Empathy as an investigative tool: how to map systems to come up with story ideas

Zooming out of a network map of homelessness

By starting from one person you can start to identify the different parts of the systems that affect your topic — and useful story leads and ideas

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been helping students on my MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism and MA in Data Journalism come up with story ideas for specialist reporting and investigations. Part of the process involves an exercise around scoping out a particular subject or system you are interested in — for example, the housing system, or ‘dark kitchens’, the Oscars, or air pollution — and identifying the gaps in your knowledge that can lead to stories.

It’s an exercise where empathy plays a central role.

Here’s how the process works — and why empathy is so important to it. Continue reading

It’s not all about numbers: 6 ways that data can give you a story lead

Changing figures: 'New data says X' Data leads to an interview feature or profile Data leads to reaction/action story Explainers, infographics + 'in numbers': topical context Explorers: interactives, 'mapped', 'you draw it' A story about the lack of data, or concerns over quality

It’s a common misconception of data journalism that the resulting stories will be all about numbers. In fact, the data is often just a stepping stone — it might take you to interviews, or help you find case studies; it might give you the spark for a feature idea without a single number.

Recently I was asked about these alternatives to ‘number stories’ by one of my part time PGCert Data Journalism students — so here are the 6 tips I shared with them:
Continue reading

How to: plan a journalism project that needs data entry

Panorama source: FOI sent to 144 councils

This Panorama investigation involved entering data from 144 FOI responses

Data-driven reporting regularly involves some form of data entry — some of the stories I’ve been involved with, for example, have included entering information from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, compiling data from documents such as companies’ accounts, or working with partners to collect information from a range of sources.

But you’ll rarely hear the challenges of managing these projects discussed in resources on data journalism.

Last week I delivered a session on exactly those challenges to a factchecking team in Albania, so I thought it might be useful to share the tips from that session here.

They include some steps to take to reduce the likelihood of problems arising, while also helping to ensure a data entry project takes as little time as possible. Continue reading

Sigma Awards: new data journalism competition launched

Sigma awards

Data journalists are being invited to enter a new data journalism award, launched to “celebrate the best data journalism around the world [and] to empower, elevate and enlighten the global community of data journalists.”

The Sigma Awards were created by Aron Pilhofer and Reginald Chua, with support from Marianne Bouchart and Google’s Simon Rogers. Bouchart managed the Data Journalism Awards organised by the Global Editors Network, which closed last year.

There are nine awards across six categories:

  • Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
  • Best visualisation (small and large newsrooms)
  • Innovation (small and large newsrooms)
  • Young journalist
  • Open data; and
  • Best news application

Aside from a trophy, up to two people from each winning project will receive an all-expenses-covered trip to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia on 1–5 April 2020 where the awards will be celebrated.

The organisers hope that winners will “participate in and lead data journalism panels, discussions and workshops” at the festival.

Entries to the competition are open until 3 February 2020 at 11:59 pm ET via an online form.

FAQ: How can journalism lecturers keep up with a fast-changing industry?

Abigail Edge teaching at BCU

Abigail Edge teaches a guest workshop on advanced Google tools in BCU’s newsroom

The latest frequently asked questions post is an answer to Ian Silvera who asks a number of questions about teaching journalism within the context a fast-changing industry. You can read his post here.

How do you think journalism lecturers should keep up with the fast-changing industry?

Following the industry press is pretty essential for anyone teaching in the field. Sites like Journalism.co.uk and Niemanlab are especially good at covering developments, but there’s also InPublishing and HoldtheFrontPage who cover it more broadly including new technologies and issues. And tons of email newsletters.

It’s easier than ever to follow individuals inside the industry, too – on Twitter as well as professional blogs, Medium.com and anywhere else. I maintain Twitter lists of people reporting in particular fields or in particular roles, for example, and generate Nuzzel newsletters for those lists so I’m up to date with what they’re sharing. Continue reading

A guide to Slack for journalism students (and lecturers)

Slack screengrab showing channels on left

A screenshot of the Slack group for MA journalism students at Birmingham City University

For a number of years I’ve been using Slack with students on both the MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism, and the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University. As a new academic year begins, here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years – whether you are a lecturer considering integrating Slack into your teaching, or a student considering using it in a journalism project.

First things first: why Slack?

Slack is a professional chat app used widely in the media industry to organise projects. It has a number of advantages over other options for communicating between colleagues, whether that’s chat apps such as WhatsApp, or traditional email. These include:

  • The ability to take control over opting in or out of communications (rather than being endlessly ccd in on unimportant messages)
  • The ability to have ‘office hours’ and customise notifications based on your priorities and availability (rather than getting notifications for all communications)
  • A particularly powerful search functionality for finding documents or messages from previous communications
  • The ability to set yourself reminders
  • Automation of aspects of work, such as alerts

When it comes to teaching and learning there are two obvious selling points: firstly it empowers students to manage their own communication (with attendant benefits for mental health).

And secondly, it teaches them how to use an important industry tool. Continue reading

Can long-form journalism bring readers back by learning from the literary essay? (Here are 17 concepts it can use)

Long-form journalism enjoyed a resurgence when editors tried to retain readers in the early 2000s — but the rise of mobile-first publishing has presented a challenge. In a special guest post for OJB, Michael Bugeja outlines how it can draw on narrative techniques from literary essays to keep readers reading — and coming back for more.

In 2016 a Pew report looked at how readers interacted with over 74,000 articles on their mobile phones. It concluded that long-form reporting was holding its own despite the shift to mobile, boasting a higher engagement rate (123 seconds compared with 57.1 for short-form stories) and the same number of visits:

“While 123 seconds – or just over two minutes – may not seem long, and afar cry from the idealized vision of citizens settling in with the morning newspaper, two minutes is far longer than most local television news stories today.”

Tweaking the concept of long-form

But buried in the report were some problems: only 3 percent of long-form and 4 percent of short-form news returned to the content once they left it — and both types of articles had brief lifespans after content was posted, with interaction after three days dropping by 89 percent for short-form and 83 percent for long-form. Continue reading