Tag Archives: MA Online Journalism

08 Apr

MA Online Journalism: Multimedia Journalism Breadth Portfolio

Journalism – (noun) The occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business

This traditional definition of journalism (Dictionary.com http://bit.ly/dCdXBa) despite massive leaps forward in technology and attitude, still sums up exactly what the profession is about today: in short, getting the news out there.

Unfortunately, some are reluctant to accept these changes to the industry: old school hacks refusing to interact with readers online, newspapers not utilising video, radio stations limiting themselves to audio broadcast, whilst, behind them, there is an army of citizen reporters armed with iPhones, Youtube, Flickr, Audioboo and Bambuser ready to step in and take over the gatekeeping of the worlds news.

These are exciting times, and at the start of this educational trip into multimedia journalism, I expected to focus on video, with a brief (and required) nod towards to audio and Flash.

Little did I know.

The toughest challenge from the outset was finding inspiration for projects. As a working multimedia journalist, that decision would be handled by the News Editor, who would give you a brief and a deadline.

So, I decided to play the role of a working multimedia journalist. Switching on Sky News, I took the first story that interested me, and ran with it.

FLASH

JONNY DOREY (link to page)

Jonny Dorey is a British student, currently missing whilst studying in the USA. At this point the story lacked data (i.e. dates and times) so a simple roll-over flash animation showing the various elements of the story seemed the best option as a starting point with this media.

Ideally, with more knowledge and artistic skill, the story would have benefited from something a little more intricate (along the lines of the BBC visualization of the Jean-Charles de Menezes shooting in London). This visualization is outstanding, with the image zooming in at each stage, and moving markers to show the relevant parties. However, the level of detail here was high due to the evidence revealed in court. At the time the information regarding Jonny Dorey was scant – although since then there have been suspected sightings of him – which would have worked well on a map based animation, as well as his possible route taken. Youtube appeals, photographs and other multimedia content could then be embedded into this map. A multimedia tool like this may have been useful in spreading the word about Jonny’s disappearance, and getting people involved in the search.

FESTIVAL MAP (link)

The Jonny Dorey project broke down the story and made it easier to digest, but Flash is also a useful tool for solving problems and aiding decision making.

Over the last few years the UK has become the centre of music festivals, with hundreds happening every summer. There are also dozens of websites that claim to centralise all this information (lineups, festival dates etc.), but none of them have managed it in a clear and visual way.

A Venn diagram would have worked well in showing the overlap between different bands playing the larger festivals, but, as yet, I am unable to find such a visualization tool that will achieve this. In retrospect, a clickable map showing which bands are playing where and when, was a lot more effective.

Featuring the 6 big festivals, and just the stage headliners (a manageable number, in order to get the project completed for publication), the map allows the user to click on a band’s name listed alongside, and points would flash on the UK map, with the festival name and date of appearance.

A second tier to this festival map would have been useful, where the user could click on the Festival point on the map and be shown all the bands playing, unfortunately the map was too crowded with “hotspots” and became unusable.

However, this information is constantly being updated and this does bring up the issues of maintaining and updating Flash sites. Would it be easy to ADD to the map, or would it make more sense to make a data map instead, with the information automatically pulled in from a feed?

The Maps Channels Events site handles events on a map excellently (even thought the interface is a little basic and ugly). You can search for a date, artist or venue  – and it shows the location on a Google Map.

There is definitely scope to explore something like this, as festival websites are big business, and I could see one of the key sites, or music magazines, taking up this idea.

DATA

GLASTONBURY (link)

Glastonbury Festival is famously the UK’s largest music event, and I was keen to investigate how it has grown over the years, along with the price to attend (data acquired from official Glastonbury site)

Using Google Docs Spreadsheet and the ManyEyes visualization tool I created a scatter chart. ManyEyes has the limitations of not linking to live data, so if statistics change the data has to be re-pasted into the site but the choice of graphs and the interface made this a perfect tool for this project, and others.

I expected the chart to show a gradual increase both in capacity and ticket price, but it did flag up a drop in capacity after they took a break in 2006. It is this kind of anomaly that would work well illustrated in a timeline/chart mash-up – with landmarks in the festivals history (license issues, poor ticket sales, bad weather) – something akin to The Times Eating Chart, where the user rolls over the years, and sees the various developments.

There will be more on the issue of flawed data later in this document, but this chart does raise the issue of finances in charts over time  in relation to Inflation. How does a £8 ticket in 1981 actually compare to a £185 priced ticket today? Does this make a mockery of statistics if the price is not converted into a standard “worth”? This issue has been seen recently with claims that Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time.

More interesting  was the comparison between the official capacity of the festival and the actual number of people attending. Glastonbury has had a  long running battle with gatecrashers (or fence-hoppers) and as a news story this is an interesting set of data.

