28 Feb

Data journalism: more than numbers and charts

 

 

I have been a Visiting Tutor at Birmingham City University on and off for more than a year, but today I experienced that mythical “sense of satisfaction” that teachers talk about.

I held a short data visualization workshop for some 2nd year Online Journalism students today  – who were incredibly hungry for the information. For the past few weeks they had been gathering spreadsheets and reports and were now desperate for interesting ways to show this. Some were also concerned that they didn’t have any data as such, just lots of information

 

  • data is not just numbers – it is information, lists, reports, structures, things you’ve found out  – anything that could be displayed visually
  • expand the data – add new information – i.e. bring value to a list of companies by adding company type, location, size etc.
  • shrink the data – a list of spending at every university could be rehashed into a smaller dataset of spending in the West Midlands – compare across region.
  • compare the data – download the same dataset for previous years, so you can compare over time.
  • confused.com? – untangle a complex situation with an organisational chart – help the reader understand who does what.
  • processes – have you found out how something gets done? Then, why not create a flow chart showing the process – ie the flow of money, responsibility, communication
  •  missing information? – start a partial organisational chart – flag up where data is unavailable due to corporate privacy protection – ask why
  • tell the backstory – create a timeline showing key events. Helps the reader understand the context of the story
  • compare lists side by side  – a list of UK universities by League table position, next to a list of UK universities by satisfaction rating  – draw lines between the same establishment in each list, and you show any general patterns, are satisfying universities generally the best performing?
  • Word Clouds – not to be used for academic/journalistic analysis but definitely interesting as a bit of illustration/front cover.

 

28 Feb

The Age You’re Most Likely to Win a Brit Award

Checking the latest data from the Brit Awards (courtesy of the Guardian Data Blog) is seems 24 is the age a musician is most likely to win a Brit Award

Age of Brit Award Winners (2005-2012)

Since 2005 12 awards have gone to pop stars at this age including Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash and Ellie Goulding. Similarly, Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine and JLS all tapped in at this age when they picked up their awards.

Could it be down to our education system, 3 years at uni, where they perhaps form a band, and 3 years focusing on it when they leave? Is it the power of the Brit School (London’s very own pop factory – which has produced Brit Award winners Adele, Amy Winehouse, Jessie J, Ed Sheeran and more) putting its alumni on a sure fire Brit success route within 2/3 years of them leaving? (see Brit School chart below)

Or could it simply be a co-incidence?

Other Charts

It is also interesting to see the spread of ages, over the last few years. It’s no great surprise to see the 20’s (olive green) is the dominant age group, but it is interesting to see the gradual shift to younger artists (although 2012 bucks this trend slightly).

Age of Brit Award Winners over time

This chart also shows an increase in age coverage as a whole, as the bulk of the chart takes a triangular shape, with younger and older artists being represented. (the average age of the charts, however, remains the same.

How about by category? Well, again – no great surprises – although it is interesting to see the change in categories over the years (a removal of genre specific awards, for example)

Issues with the Data

As I worked out their age from the year they were born, as opposed to the exact date, their exact age at the time of the award is a guess. Hence there is a very real chance that the actual date is a bit wonky. However, I had problems finding the YEARS of some peoples birth, finding their exact birthday would be a bigger job for another time.

What I would like to do now is explore more interested elements – perhaps carry out a an age study of the album charts (using the data from my MA Project) and see if there is a similar pattern.

The Brit School

Known Brit School alumni marked in orange

27 Feb

Actors Working in Teams [infographic]

Sometimes I’ll start a data project, and duing the process one of several things may happen:

  • I lose interest
  • something more important comes along
  • I realized it’s just not “working”

The latter happened as I was working on a piece for the latest Information is Beautiful challenge – which involved chomping through a large and very interesting data set regarding Hollywood movies.

These challenges encourage you to use a data set provided by the website to create either a visualization, napkin drawing ( sketch) or an interactive piece.

After several hours of looking through the data, looking for interesting angles, and hunting for more data I could add to the set (via Google Refine) I settled on looking at the connections between the actors involved in the top films.

Ask anyone who’s watched a film with me and they’ll tell you that I have a VERY annoying habit of opening Wikipedia to find out where I’ve seen a particular actor before. It’s annoying in everyday life, but for this – it was a dream.

