Tonight I’ve been speaking at a Guardian-sponsored event in Birmingham: a special meetup of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe doubling as a sort-of-build-up-to-a-Hack Day.
And I think it’s a very significant event indeed.
For years I’ve lectured newspaper execs on the value of data and why they needed to get their APIs in order.
Now The Guardian is about to prove just why it is so important, and in the process take first-mover advantage in an area the regionals – and maybe even the BBC – assumed was theirs.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: The Guardian has long led the way in the UK on database journalism, particularly with its Data Blog and this year’s Open Platform. But this initial move into regional data journalism is a wise one indeed: data becomes more relevant the more personal it is, and local data just tends to be more personal.
Reaching out to those with access to that data, and the ability and knowledge to pick through it, makes perfect sense. But it also means treading on regional toes, and it will be interesting to see how (and indeed if) regional newspapers and broadcasters react.
Cobbling together some sort of regional API would be a welcome start – but is not going to be enough alone: The Guardian have spent years building a reputation in technology circles for their understanding of the web. As The Guardian’s Michael Brunton-Spall pointed out tonight, theirs is the only newspaper to offer ‘full fat’ RSS feeds that allow you to read full articles on an RSS reader – not to mention customisable URLs that allow you to build your own feeds based on combinations of tags, authors and categories. And Open Platform is one of the most, well – open news platforms in the world.
So if other news operations want to compete in this arena, they’ll need to make cultural efforts, not just technical ones.
There are few people in those organisations who truly understand why they should want to compete. They may see it in the context of the mutterings about a move by Guardian Media Group (GMG) into hyperlocal media, but that could be a different kettle of fish entirely (a red herring of sorts if you want to mix metaphors).
These early moves on the data side of things are about more than the prospect of launching competing web publications. It means the Guardian (rather than the GMG) is well positioned to provide a platform for a bottom-up network of hyperlocal sites, to become, in short, a Press Association for the 21st century, catering for a grassroots journalism movement filling ever-increasing holes in the regional news map: not just feeding national and international news to local and specialist websites, but pulling data the other way (although that doesn’t mean there isn’t scope to meet GMG hyperlocal plans in the middle). They have competition here from MSN Local and Reuters’ Open Calais, but I’ve not seen evidence of the same cultural efforts from that direction.
It’s very early days, but things move fast in this sphere. A cry is being taken up that all news organisations need to heed: “Raw data now!“.
Same in the US: Parrallel to this development MSNBC has just bought EveryBlock, a platform for hyper-local content. data-driven journalism is relevant, there is perspective in changing from “survey says” to “OUR data says”.
Journalists/media organizations can learn something from business intelligence (failures and success) plus from how start-ups have solved tasks that come from having to cope with “big data”. And “big data” it will be soon, in many areas of application.
A third thing: Journalists should think about producing their content into formats that information workers can actually work with, such as presentations, PDFs, graphics. Everyday hundreds of thousands of information workers are reformatting what they have found on the web, spending more time fighting with office software than understanding/analyzing what the data says.
The question has to be asked:
What about licensing of content, given that the Guardian already relies heavily in some areas (Comment is Free) on people writing for nothing, and the recent hammering of freelance photographers?
Writing free for a local independent site which is not very commercial is very different than for a media organisation which pays salaries of £100s of k.
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Thanks for mentioning OpenCalais Paul.
We’ve been busy ramping up the free service to keep pace with demand, and today we’ve increased the daily transaction allowance for OpenCalais to 50,000 transactions per day – a 25% increase over our previous daily limit.
Of course, OpenCalais continues to be offered at no charge for commercial or non-commercial use.