A bar chart suited this project, with the 2 capacity figures alongside each other, and showed just how dramatic the problem of “fence hopping” has been for the festival.

Unfortunately, actual capacity stats are hard to come by (as they are tricky to monitor) so “guestimated” figures were found in news reports (e.g. BBC, newspapers) and blogs, although I accept these figures are largely speculative and may be inaccurate. An FOI request has gone into Avon and Somerset Police, who should have some official estimated attendance figures.

Using estimated and reported data for a project like this also comes with a moral responsibility. Despite recent successful measures to prevent gatecrashers, according to some reports thousands of people are still getting into the site without paying. There is constant scrutiny of the management of the festival and I did feel uncomfortable publishing speculative figures that could be taken out of context by critics (including the local council who approve the license for the event).

However, there was definitely room here to investigate any correlation between the price of the ticket and the numbers of people trying to get in for free – are people driven to jump the fence as the price goes up?

Unfortunately I simply did not have enough data (9 years worth of unofficial capacity stats) to hand to make this work effectively and will retry it if my Freedom of Information Act application to Avon and Somerset Police is successful.

ITUNES LIBRARY

As a more personal project, and to test some other charts on ManyEyes, I decided to make use of the data from my ITunes player.

By cutting and pasting the relevant columns (“artist”, “song”, “genre” and “plays”) into a spreadsheet, and using the ManyEyes Bubble Chart visualization, there was an instant display of the most played genres.

“Alternative” was the largest category – whereas most of the music I listen would fall under rock, electronic or industrial.

Tweaking the data, switching genre for artist showed that it was a classification issue, not musical taste, which had completely distorted the data. Celldweller, an industrial artist, had been categorized as alternative. I spotted the problem as I know the subject, but what about data from an external source?

How can we always trust the classification of data is correct? Even the rawest of data has still been analyzed and gone through a personal “opinion” filter. There have been examples of crime stats being skewed by personal opinion (whether it’s at face value, from the PC attending the call, or the data builder designing the charts) or even simple geography boundaries.

IAN HUNTLEY ATTACK

The recent attack on Soham killer Ian Huntley earned some interesting reaction online, with such high emotions it seems the public are still happy to see to man come to harm.

Using a Google spreadsheet and the command (=importfeed(“http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=huntley”, “”, “”, 20), I searched Twitter for all the tweets mentioning “Huntley” (as opposed to “Ian Huntley”, which would have limited the search to the more formal tweets from news outlets etc. “Huntley” picked up the casual, public point of view)

This created a spreadsheet of the latest  15 tweets containing the word Huntley, which were then copies into Wordle in order to create a WordCloud. This was not a particularly useful or interesting experiment, as it only highlights which words have been used the most – i.e. “Huntley” and “prison” – the more emotive words were used in smaller numbers so were not significant on the cloud.

Instead I decided to analyse how the story was being covered in 2 very different newspapers, The Guardian and the Daily Mail.

Over the past weeks I have been trying and testing several data visualization tools (Tableau, Gliffy, Graphviz) but have been taken with ManyEyes for it’s variety of charts, including analysis of TEXT

Using the Word Tree visualization, I copied the articles to analyse how the documents were structured, and which words followed HUNTLEY in the text.  The Guardian’s report followed Huntley with “convicted” “forced to fight for his life” “held at knifepoint” and several basic words whereas the Daily Mails article “was given privileges” “supposed to be under constant surveillance” “lured schoolgirls Holly and Jessica”. This text analysis is a useful tool for clearly seeing how the focus of a report is handled, especially, in this case, when the report is written from 2 different points of view.

AUDIO SLIDESHOW

Although initially reluctant to do any form of audio due to my radio background (and not wanting to stay within my field), I did decide to explore the world of audio slideshows.

There are several effective examples of this, and I was impressed by the ability to create emotion through slow moving images (e.g. Duckrabbits). However, I wasn’t personally interested in following the documentary style, instead looking into the possibility of enhancing something that would normally take a simple audio form – a music news bulletin.

With my background in radio I could quickly produce an audio bulletin, and spend the time learning about using images and transitions.

However, sourcing the images legally was of concern to me and whilst images on Flickr via CreativeCommons – is an option, most of the pictures were taken at live shows from a distance, and were not suitable for this project.

Stock photograph websites do not carry celebrity shots and official press shots are hard to come by if their star is in the news for the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately it came back to a simple Google Image search and making use of the  relevant pictures that provided.

The images had to be relatively close-up, of good quality and should supplement the story. For example the image of Pete Doherty with the policeman and Damon Albarn with the cigarette were obvious choices, considering the subject matter.