I was also intrigued by the success of the films starring Seth Rogen / Jonah Hill et al, and the idea of teams working together – and how prevalent this was across other areas of Hollywood.

(see below for more details and why I eventually shelved it)

 

 

 

What it Means

Yes, it’s a bit of a headache isn’t it? The original dataset with featured the films coming out of the major studios, over a certain time period.

I added actor information to the cataset from Freebase (within Google Refine) and worked out which ones had appeared in the most films over the time period. I then cross referenced the films and created the above chart.

I had originally intended to give each film a different colour but this became unworkable – so I limited the colours to the films featuring 3 or more actors on the chart. The rest I coloured in grey.

Why It Didnt Work

For one, it was too damn complicated – no chart should take 3 paragraphs to explain. Kinda defeats the point, right?

Secondly, the choice of resulting entries was nonsense.

  • Original Data (limited to major studios)
  • Actors added to each film (according to Wikipedia, via Freebase)
  • Top 26 hardest working actors selected (based on original list, so ignoring independent or smaller budget films)
And thirdly – it didn’t really say anything. I always put the success of my last Information is Beautiful entry down to the quirky subject matter (comparing the lifespan of important earth resources to celebrities). This didn’t have that element. Yes, it was interesting to see which actors work together, but the dataset was too limited to show any major patterns. 
I eventually decided to stop working on the design (hence a few wonky areas) and shelve it.

So why am I publishing it here?

Because I spent all day on it, I like the IDEA and design and I wanted to share my experiences of when to walk away.

I’d love to hear your experiences of when you’ve had to walk away – and why.

26 Feb

Who is my data idol?

There must be something in the water …. twice this week I have received emails from online journalism students asking for my thoughts on data journalism – and more specifically, my data idols.

The first was an email from Germany – or student Katarina Bons to be precise – asking for information about any studies into data journalism in the UK and who the key players were.

During the completion of my final MA Online Journalism project, during a desperate need to relieve tension, I pasted the text of my MA final dissertation into Wordle. Whilst I regrettably did not save the final image there were some surprising, and not so surprising results. Data, was of course – one of the most commonly used words (so much in fact that the A key on my laptop broke off and flew across the room).

Another word that cropped up, worryingly often, was McCandless.

Poster boy for the data generation, but not without his critics, David McCandless is definitely my data-crush – his simplistic yet visually stimulating work is a definite inspiration to me and – in times of creative drought – I have asked – “what would McCandless do?”. (to make the shortlist of an Information is Beautiful challenge was one of my personal highlights)

Then I received an email, a few days later, from BCU MA Online Journalism student Duarte Romero Varela asking for a recorded interview about data journalism.

Being an alumni of that particular course, and a self-confessed data geek, I was more than happy to hold forth.

Meeting in Cafe Blend in Birmingham, Duarte interviewed me for a podcast (listen here) covering a range of issues including:

  • Q: who is my data viz hero? (A: see above)
  • Q: what tools do I use? (A: Excel > Tableau > Illustrator)
  • Q: what is more important, how clear a viz is, or how it looks? (A: both – a clear ugly chart is like a badly written article – who’d want to publish it?)

This question was of particular interest to me – the tide does appear to be turning against data viz / infographics at the moment, thanks to the tsunami of terrible examples finding their way into web content, newspapers and onto billboards, bus stops and the side of coffee cups.  There are cases, and I am definitely guilty of this at times, of being seduced along a path of beauty, and forgetting about the practicalities and the journalism.

Here’s how I see it …

Journalism: what are you trying to convey? What is the story?

Clarity: it has to tell that story

Design: it has to look attractive for people to want to interact with it

 

It’s a shame that there are so bad examples out there, outweighing the good and giving the whole area a bad name.

There is a real need in some cases for highly complex information to be reworked into a visible format and it would be a shame if we threw the useful bar chart out with the overdesigned viz

24 Feb

Adventures #1 – SoLoMoDEN

In something of a mid-February resolution, I’ve decided to do more day-to-day blogging about the various online activities I am involved in. You have been warned

—–

Yesterday I found myself at the SoLoMoDEN conference in Manchester. Right in the heart of Media City, it was hard not to be inspired about the future of the profession – even though there was a slight Legoland feeling to this regenerated part of Salford.

