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…

Refining Twitter: how to filter out (or search for) tweets by specific keywords — using Tweetdeck

Using Tweetdeck, you can hide tweets if they contain words you specify — and, conversely, set up filters like a search, to show only tweets showing specific keywords. There are two main ways of doing this and, on the day of the iPad2 goes on sale in the UK, I’m using ‘iPad’ as the keyword to filter out or (Apple fans, please note) search for.

Filter out anything you don’t want to see from Twitter

One way is to set a filter to affect everything in Tweetdeck; this applies to all columns and accounts. In the settings, look for the Global Filter menu — and type in the relevant word(s). You can also filter out tweets by people and source. Farewell those unwanted updates from Foursquare or Paper.li, perhaps.

To filter out tweets from all columns/accounts, use the Global Filter

To filter out tweets from all columns/accounts, use the Global Filter

The other, more selective way is to apply a filter to a chosen column — which you can also use as a ‘positive’ filter to show only tweets as specified.

Filter columns for specific words in Twitter

Look for the row of icons at the foot of the column you wish to filter or search, and click on the filter icon (an arrow curving down to a line). Using the default settings that then appear, you can type in a word or other text to exclude. To remove a filter, click the ‘x’ to the right.

Use the column filter to hide tweets

Use the filter to hide tweets containing specific words

Use column filters to find relevant tweets

Finally, the small drop-down menus in a column filter also allow you to search for tweets containing specific words or other text — simply change the minus sign to a plus. This ‘positive filter’ can be a useful shortcut, eg to hunt down a tweet you glimpsed and need to find again, or quickly to show particular tweets or only those with links (filter for ‘http’).

Use a column filter to show only specific tweets

Use a column filter to show only specific tweets

You can also filter by name, source or time of tweets instead of text. The column filter provides additional flexibility when used with a search column, eg to remove (old-style) retweets from a search on a particular hashtag (filter out ‘RT @’).

French town of Eu seeks search engine optimisation (SEO)?

A great story explains the problem:

Anybody entering the word “Eu” in a search engine is likely to get a number of results, but most will be a reference to the past participle of the French verb avoir (to have), not to the pretty market town in Normandy.

The search also brings up pages related to the European Union.

Accordingly, the small town, which boasts a number of attractions, including an impressive château and gardens, is being bypassed.

It goes on to quote the mayor, who advocates changing the town’s name rather than paying search engines such as Google to boost its ranking. SEO probably wouldn’t work just for “Eu” — but “town of Eu” now comes up trumps. Helped, no doubt, by the story in the Telegraph (and elsewhere).

Ironic errors online

I tend to think of formatting errors cropping up more in print than on paper. But here’s a Telegraph article with more than a few lines going awry

— and some erratic italics, too (below).

The article is about, well, paid subscriptions to online newspaper content…

Such errors are easy enough to make, eg if one is taking formatted copy from one system to another and inadvertently carries over code with it. It will be interesting to see if it gets corrected!

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.)

Two delicious tools: improved search, and an online portfolio

First, del.izzy, which addresses one limitation of the standard delicious search, enabling you to search all of the content of the pages you bookmarked. But they claim they need your password for this.

Second, a clever way of setting up an online portfolio on delicious. Michele Martin outlines how it works, using the optional tag description field to head the page with an introduction, and then tagging anything you wish to show up there.

A neat idea: not the most beautiful, but it works, and is easy to update. It has two other benefits, says Michele Martin:

  • The del.icio.us feature that shows how many other people saved the item acts as a kind of “recommendation” system. […]
  • If people sign up for the RSS feed to this tag, they can automatically be notified when I add new items to my portfolio.

And then of course there’s the RSS feed to do other things with, if you want to take it one step further and embed that somewhere, have it post automatically to a blog… etc

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.

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.

Echo-bloggers and blog search: does every linked or cited article count?

One article or many? Scope for some social network analysis on Google’s new blog search, suggests edublogger Stephen Downes, using an example from online journalism to make his point:

[But] here’s where the network analysis comes in – if the WSJ releases an opinion piece, and it is dutifully cited by the same 79 blogs that cite all such pieces of that political bent, should that really count as ’79 results’? Or is it just one opinion – the WSJ’s – repeated by echo-bloggers 79 times?

And then what does that mean for ranking, linking, position in other search engines’ results etc…?

In response to a comment, Downes explains what he envisages:

Google groups blogs by topic; take the groups so grouped and see how they link to each other. Compare linkages between the same blogs over different topics.

Any takers?

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.