – I am confident there is nothing unreasonable in there at all.

Andrew MacKay resigns as Cameron’s aide, the BBC reporting that:

he now realised the arrangement did not pass Mr Cameron’s “reasonableness” test and he felt it was “wrong” to remain in his position.

Does it come down to what is “reasonable”?

Mr MacKay and his wife claimed second homes allowances on two separate properties, with Mr MacKay saying they had done so “for eight or nine years”.

Journalism meets data: J-school seeks professor, journalism seeks techies

An interesting vacancy at Medill School of Journalism (Northwestern University, Illinois), which is advertising for a professor of database journalism “to teach data analysis and interactive deployment of data”. Good stuff. According to the vacancy note:

The successful candidate will have expertise in analyzing data for journalistic work and will be expected to teach students how to create and deploy database-driven applications on the World Wide Web and other digital platforms.

I imagine this role will complement the Journalist-Programmer scholarships at Medill, set up by Rich Gordon (and funded by a Knight News Challenge grant). The scholarships are geared towards programmers or web developers who are interested in journalism.

Bringing people with an IT background into journalism, rather than vice-versa, echoes the experiences of Aron Pilhofer, head journo-techie at the New York Times. Eric Ulken wrote up some interesting points from their discussions, including:

When I throw out the old question about whether it’s easier to teach a journalist programming skills or to teach a techie the principles of journalism, he tells me it’s not so much a question of trainability. Rather, he says, “there are more programmers out there that will find journalism interesting to learn” than vice-versa. He tells me that, with a couple of exceptions, the people on his team have either “very limited journalism experience or none whatsoever.”

There’s another interview with Pilhofer here, on Old Media, New Tricks.

How the numbers (don’t) add up for newspapers if they axe print

Alan Mutter (aka Newsosaur) picks up on a point from the ‘New Business Models for News’ summit at City University of New York, arguing that scrapping print isn’t a solution, given that 90% of US papers’ revenue comes from ads sold in the print product.

Assuming it would cut costs by 60%, scrapping the print paper would mean the following, he suggests, for a $100m-revenue publishing company with a 15% operating profit:

If the company abandoned print but were able to double its online sales to $20 million, it would lose $14 million in a year, for an operating margin of a negative 70%. To break even, the prototypical publication would have to more than triple its sales from the current levels. To make a profit of 15%, the company would have to quadruple it sales.

A particularly tough target, Mutter adds, because around two-thirds of online revenues typically come from add-on sales to advertisers who are buying space in the print edition.

But this kind of online-only operation is not a pipe-dream, maintains Tim Windsor. Responding in comments on Cory Bergman’s post, he says making it work would need a much smaller newsroom with one or two community managers to make the most of user-generated content, plus linked/licensed content. A core staff of 20 multimedia reporters, he suggests. (Those comments via Mark Hamilton.)

Liverpool Daily Post liveblogs Rhys Jones trial and banking crisis

It’s nearly a live broadcast of the trial — an impressive exercise in liveblogging by the Post (below), particularly given the legal restrictions on court reporting with which the paper’s reporters and editors have to comply. Reporter Ben Rossington seems to be including lots of details and quotes.

As the page notes at the top of the liveblog section,

Submitted comments cannot be published for legal reasons throughout the trial

(Are comments being submitted anyhow — to be published after the case, perhaps?)

I imagine there’s also a risk of having to edit material already published if, for example, the judge decides during the proceedings that a particular defendant must not be named.

Then there are the logistics, which must be easier where it’s a high-profile case (such as this) and proceedings are video-linked to a separate press area. Otherwise — assuming laptops are not permitted in the court itself — it would probably need a reporter to duck out of the gallery every so often and post from his shorthand notes.

Post editor Mark Thomas hasn’t had any responses so far to his blog request for feedback on the paper’s liveblogging. Deputy editor Alison Gow posted some interesting reflections on her experience of liveblogging at the Post last month, with some dos and don’ts. (If either of you would like to say more here about the Rhys Jones trial or bank crisis liveblog, please add comments.) The paper has used the technique to cover different events this year, including football matches and the giant spider robot La Machine.

The liveblog on the banking crisis (below) seems to be a joint effort with the Birmingham Post and The Journal (Newcastle), among others. Looking at the liveblog on the Post’s dedicated business site, I can see it’s been attracting a few comments — it would be fascinating to know the impact of either liveblog on the sites’ hits/pageviews. Both use the Cover It Live software.

The liveblog of the Rhys Jones trial isn’t the first time a UK paper has covered a case live (or as live as possible) — the Evening Star in Ipswich and the East Anglian Daily Times used similar methods earlier this year to report the trial of Steve Wright, with brief live updates.

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.

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?