Tag Archives: Guardian

Charging for journalism – crowdfunder SA Mathieson’s experience

SA Mathieson Beacon page

If you assumed that the future of journalism would only be free (or at least advertiser-funded), says SA Mathieson, you’re wrong. In a guest post for OJB Mathieson – who recently successfully crowdfunded his own project to report on the Scottish referendum - explains why the web turns out to be capable of charging for access too.

The Columbia Review of Journalism recently reported that the Financial Times now has nearly twice as many digital subscribers as print ones, having added 99,000 online customers in 2013.

They pay significant amounts for access: the cheapest online subscription to the FT is £5.19 a week. A free registration process does allow access to 8 articles a month – but try to access a ninth and you have to pay.

The FT was earlier than most to charge online, but many publishers have followed suit. Only a few – such as The Times – lock up everything, but titles including the Telegraph, New York Times and Economist all use metering, allowing non-paying readers access to a limited number of articles before a subscription is required. They have been joined by increasing numbers of trade and local publications.

This isn’t just an option for established titles: as a freelance journalist I write for Beacon, a start-up used by more than 100 journalists in more than 30 countries to publish their reporting. It has “more than several thousand” subscribers after five months’ operation, co-founder Adrian Sanders told the New York Times recently.

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“I don’t do maths”: how j-schools teach statistics to journalists

stats Image by Simon Cunningham

Image by Simon Cunningham

Teresa Jolley reports from a conference for teaching statistics to journalism students

I am not a great ‘numbers’ person, but even I was surprised by the attitudes that journalism lecturers at the Statistics in Journalism conference reported in their students.

‘I don’t do numbers’ and ‘I hate maths’ were depressingly common expressions, perhaps unsurprisingly. People wanting to study journalism enjoy the use of language and rarely expect that numbers will be vital to the stories they are telling.

So those responsible for journalism education have a tricky task. A bit like providing a sweet covering to a nasty-tasting tablet, it was said that lecturers need to be adept at finding ingenious ways to teach a practical and relevant use of numbers without ever mentioning the M (maths) or S (statistics) words. Continue reading

Study: do news industry metrics underplay print’s importance? (cross post)

In a cross-post for OJB originally published on The Conversation, Neil Thurman argues that his recent research that suggests current news industry metrics underplay the importance of print reading time. 

Figures published recently suggest that more than 90% of newspaper reading still happens in print. This might come as a surprise given the gloomy assessments often made of the state of print media in the UK but, it turns out, we’re just not measuring success properly. Continue reading

Ethics in data journalism: privacy, user data, collaboration and the clash of codes

This is the second in a series of extracts from a draft book chapter on ethics in data journalism. The first looked at how ethics of accuracy play out in data journalism projectsThis is a work in progress, so if you have examples of ethical dilemmas, best practice, or guidance, I’d be happy to include it with an acknowledgement.

Gun permit holders map - image from Sherrie Questioning All

Gun permit holders map – image from Sherrie Questioning All

Hacks/Hackers: collaboration and the clash of codes

Journalism’s increasingly collaborative and global nature in a networked environment has raised a number of ethical issues as contributors from different countries and from professions outside of journalism – with different codes of ethics – come together.

This collaborative spirit is most visible in the ‘Hacks/Hackers’ movement, where journalists meet with web developers to exchange tips and ideas, and work on joint projects. Data journalists also often take part in – and organise – ‘hack days’ or ‘hackathons’ aimed at opening up and linking data and creating apps, or work with external agencies to analyse data gathered by either party. Continue reading

The first, second and third duties: why The Guardian had to destroy Snowden files

The Guardian's destroyed files - Photograph: Roger Tooth for the Guardian

Photograph: Roger Tooth for the Guardian

Should The Guardian have destroyed its copies of Edward Snowden’s leaked files rather than go to court? That’s a question raised by Index on Censorship and put to editor Alan Rusbridger by Channel 4 News (from 3.40 in).

Publishing is a practical business, and there are three key duties which a publisher has to consider.

Firstly, a news organisation must try to protect its sources. Continue reading

7 buttons you should be using in the WordPress edit view

Wordpress Formatting Menu with selectedText

If you’re writing blog posts there are a number of formatting options you should be using regularly to make your article easier to read for users, and easier to understand for search engines (and therefore search engine optimisation). Here’ s a rundown of the 7 most important ones. Continue reading

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

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A case study in online journalism: investigating the Olympic torch relay

Infographic: Where did the Olympic torch relay places go? What we know so far

image by @CarolineBeavon

For the last two months I’ve been involved in an investigation which has used almost every technique in the online journalism toolbox. From its beginnings in data journalism, through collaboration, community management and SEO to ‘passive-aggressive’ newsgathering,  verification and ebook publishing, it’s been a fascinating case study in such a range of ways I’m going to struggle to get them all down.

But I’m going to try.

Data journalism: scraping the Olympic torch relay

The investigation began with the scraping of the official torchbearer website. It’s important to emphasise that this piece of data journalism didn’t take place in isolation – in fact, it was while working with Help Me Investigate the Olympics‘s Jennifer Jones (coordinator for#media2012, the first citizen media network for the Olympic Games) and others that I stumbled across the torchbearer data. So networks and community are important here (more later).

Indeed, it turned out that the site couldn’t be scraped through a ‘normal’ scraper, and it was the community of the Scraperwiki site – specifically Zarino Zappia – who helped solve the problem and get a scraper working. Without both of those sets of relationships – with the citizen media network and with the developer community on Scraperwiki – this might never have got off the ground.

