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Information and Journalism in the Digital Age

An introduction to open data, data-driven journalism, FOI and hyperlocal. Leeds 12/13.
by

Richard Jones

on 12 March 2013

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Transcript of Information and Journalism in the Digital Age

Information and Journalism
in the Digital Age How more information is available
than ever before, and what some
journalists are doing with it. Open data Freedom of Information Data-driven journalism Transparency Remember your homework:
Do an article on ICS News based on the section of the Byford Report that I have emailed to you. It's also on the VLE. CONTACT ME:
Email: richardwilliamsjones@gmail.com
Website: www.richardjonesjournalist.wordpress.com
Twitter: @rlwjones The internet makes it easy to give
the public access to government
meetings and documents. As we've seen, the Leeds Council
website allows you to search and
comment on planning applications.
You used to have to go to a library! It's one thing to give the public
access to information, but it can
be up to journalists to find the
data that will produce a good story. Governments and other public bodies
also collect data all the time, and until
recently much of it was never published. Open data: why bother?
Sharing is the "right" thing to do online
We paid for it, so it should be "our" data!
Could help improve policy decisions
Allows scope for new uses of the data Transport for London released lots of data
to developers, allowing them to work on apps. Providing a public service at no cost to TfL. Published sets of open data also give journalists a chance to find and tell stories. Governments are catching up with
other areas where openness is
already common, such as technology
and scientific research. Audacity is a free piece of audio
editing software. People around the
world help to improve it.
This saves us all money and makes
our lives easier. Here's a map released by the police showing all the road accidents in Greater Manchester. It's fairly meaningless
to anyone like this. But even with all this data available to
everyone, I'd argue the traditional skills
of journalism are just as important in
helping to make sense of it. You can search for
your local area. Still not very
meaningful. But after I'd had a good
look, comparing roads in
my local area over several
years, trends emerged leading
to good stories, which also
helped disprove the idea that
the roads were getting more
dangerous. So, journalists can use data.
How do we get more of
the good stuff? During the 1990s and 2000s, many nations passed FOI laws, giving citizens the right to access data held by public bodies. In the UK, we've got the FOI Act 2000. You get the data by making a request, which can be as simple as sending an e-mail. Barring some exceptions such as cost or national security, the information must be provided within a few weeks. This can be a great source of stories. But it's not just about statistics.
I used FOI to access an internal
council report on a local issue. But FOI has
critics within
official circles. "For political leaders, it's like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, 'Hey, try this instead', and handing them a mallet."
Tony Blair Arguments against FOI - Time-consuming to answer requests
- Journalists are just "fishing" for stories
- Lack of confidentiality?
- Might lead to officials taking evasive action
(eg. using personal e-mail accounts) Hyperlocal In recent years, lots of people have begun hyperlocal sites, publishing news and information about a particular area or topic. Four reasons why hyperlocal exists:
1. Decline in traditional local media
2. It's easy to set up your own website
3. More information is now available to the public
4. They can be about the local area or niche interest that we care about Hyperlocal sites are all different, reflecting the areas they cover and the people who write them. Some cover similar ground to traditional media, albeit with more of a community focus. Others are based around forums, which often include information we might describe as hyperlocal or newsworthy. Individuals with specific expertise in a topic write sites for those who share that niche interest. Few if any hyperlocal sites make serious money. But as they're often a labour of love for the people involved, they're here to stay. In Didsbury, independent businesses have started a website to help promote themselves, but it also carries local news and information. There have also been hyperlocal experiments by the mainstream media, although so far these have not always lasted. Questions However, the rise of hyperlocal sites of varying kinds tells us part of the story of why traditional newspapers are struggling. Think of how the internet allows you to pursue your own interests, and ignore things you don't care about. A printed newspaper is the same for everyone. So why buy one if you're only going to read a page or two? This is a particular threat to local newspapers and, potentially, regional news on TV. These are often criticised as consisting of "a series of averagely interesting things that happened averagely close to where you live". It's no surprise that some printed publications focusing on a particular niche interest are performing more strongly. It's better for readers, and better for advertisers. Think of it this way: if roadworks start on your street, that's the most important 'news' for you that day. If the roadworks are across town, you couldn't care less. It's not important enough to make the media, but the information is still useful to some people. Facebook's news feed is called a news feed for a reason. A bit like with the roadworks, lots of different things are news to us: from the Pope being elected to someone's baby photos.
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