Tag Archives: interactivity

Transfer rumours, robot journalism and The Guardian: when it makes sense to put a poll BEFORE the article

Football transfer rumours  Daley Blind to Manchester United    Football   theguardian.com

Nice work by The Guardian (above) in their online reporting on transfer rumours: readers of each report are presented with a vote on whether they think the rumour is likely to be true before they get to read the full article.

It’s a good example of putting interactivity – and distribution – front and centre when the headline has already done most of the editorial work. Continue reading

FAQ: Online journalism ethics, accuracy, transparency and objectivity

Answers to another set of questions around ethics and online journalism, posed by a UK student, and reproduced here as part of the FAQ series:

Do you believe online journalism presents new ethical dilemmas and should have standards of its own?

Yes, I think any changing situation – whether technological or cultural – presents new ethical dilemmas.

But should ‘online journalism’ have a separate code? I don’t see how it can. Where would you draw the line when most journalists work online? Ethical standards are relatively platform-agnostic, but journalists do have to revisit those when they’re working in new environments. Continue reading

Games are just another storytelling device

Whenever people talk about games as a potential journalistic device, there is a reaction against the idea of ‘play’ as a method for communicating ‘serious’ news.

Malcolm Bradbrook’s post on the News:Rewired talk by Newsgames author Bobby Schweizer is an unusually thoughtful exploration of that reaction, where he asks whether the use of games might contribute to the wider tabloidisation of news, the key aspects of which he compares with games as follows:

  1. “Privileging the visual over analysis - I think this is obvious where games are concerned. Actual levels of analysis will be minimal compared to the visual elements of the game
  2. “Using cultural knowledge over analysis - the game will become a shared experience, just as the BBC’s One in 7bn was in October. But how many moved beyond typing in their date of birth to reading the analysis? It drove millions to the BBC site but was it for the acquisition of understanding or something to post on Facebook/Twitter?
  3. “Dehistoricised and fragmented versions of events - as above, how much context can you provide in a limited gaming experience?”

These are all good points, and designers of journalism games should think about them carefully, but I think there’s a danger of seeing games in isolation.

Hooking the user – and creating a market

With the BBC’s One in 7bn interactive, for example, I’d want to know how many users would have read the analysis if there was no interactive at all. Yes, many people will not have gone further than typing in their date of birth – but that doesn’t mean all of them didn’t. 10% of a lot (and that interactive attracted a huge audience) can be more than 100% of few.

What’s more, the awareness driven by that interactive creates an environment for news discussion that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Even if 90% of users (pick your own proportion, it doesn’t matter) never read the analysis directly, they are still more likely to discuss the story with others, some of whom would then be able to talk about the analysis the others missed.

Without that social context, the ‘serious’ news consumer has less opportunity to discuss what they’ve read.

News is multi-purpose

Then there’s the idea that people read the news for “acquisition of understanding”. I’m not sure how much news consumption is motivated by that, and how much by the need to be able to operate socially (discussing current events) or professionally (reacting to them) or even emotionally (being stimulated by them).

As someone who has tried various techniques to help students “acquire understanding”, I’m aware that the best method is not always to present them with facts, or a story. Sometimes it’s about creating a social environment; sometimes it’s about simulating an experience or putting people in a situation where they are faced with particular problems (all of which are techniques used by games).

Bradbrook ends with a quote from Jeremy Paxman on journalism’s “first duty” as disclosure. But if you can’t get people to listen to that disclosure then it is purposeless (aside from making the journalist feel superior). That is why journalists write stories, and not research documents. It is why they use case studies and not just statistics.

Games are another way of communicating information. Like all the other methods, they have their limitations as well as strengths. We need to be aware of these, and think about them critically, but to throw out the method entirely would be a mistake, I think.

UPDATE: Some very useful tweets from Mary Hamilton, Si Lumb, Chris Unitt and Mark Sorrell drew my attention to some very useful posts on games and storytelling more generally.

Sorrell’s post Games Good Stories Bad, for example, includes this passage:

“Games can create great stories, don’t get me wrong. But they are largely incapable oftelling great stories. Games are about interaction and agency, about choice and self-determination. One of the points made by fancy-pants French sociologist Roger Caillois when defining what a game is, was that the outcome of a game must be uncertain. The result cannot be known in advance. When you try and tell a story in a game, you must break that rule, you must make the outcome of events pre-determined.”
And while reading Lumb’s blog I came across this post with this point:

” A story as an entity, as a thing doesn’t exist until some event, some imagination, some narrative is constructed, relived, shared or described. It must be told. It is “story telling”, after all. Only at the point that you tell someone about that something does it become real, does it become a story. It is always from your perspective, it is always your interpretation, it is a gift you wish to share and that is how it comes to be.

