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.
What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.
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.
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 →
“The Triangle of Trade to which I have referred is essentially an arrangement where Rangers FC and their owner provide each journalist who is “inside the tent” with a sufficient supply of transfer “exclusives” and player trivia to ensure that the hack does not have to work hard. Any Scottish journalist wishing to have a long career learns quickly not to bite the hands that feed. The rule that “demographics dictate editorial” applied regardless of original footballing sympathies.
“[...] Super-casino developments worth £700m complete with hover-pitches were still being touted to Rangers fans even after the first news of the tax case broke. Along with “Ronaldo To Sign For Rangers” nonsense, it is little wonder that the majority of the club’s fans were in a state of stupefaction in recent years. They were misled by those who ran their club. They were deceived by a media pack that had to know that the stories it peddled were false.”
The site is being run by a colleague of mine from Birmingham City University, Jennifer Jones, as part of a project we’re working on which sees students at BCU and other universities connecting to wider online networks in investigating Olympics-related questions.
While the public image of data journalism tends to revolve around big data dumps and headline-grabbing leaks, there is a more important day-to-day application of data skills: scrutinising the claims regularly made in support of spending public money.
I’m blogging about this now because I recently came across a particularly good illustration of politicians being dazzled by numbers from lobbyists (that journalists should be checking) in this article by Simon Jenkins, from which I’ll quote at length:
“This government, so draconian towards spending in public, is proving as casual towards dodgy money in private as were Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Earlier this month the Olympics boss, Lord Coe, moseyed into Downing Street and said that his opening and closing ceremonies were looking a bit mean at £40m. Could he double it to £81m for more tinsel? Rather than scream and kick him downstairs, David Cameron said: my dear chap, but of course. I wonder what the prime minister would have said if his lordship had been asking for a care home, a library or a clinic.
“Much of the trouble comes down to the inexperience of ingenue ministers, and their susceptibility to the pestilence of lobbying now infecting Westminster. On this occasion the hapless Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson, claimed that the extra £41m was “worth £2-5bn in advertising revenue alone”, a rate of return so fanciful as to suggest a lobbyist’s lunch beyond all imagining. Robertson also claimed to need another £271m for games security (not to mention 10,000 troops, warships and surface-to-air missiles), despite it being “not in response to any specific security threat”. It was just money.
“This was merely the climax of naivety. In their first month in office, ministers were told – and believed – that it would be “more expensive” to cancel two new aircraft carriers than to build them. Ministers were told it would cost £2bn to cancel Labour’s crazy NHS computer rather than dump it in the nearest skip. Chris Huhne, darling of the renewables industry, wants to give it £8bn a year to rescue the planet, one of the quickest ways of transferring money from poor consumer to rich landowner yet found. The chancellor, George Osborne, was told by lobbyists he could save £3bn a year by giving away commercial planning permissions. All this was statistical rubbish.
“If local government behaved as credulously as Whitehall it would be summoned before the audit commission and subject to surcharge.”
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.
The New York Times has combined visualisation with audio to produce a fascinating piece of work on the differences between gold winning times and runners-up across a number of Winter Olympics events. It’s a particularly creative approach to the challenge of communicating a relatively abstract story: what separates gold and silver. Well worth a look.