The “DEN” bit of SoLoMoDEN, stands for the Digital Editors Network – a group for anyone with an interest in online journalism ventures. Entrepreneurs, reporters and students rub shoulders, exchanging business cards and ideas. (As someone who has been to a large number of these new media journalism conferences, this is still my favourite, due to a very friendly crowd, accessible subject areas and free ticket (donation is optional)

The “SoLoMo” part of the event title captured the buzz phrase of the moment – Social Local Mobile … the holy triumvirate of online news innovation – and the event focussed on these issues specifically with presentations on

One of the chaps behind DEN, the softly spoken (but don’t be fooled) @Francoisnel is an academic interested in sustainability of online news models, and he used the event to launch his latest venture MADE – an incubation support project for such ventures.

However, it was the presentation by Greg Hadfield (@greghadfield) that certainly got me, and a few other people, all of a flutter.

Firstly, it was great to see someone so genuinely excited about open data – but refreshing to see it applied to both social good, and commercial viability.

Secondly – as I was in the process of writing my application for the role of Electronic Editor at the Express and Star, it gave me some fantastic ideas.

The evening ended, inevitably with a few drinkies with a nice crew including @foodiesarah, @alisongow @paulbradshaw + some new friends, before Paul Bradshaw and I legged it for a train at Manchester Picadilly back to Birmingham.

16 Feb

#BINSgate > a few thoughts

An interesting spat broke on Twitter this morning.

At the centre of it all, wannabe Birmingham mayor (yes, Birmingham is in the process of deciding if it wants an elected mayor not not)  Gisela Stuart (@giselastuart) took an open pot shot at the local website, Birmingham: It’s Not Shit

Note: in the spirit of transparency and all-that, I must now insert some form of disclaimer here that I know the chap behind BINS – @bounder, and my better half  (@probablydrunk) often pens articles for the site. However, I have been aware of the site for years, often interviewing Bounds as a response to the yearly poundings of Birmingham in various travel guides.  

Get a Grip

I’m not even a Brummie (I am originally from Wolverhampton) but even I feel incredibly proud of this city. Yes, it has it’s issues (which urban area doesn’t?), and the city is constantly on the back foot defending itself from it’s industrial, grubby past but anyone who’s stepped foot in the city (especially after a long absence) is genuinely surprised at it’s transformation. Which Brummie hasn’t puffed their chest a little when someone from “out of town” nods their head approvingly at the Bullring or Brindley Place?

What makes us different from the host of other rejuvenated cities such as Newcastle, Manchester and Belfast, is that we don’t shout Birmingham’s name from the rooftops. Instead we take the knocks on the chin and wait patiently until someone notices our new hairdo.

For years Birmingham, and in fact most of the West Midlands, has been seen as the dirty, noisy, arguing folk living next door to the glamorous south. It’s something people in this city have grown to accept with a huge dose of grace and humour.

Close it Down??

Which brings me to Birmingham: It’s Not Shit – and Stuart’s call to for it to be closed down.

For starters, it is a website run by a fiercely proud Brummie who uses a tongue-in-cheek style to draw attention to the good things happening in this city. Accusing @bounder (and his writers) of a lack of pride is an enormous insult to the people actually doing something to change perception, both inside and outside of the city.

Secondly, she called for the site to be “closed down” (then “renamed” in a later tweet), revealing a lack of understanding. I can’t work out if she’s misread the title, didn’t visit the site before commenting, or simply has no sense of humour – either way, it was pretty badly handled.

ADD: Gisela Stuart has now apologized to BINS (“Apologies to @BirminghamiNS and thanks all for putting me right!”) and the matter is now put to bed.

16 Feb

My adventures with Evernote Hello

In this post I explain how I got on with Evernote Hello  – not for you? Try these other posts on Evernote

Or have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here

 

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

Recently Evernote launched a series of new apps  –

  • Evernote Clearly (a plugin for viewing the text from web pages  – great for cluttered sites)
  • Evernote Food (for those fetishists who like taking snaps of meals)
  • Evernote Peek (for learning) and …
  • Evernote Hello (for collecting information to help you remember people you meet)

As a well-documented Evernote bore, I had to give them all a go.