But it was also important to see the potential newsworthiness in that particular part of the site. Human stories were at the heart of the torch relay – not numbers. Local pride and curiosity was here – a key ingredient of any local newspaper. There were the promises made by its organisers – had they been kept?

The hunch proved correct – this dataset would just keep on giving stories.

The scraper grabbed details on around 6,000 torchbearers. I was curious why more weren’t listed – yes, there were supposed to be around 800 invitations to high profile torchbearers including celebrities, who might reasonably be expected to be omitted at least until they carried the torch – but that still left over 1,000.

I’ve written a bit more about the scraping and data analysis process for The Guardian and the Telegraph data blog. In a nutshell, here are some of the processes used:

  • Overview (pivot table): where do most come from? What’s the age distribution?
  • Focus on details in the overview: what’s the most surprising hometown in the top 5 or 10? Who’s oldest and youngest? What about the biggest source outside the UK?
  • Start asking questions of the data based on what we know it should look like – and hunches
  • Don’t get distracted – pick a focus and build around it.

This last point is notable. As I looked for mentions of Olympic sponsors in nomination stories, I started to build up subsets of the data: a dozen people who mentioned BP, two who mentioned ArcelorMittal (the CEO and his son), and so on. Each was interesting in its own way – but where should you invest your efforts?

One story had already caught my eye: it was written in the first person and talked about having been “engaged in the business of sport”. It was hardly inspirational. As it mentioned adidas, I focused on the adidas subset, and found that the same story was used by a further six people – a third of all of those who mentioned the company.

Clearly, all seven people hadn’t written the same story individually, so something was odd here. And that made this more than a ‘rotten apple’ story, but something potentially systemic.

Signals

While the data was interesting in itself, it was important to treat it as a set of signals to potentially more interesting exploration. Seven torchbearers having the same story was one of those signals. Mentions of corporate sponsors was another.

But there were many others too.

That initial scouring of the data had identified a number of people carrying the torch who held executive positions at sponsors and their commercial partners. The GuardianThe Independent and The Daily Mail were among the first to report on the story.

I wondered if the details of any of those corporate torchbearers might have been taken off off the site afterwards. And indeed they had: seven disappeared entirely (many still had a profile if you typed in the URL directly - but could not be found through search or browsing), and a further two had had their stories removed.

Now, every time I scraped details from the site I looked for those who had disappeared since the last scrape, and those that had been added late.

One, for example – who shared a name with a very senior figure at one of the sponsors – appeared just once before disappearing four days later. I wouldn’t have spotted them if they – or someone else – hadn’t been so keen on removing their name.

Another time, I noticed that a new torchbearer had been added to the list with the same story as the 7 adidas torchbearers. He turned out to be the Group Chief Executive of the country’s largest catalogue retailer, providing “continuing evidence that adidas ignored LOCOG guidance not to nominate executives.”

Meanwhile, the number of torchbearers running without any nomination story went from just 2.7% in the first scrape of 6,056 torchbearers, to 7.2% of 6,891 torchbearers in the last week, and 8.1% of all torchbearers – including those who had appeared and then disappeared – who had appeared between the two dates.

Many were celebrities or sportspeople where perhaps someone had taken the decision that they ‘needed no introduction’. But many also turned out to be corporate torchbearers.

By early July the numbers of these ‘mystery torchbearers’ had reached 500 and, having only identified a fifth, we published them through The Guardian datablog.

There were other signals, too, where knowing the way the torch relay operated helped.

For example, logistics meant that overseas torchbearers often carried the torch in the same location. This led to a cluster of Chinese torchbearers in StanstedHungarians in Dorset,Germans in BrightonAmericans in Oxford and Russians in North Wales.

As many corporate torchbearers were also based overseas, this helped narrow the search, with Germany’s corporate torchbearers in particular leading to an article in Der Tagesspiegel.

I also had the idea to total up how many torchbearers appeared each day, to identify days when details on unusually high numbers of torchbearers were missing – thanks to Adrian Short – but it became apparent that variation due to other factors such as weekends and the Jubilee made this worthless.

However, the percentage per day missing stories did help (visualised below by Caroline Beavon), as this also helped identify days when large numbers of overseas torchbearers were carrying the torch. I cross-referenced this with the ‘mystery torchbearer’ spreadsheet to see how many had already been checked, and which days still needed attention.

But the data was just the beginning. In the second part of this case study, I talk about the verification process, SEO and collaboration.

A case study in online journalism: investigating the Olympic torch relay

Infographic: Where did the Olympic torch relay places go? What we know so far

For the last two months I’ve been involved in an investigation which has used almost every technique in the online journalism toolbox. From its beginnings in data journalism, through collaboration, community management and SEO to ‘passive-aggressive’ newsgathering,  verification and ebook publishing, it’s been a fascinating case study in such a range of ways I’m going to struggle to get them all down.

But I’m going to try. Continue reading

Two guest posts on using data journalism techniques to investigate the Olympics

Corporate Olympic torchbearers exchange a 'torch kiss'

Investigating corporate Olympic torchbearers - analysing the data and working collaboratively led to this photo of a 'torch kiss' between two retail bosses

If I’ve been a little quiet on the blog recently, it’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time involved in an investigation into the Olympic torch relay over on Help Me Investigate the Olympics.

I’ve written two guest posts – for The Guardian’s Data Blog and The Telegraph’s new Olympics infographics and data blog – talking about some of the processes involved in that investigation. Here are the key points: Continue reading