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.)

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.

US and UK journalism compared

I’ve picked up on a few articles comparing journalism in the USA and UK — partly because of talks I’m giving to journalism students from US universities this summer.

“Superiority Complex — Why the Brits think they’re better” is the headline on an article in the current Columbia Journalism Review. It reiterates claims that interviewers from the UK have the edge in broadcast news, and discusses the appeal of UK newspapers’ websites and BBC World to readers and viewers in the States.

When it comes to newspapers, is the boot on the other foot? It does for sourcing, balance, overall reliability and investigations, suggests Susan Hansen’s CJR piece, quoting Alan Rusbridger (The Guardian), Bill Hagerty (British Journalism Review), and Tom Fenton (CBS).

Martin Moore contrasts the approach of stories in the Daily Telegraph and New York Times, highlighting the greater length, more neutral tone, larger number of sources and quotes etc in the latter. It also risks being heavier, more boring and less engaging, he notes.

There may be less space for longer stories in the New York Times after it changes format. Executive editor Bill Keller says, according to Gawker:

Our stories are too often too long… The 1200 word stories could be 800 or 900. There are editors at a Page 1 meeting boasting that a story is only 1400 words.

Also worth noting is Keller’s frank statement about the NY Times’ online strategy for developing revenue from its web contact: “There’s a phrase they use in drug and alcohol rehab—’fake it til you make it.’ That’s basically what we’re doing.”

Finally, still at the NY Times, Investigations Editor Matthew Purdy says they have “12 permanent reporters and editors” plus “many more Times reporters engaged in investigative or in-depth reporting”. Another US-UK difference to add to the list, then.