I have no real use for Peek, have used Evernote Clearly and Food once or twice – but I was keen to give Evernote Hello a go.

It’s a great idea. I am useless at remembering names (great a faces, which means I know exactly WHO’s name I’ve forgotten) and am always looking for new tools to beat this affliction.

How it works

Evernote Hello encourages you to formally gather information about a person when you first meet them via an iPhone app.

In a traditional setting, you’d receive someones business card during the conversation, which ends up in your pocket with all the other business cards to gather dust and become a notepad for other more pressing bits of information (train times, phone numbers etc).

This app allows you to gather the Twitter name, email address and telephone number of the person AND, most importantly, a photograph – which will then sit within the app, and within your Evernote account. It also logs where you met them, and allows you to link this contact to notes within Evernote.

So far so good.

But …

(and this is the entire crux of the app) … I must admit to being far too polite to ask to take someone’s photograph, on first meeting. It just is not in my nature to do that. Asking for their Twitter name, or email address is one thing – a photograph? …  a step too far.

Is this just a British thing? Are other nationalities more easy going about this?

It is interesting to see this issue raised on the Evernote forum (post here)

Starting to Use It

There have been multiple opportunities for me to use to use this app  – the recent News:Rewired journalism conference the major one.

However, I am no point felt it was the right time, during a conversation, to whip out my phone and take a strangers picture (and it would have been even more creepy to take a picture of them on the sly)

This week I began teaching  a new class (MA Social Media) at Birmingham City University as a visiting tutor. I will be working with them for several weeks so it was a great chance to test this app out. As a small group of tech-friendly people – I hoped they would be open to me gathering their information at the start of the class so I could begin to learn names, as well as pick up twitter and email account details.

The phone gives you several ways to add information, You can pass them your phone (often easier than trying to spell complex twitter names and risk mistakes), you can do it yourself or link the contact with one already in your address book.

As I passed my phone around the (small) class, the general concern that I was going to put the images online (probably thanks to  culture of endless tagging on Facebook).  This was not the case – it was simply for my records.

Interestingly, we realized that if an email address is added by the contact, they receive a message from Evernote Hello, with MY details – very useful for automatically exchanging contacts.

Thoughts

This app is  – in theory – a great idea. However, whipping my iPhone out asking to take someones picture is just not going to happen.

Instead, I am going to start using it to gather contacts in the normal way. So, at the end of a conversation, when I would normally ask for the persons email or Twitter details – I will let them manually add into Evernote Hello. There is a photograph button clearly visible, and I am hoping people will be intrigued by the app and volunteer to take  picture themselves.

And that is just polite enough for me.

05 Feb

Using Evernote for Email > tried, tested and failed


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


[toc]

I wondered – could I use Evernote to manage my emails?

(this post requires a basic working knowledge of Evernote – have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here)

It is no secret that I am an Evernote fangirl. I love the fact I can send pretty much everything I find online, into one huge vat of stuff.

Recently I decided to take this one step further and use Evernote to read and process all of my emails.

The Method

  • Use the FORWARDING feature in Gmail to send all emails to Evernote
  • Tell Gmail to keep the email, but mark as read (this means I can still access the messages via Gmail if I need to, but they won’t show as unread in my inbox on my phone)
  • Within Evernote, you can SHARE notes, so simply paste the email address into the SHARE facility, and reply to email.

The Positives:

  • EASE – Evernote is far less clunky via desktop than Gmail
  • IT WORKED – I had been having problems using Gmail through Thunderbird and other desktop email apps, but Evernote worked
  • TIME – I was forwarding so many emails, it seemed to make sense to forward them all, and delete the ones I didn’t want.
  • ATTACHMENTS –  You can merge notes so send several attachments to one person (easier than adding attachments via normal email)
  • INTEGRATION – Sending my emails into Evernote immediately puts them in the mix with my documents, PDFs, articles etc  – where they can be easily searched and grouped.
  • TAGGING –  being able to integrate your email with other information I had stored, documents etc meant I could group project information together, and tag items that required action.