As an editor,  Windows Movie Maker offers a range of movement and transition options for the images. Movement over and between the pictures added to the story – for example, zooming in on the eyes of Robin Whitehead, the heiress and filmmaker found dead in a London flat. This gave the impression of sadness and tragedy. There was also humour by using pictures to highlight the fact that the lead singer of Killswitch Engage has the same name as 80’s pop star Howard Jones.

This process took around an hour and a half in total, from writing the bulletin to having  finished uploaded piece.

I would like to try to bring more humour into the report, along the lines of Rocketboom, otherwise this will simply be mimicking TV 60 second news style report, with images instead of video.

I would very much like to pursue this project on a regular basis (maybe even daily) but without access to good quality photographs legally, I do not believe it is possible.

18 Feb

Breaking Waves A Google Waves Experiment

Link to Breaking Waves: Birmingham Snow Wave

Breaking Waves A Google Waves Experiment

BACKGROUND OF GOOGLE WAVE

Google Wave was previewed to Google employees on May 27th 2009. Described as a “personal communication and collaboration tool” it was gradually rolled out from September 2009 via invitation. A combination of instant messenger and email, users could send messages to their contacts in a chain (similar to Google Mail) but then move back UP the chain, and insert text, images, video etc to add to the conversation.

The hype surrounding Google Wave had been immense, yet my initial experiences of it were less than favourable. I found the site restrictive, hard to navigate and slow. However, I was also clear to me that a tool that allows multiple people to edit one document and add content had some potential.

It had been widely tipped as a useful tool for businesses, and even education, when the process of the presentation or the lesson is the focus, but would it work for journalism, where traditionally the process is building up to a finished product ‐be that a bulletin, article or a report?

MY IDEA

In Gatewatching (2009) Axel Bruns described a new sphere of news that was the “publicizing <…> of whatever relevant content is available anywhere on the Web (and beyond)” (Alex Bruns “Gatewatching” 2009 p 2)

Today’s journalism is a conversation, not a lecture. I wanted to launch a crowdsourced wave, where people could publish information about a particular story, whether that was images, video, copy, quotes or maps. Most importantly, I wanted to encourage NON‐journalists to participate as well.

The number of content sites encouraging the public to get involved in the news process is increasing (e.g. Wikipedia) but I believed my Breaking Waves project was an unusual enough idea to gain some interest.Google Wave can be used as a live chat room, as a live‐blogging tool and as a content editor, and it was THIS final tool that I wanted to investigate further.

The focus was very much on news gathering, or rather, content gathering. I was hoping the experiment would take shape as people contributed and that a solution to how this content could be distribution (if at all) would present itself.

MY METHOD

I started by simply playing with Google Wave, getting used to the systems and experimenting with a few of the installed gadgets (maps and polls as well as the editing system).

This was, as I had hoped, going to be more than just a wiki. The fact that collaboration could take place in real time could, potentially, start debate on the site, and content could spring from that. This was not about many people editing one persons article, but users adding content to, essentially, a blank page. The possibilities were endless.

I launched the wave with a subject that I hoped would spark some interest and generate plenty of content. At the time Britain was suffering some of the worst snow storms in years, and what better a subject to get the Brits talking, than the weather.

The online community were already heavily involved in crowd sourcing postcode based snow updates via Twitter (eg. B18 3/10 light snow), which were being fed into a map. I was confident that interest in participation would extend to my site, with non‐journalists posting human interest content, and the journalists who were involved bringing a more  formal, news edge to it with news reports, comments etc.

The wave was launched in the Google Wave interface, but I soon embedded it into the Birmingham experimental news page Hashbrum and made it public. Once that link was “tweeted out”, people began to participate, adding pictures and video.

I decided early on that there needed to be some structure to the Wave, or it could, as I had seen with simple conversations, become quite chaotic. Below the title I loaded several pre‐defined wavelets entitled LINKS, MAPS, PICTURES, VIDEOS and MISC, I hoped this would sort out the data, and keep the wave organised.

The question remained, what to do with the content?

I set aside another wavelet, at the top of the wave, simply called COPY. My plan was for this to house the final document, a long form report bringing together all of the content posted by others. However, I soon realised that this was not the point of the project. Users were participating for the sake of participating, the focus was not a final article.

Browsing the many public waves on Google Wave, is it interesting to how it is being used.

The Chicago Red Eye blog holds daily Waves where readers can discuss the top story of the day with the editor. It is not dissimilar to a comments page, but is truly live, and takes place at the same time every day so people make an effort to join in.

Another interesting use of Google Wave is one pooling together information following the recent earthquake in Haiti. It contains a series of networked waves, covering topics such as food and water, nursing, evacuation and emergency care. Experts are sharing information, expertise and advice, plus there are plans to link up Twitter accounts to the site, so news of future disasters can be handled quickly.