“In a game you can plant narrative as discoverable, you can have cut scenes, you can have environments and situations and mechanics and toys and rules and delight and wonderful play – and in all of this you hide traditional “stories” from visual and textual creators (until read or viewed they don’t exist) and you have the emergence of events that may indeed become stories when you share with another person.”

And finally, if you just want to explore these issues in a handy diagram, there’s this infographic tweeted by Lumb:

A Model of Play - Dubberly Design Office

A Model of Play - Dubberly Design Office

For more background on games in journalism, see my Delicious bookmarks at http://delicious.com/paulb/gamejournalism

Bella Hurrell on data journalism and the BBC News Specials Team

BBC_Special_ReportsBella Hurrell is the Specials Editor with BBC News Online. I asked her how data journalism was affecting their work for a forthcoming article. Here is her response in full:

The BBC news specials team produces multimedia interactives, daily graphics as well as more complex data visualisations. The team consists of journalists, designers and developers all working closely together, sitting alongside each other.

We have found that proximity really important to the success of projects. Although we have done this for a while, increasingly other organisations are reorganising along these lines after coming to realise the benefits of breaking down silos and co-locating people with different skillsets can produce more innovative solutions at a faster pace.

As data visualisation has come into the zeitgeist, and we have started using it more regularly in our story-telling, journalists and designers on the specials team have become much more proficient at using basic spreadsheet applications like Excel or Google Docs. We’ve boosted these and other skills through in house training or external summer schools and conferences.

Data as a service, data as a story

There are two interrelated elements to data journalism: firstly data as a service, often involving publicly available data.  The school league tables which the BBC news website has produced every year for over a decade are an example here. We know they are hugely popular and they provide a valuable public service for users. More recently the government has started to get better at putting data / information  online, so we have adjusted our coverage. Instead of replicating what is done by government sites (such as providing individual school pages) we try to provide value by doing something extra, such as mini charts and the ability to select and compare schools - as well as news stories and analysis.

The second element is data as a story. The simple fact that loads of data has been published is not really very interesting to most people. Data is only useful if it is personal – I want to find out about schools in my area, restaurants near me and so on – or when it reveals something remarkable. The duck pond debacle from MPs expenses data or the Iraq civilian death records kept by the US revealed by Wikileaks’ release of the Iraq war documents are both examples of individual stories from big tranches of data that really resonated.

Dealing with large numbers of documents

With data stories that involve thousands of documents we face two challenges. Firstly deciding whether we can provide a platform or tool for people to look at the documents or data. This can be valuable but might involve significant technical resources and may not be worth doing if others are already providing this service.

Secondly we need to find the stories and then report them but clearly that can be tricky when there are thousands of documents to examine. Crowdsourcing is an obvious approach but we need to use what the crowd tells us. When readers told us about potential stories they spotted in the MPs expenses data we pulled in our whole politics team off normal duties to sift users’ questions and put them directly to the relevant MPs. Then we published their answers on our site. This is a very resource heavy approach and not sustainable over a long time.

Another model for reporting stories that involve large sets of data was Panorama’s public sector pay story, where the website partnered with the investigative unit to tell the story online. The Panorama team spent months collecting data and we provided simple visualisations and  a way for users to examine the data.

A War Logs interactive – with a crowdsourcing bonus

Owni war logs interface

French data journalism outfit Owni have put together an impressive app (also in English) that attempts to put a user-friendly interface on the intimidating volume of War Logs documents.

The app allows you to filter the information by country and category, and also allows you to choose whether to limit results to incidents involving the deaths of wounding of civilians, allies or enemies.

Clicking on an individual incident bring up the raw text but also a mapping of the location and the details split into a more easy-to-read table. Continue reading

Video: BBC at the 2012 Olympics: visualisations, maps and augmented reality

With 2 years to go to the 2012 Olympics, the BBC are already starting to plan their online coverage of the event. With a large, creative team at hand who have experimented with maps, visualisations and interactive content in the past, the pressure is on them to keep the standards high.

At the recent News:Rewired event, OJB caught up with Olympics Reporter Ollie Williams, himself a visualisation guru, to find out exactly what they were planning for 2012.

Online journalism and the promises of new technology PART 4: Interactivity

This post is cross-published from my new journalism/new media-blog. Previous posts in this series:

In the fourth part of this series I will take a closer look at the research on interactivity  in online journalism and to what degree this asset of new technology has been and is utilized.

Content analysis studies

As with hypertext, the research on interactivity in online journalism is dominated by content analysis, even though a greater body of this research also relies on surveys and interviews with journalists. Kenny et al. (2000) concluded that only 10 percent of the online newspapers in their study offered “many opportunities for interpersonal communication” and noted that little had changed since the introduction of Videotex 25 years earlier: “Videotex wanted to electronically push news into people’s homes, and so do today’s online papers”. Continue reading