The Negatives (and why it eventually failed as a process for me)

  • SPACE: I use Evernote premium (which allows you 1GB of uploads per month) and for normal usage, this is perfect. Unfortunately, this month I have found receiving a much higher volume of emails (due to several projects and the subsequent discussions). I have already used a quarter of my upload quota and I’m only a few days into my month.
  • REPLYING: when you receive an email in Evernote, it shows the SENDERS email address, which means you simply need to copy this and paste it into the SHARE box. Simple. Unfortunately, as Evernote is not an email system,  it does not show when the email has been CC’d, so they would miss out on any replies. In the end I was having to use my old system for replying to group emails
  • UNRELIABILITY: Several times emails have simply not arrived.
  • SPAM – Some of the emails were ending up in spam, and some users were not spotting this – so the email was not received.
  • CLUTTER – Again, as Evernote is not an email system, it does not have an UNREAD facility so I was often missing emails in my inbox, as it was in amongst the posts, tweets etc that I was sending.

The Solution

If you have any suggestions of how I could overcome the above problems, I would love to hear from you, but for now, this is my solution:

  • Download the new version of Thunderbird which seems to be coping with Gmail right now. (I am also trying a free trial of Postbox, although this is £30 if I want to use it beyond a month)
  • Forward emails into Evernote that require action (I could potentially use IFTTT.com to autoforward anything I tag with TODO in Gmail, but I have found IFTTT.com strips too much formatting from an email rendering them often unusable)
  • Forward emails into Evernote that need archiving – articles, information etc.

 

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

linkedin


01 Feb

How journalists can follow the story/find contacts online

(a few notes/ideas of using online resources for journalism from a recent 30 minute workshop with 2nd year Online Journalism students) – this is by no means definitive, so feel free to add any suggestions, comments below
There are so many ways a journalist can follow the story, search for contacts or get leads online – but starting off is the hardest part.
In this blog post I’l be running through a few very easy steps to jumping in – often using tools you may already be aware of.

SOCIAL NETWORKS

eg Twitter, Facebook (less mainstream ones mentioned in Other Tools below)
YOUR PROFILE
I would suggest having a professional account, especially if you already have an account and use it for day to day chatting to friends, posting pictures of nights out etc.
If you need convincing – perhaps these reasons will help:
Reason 1 – potential to upset bosses
Countless examples of people being fired for criticizing their bosses, talking about getting another job. being unprofessional, being offensive etc. drunk pictures, sweary tweets. keep them separate.
This doesn’t mean you cant be human on your professional tweet, just not an animal.
Reason 2 – your company could claim ownership of your followers
Recently a man was sued for his followers, He was using his own account to promote the companys work – when he left, they wanted him to leave his Twitter account, and his followers, behind.
Reason 3 – Content may not be suitable for your personal account
Friends don’t necessarily want to see your work
some may not like the work you are doing … may not be suitable
Imagine youre doing research on neo-fascists – and you decide to follow a few groups for research – do you want your friends seeing that?
Now, whether that is true or not – it shows that if you are searching for something a little unsavoury, illegal etc or dealing with people, it is best to have a separate account.

 

Name: If you already have an account using your full name, consider changing it to a nickname, and using your full name on your professional account – remember, a potential employer/contact will probably do a search for you – which account do you want them to find?
Also, avoid a username that alludes to your current situation – eg Davethestudent, or JohnBCU – in 2/3 years you won’t be a student any more. Also avoid employer names for the same reason.
picture – I would choose something clear and recognizable – it’s amazing how many people at events will come over because they’ve seen you on Twitter.
So now you have your account set up, the question is …
WHO TO FOLLOW
Who’s on there
celebrities
councils
MPs
sports
experts
other journalists
General advice
you’ll end up following lots of people
don’t be afraid to stop following people if your interest changes
e.g. you’re working on an education story – so you’ll follow lots of teachers  – for example. once the story is over, you don’t need to keep getting their updates
use lists  – group the types of people you are interested in so you can see them all together
Finding that first person
  • name search people/organizations/publications you know
  • check articles on the subject  – is the writer online?
  • check organizations websites – a lot now promote their social network accounts
  • Google search subject area + social network name …
Next step
Youve now found someone to follow …
  • check their profile – they may have other accounts, organizations mentioned
  • who are they following? (very useful) who follows them? (not as useful)
  • Lists – the lists they follow and the lists they are a member of – find similar people
  • look through some of their tweets – who are they talking to / replying to?
WHAT FOLLOW
Hashtags (Twitter)
As well as following people, you can follow events (whether temporary or ongoing) with hashtags. These are words, preceeded by a #, which users use to show the subject of their tweet.
With certain services you can search and follow hashtags .. which can be set up for TV shows (eg #xfactor, or for individual conferences, events.
Lists (Facebook, twitter)
If you find a list of interesting people, you can follow the whole list, instead of the individual people. Again, certain readers let you do this.
Groups (Facebook, LinkedIn, google groups)
Join groups, follow conversations, get involved …
HOW TO MANAGE
Ideally this shouldn’t be something you are sitting down to do once a day, but you are notified about updates as-and-when, to suit you
Various ways to interact with Social networks
  • official website – Facebook.com, twitter.com
  • phone app – eg Boxcar for Iphone (covers Facebook, Twitter, email etc) – most smartphones have built in notifications for Facebook/Twitter or apps you can add
  • computer desktop application – eg Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Destroytwitter
  • via SMS
  • via email notifications
DestroyTwitter2 – http://bit.ly/ykTwOX
_________________