The communication model has changed: in both cases both the company running the wave, and the “readers“, are part of the process, and the process IS the product. Chris Wade was one of the trainee journalists to get involved, despite his initial reservations about Google Wave.

“everything seemed to make quite a bit more sense. Multiple users contributed their pictures, maps and videos of the snow, and Google Wave was a brilliant way to bring all these together. It was ideal for a project like this”

Another contributor, Matt Walker, told me via Twitter:

“It has the potential to replace IM/Social networking/collab stuff etc.”

I decided to shelve the idea of a “final copy” section to the wave, and instead let the user submitted content be the article. There was already so much “traditional” news coverage of the situation, I hoped visitors to the page would prefer to browse a section of their choosing, whether it be articles, pictures or video.

I have also recently launched another Wave, this time with a music news focus. The welsh band Lostprophets (social media devotees themselves) have been on the promotional trail this week with the release of their new album, expected to debut at number 1 in the album charts. I wondered if this might be an interesting opportunity for young music fans, who are happy to share images and content online already, to get involved with this project and pool the extensive coverage that the band were already getting.

I was hoping to use an RSS feeder to bring in content linked to the band (with hash tags or Twitter feeds) but the current RSS Google Wave gadget (rssybot) is not functional. Once this is working, it would be a great addition to the feed.

I also need to properly promote the feed and get it out there to the right people.

FINDINGS

The Birmingham Snow Wave was successful in as far as people participated in the process, although the numbers of contributors were disappointingly low. It has received 14 content posts since launching.

As with any new project, it was hard to find the volumes of people who would be interested in taking part. Despite the hype surrounding Google Wave, it now seems there are invitations, once rare and coveted, going spare. It seems the initial interest has been limited to the technical and business world.

Struggling to find participants was also not helped by the subject matter. The Snow in Birmingham was far too niche a topic and several journalists from around the country said they would have participated, had it been a national focus. I think with Google Wave still in such an early stage, the broader the subject the better.

However, the participants that did contributed to the wave, 4 in all, seemed to enjoy taking part and liked the experimental and unusual take on news gathering.

It obviously appealed to journalists, with 2 young students getting involved. Another user was a friend of mine, who heard about the project and wanted to “have a play”. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, it is much harder to find interesting content. Instead I found that embedding the wave into a blog website and promoting that URL instead, sparked some interest and a few requests for Google Wave invitations.

My second Wave, Lostprophets Album Release, a very recent addition, may stumble for a different reason ‐ the audience. Google Wave, although causing a bit of a stir among the technology world when it launched, has not really broken into the mainstream, and certainly not into the younger market. However, I would like to pursue this line, and experiment with Twitter feeds to pull in and coverage online.

USABILITY

One of the resounding criticisms of Google Wave has been usability. One of the participants in the snow wave, non‐journalist Karen Davies commented:

“I found it really hard to use and navigate…I consider myself quite savvy when it comes to computers and to social networking sites. Google Wave is really ‘clunky’. I really like the idea behind it all but I think they haven’t put enough thought into the layout and interface.”

In the same way that many Twitter users do not access the service through the official website (instead, using an app such as Tweetdeck), so Google Wave would expand. We must not forget, however, that Google Wave is still in the beta stage, with no plans to make it totally public until the end of 2010.

LEGAL/ETHICS

One of the benefits of Google Wave is its non‐linear approach to comments. Blips can be added at any point in the wave which can spark interesting debate, but as with any user generated content, this can potentially cause problems with people posting defamatory, obscene or copyright material.

So who is responsible for making sure that doesn’t happen?

I am still waiting for clarification on this issue, but a recent Twitter conversation with
Birmingham blogger and social media expert Jon Bounds suggests that it is in Google’s hands.

A public wave is the responsibility of Google, as it sits on their site and not of the person that starts the wave. (In the same way you are not responsible for the comments to a video you put on Youtube.) Does this change if you embed the wave into your website or blog?

Google has taken down Blogger blogs before now, will they step in if Google Waves become legally unsound?

CONCLUSION

So does Google Wave work as a collaborative news tool?

I believe it does, but it takes another step away from the traditional news model as content is crowd‐sourced from the public, and the tradition of a “final piece of work” is removed. The content is simply organised and becomes a scrap book for people interested in the story.

Sites like Posterous, Dipity and Tumblr are already aggregating content and pull in feeds from Flickr or Youtube via RSS feeds or from email, but Google Wave allows for direct interaction. This can, in theory, be added to an RSS feed as well ‐ bringing the best of all worlds: user comments and automatically added content.

Once the service has been opened up to everyone, and new applications (a Tweetdeck for Wave for example), gadgets and robots are being designed for it, then we can truly see it’s potential.

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020