RSS FEEDS

a way to keep an eye on websites without having to keep checking them
Sign up to a Google Reader account
Ways to Subscribe
  • search for subject area/names via SUBSCRIBE button
  • manually add URL via the Subscribe button
  • click on an orange RSS button on a website
  • click on RSS button on URL bar in browser (most show if there is an RSS feed available now)
How to Read those feeds
Google Reader, but many other RSS readers sync with your Google Reader account
  • Google Reader website
  • desktop reader – eg Feedemon, RSS Bandit
  • phone app – eg Feedler, Feedly, Flipboard
  • online readers – (list from Geek Adda http://bit.ly/w6Amie)
____________________

They Work for you

 Allows you to keyword search MP’s speeches in Parliament
——————————-

GOOGLE ALERTS

A way of keeping an eye on whats happening
_______________________

OTHER TOOLS

LinkedIn Specifically
How Journalists Can Use LinkedIn http://tnw.co/ypyo3e
Useful to have professionally
good for job hunting
find company contacts – and approach
Follow companies
Browse company stats
Also
Youtube, Flickr, Soundcloud (music site) – a lot of content – a source for contacts
Quora –  a questions and answers website – very professional. not as busy as it was but still useful
Meetups.com – people organising meetups – useful for finding sources, interviewees, interest/action groups
Podcasts – Itunes … search for subject areas – a lot of interesting content
01 Feb

New website launch > The Hidden City

An interesting project to emerge in this time when questions are being asked about the role of the mainstream media is The Hidden City. It is a website covering the hidden stories of Birmingham through audio slideshows (a slideshow of relevant photographs with an audio track underneath).

The brainchild of the guys behind Fourseventy Media, a local media production company specializing in audio, The Hidden City is a not-for profit project funded by donations and sponsorship. All money raised will go back into the project to cover costs, (eg travel expenses)

With local newspapers shutting down and broadcast newsrooms co-locating out of the region, this site hopes to focus attention back on the local people, stories and events happening across the region and are inviting the public to submit story ideas. Once these ideas are submitted, the site will either assign it to one of their reporters, or help the member of the public to cover it themselves.

Checking the site out at today’s launch, at Brewsmiths Coffee shop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, there are a handful of stories up there, as produced by the FourSeventy Media guys, and a small army of local media/tech students from Birmingham City University. Reports currently on the site deal with subjects including squatters rights, the history of UB40, an old-school barbers shop and street sport.

Right now these are accessible through “pins on a map”, housed on the front page (See screengrab below) – although they are not categorized into subject area/themes. (there are plans for themed/colour coded pins in the future)

I was concerned about the issue of quality control. Right now, the site houses some top notch content – produced by a professional company, and students trained by them. I was assured that content standards would remain high, and that all submitted work would be either produced entirely in-house, or under supervision/editorial guidance from the in house team. There is also common sense here – with the guys clearly going for quality over quantity – there will be 2/3 audio slideshows (or audio/video in the future) uploaded her month.

Overall, it is an interesting project and I wish them all the luck!

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020