Interview: Nicolas Kayser-Bril, head of datajournalism at Owni.fr

Past OJB contributor Nicolas Kayser-Bril is now in charge of datajournalism at Owni.fr, a recently launched news site that defines itself as an “open think-tank”.

“Acting as curators, selecting and presenting content taken deep in the immense and self-expanding vaults of the internet,” explains Nicolas, “the Owni team links to the best and does the rest.”

I asked Nicolas 2 simple questions on his work at Owni. Here are his responses:

What are you trying to do?

What we do is datajournalism. We want to use the whole power of online and computer technologies to bring journalism to a new height, to a whole new playing field. The definition remains vague because so little has been made until now, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to slideshows, online TV or even database journalism.

Take the video game industry, for instance. In the late 1970’s, a personal computer could be used to play Pong clones or text-based games. Since then, a number of genres have flourished, taking action games to 3D, building an ever-more intelligent AI for strategy games, etc. In the age of the social web, games were quick to use Facebook and even Twitter.

Take the news industry. In the late 1970’s, you could read news articles on your terminal. In the early 2010’s you can, well… read articles online! How innovative is that? (I’m not overlooking the innovations you’ll be quick to think of, but the fact remains that most online news content are articles.)

We want to enhance information with the power of computers and the web. Through software, databases, visualizations, social apps, games, whatever, we want to experiment with news in ways traditional and online media haven’t done yet.

What have you achieved?

We started to get serious about this in February, when I joined the mother company (22mars) full-time. In just a month, we have completed 2 projects

The first one, dubbed Photoshop Busters (see it here), gives users digital forensics tools to assess the authenticity of an image. It was made as a widget for one of our partners, LesInrocks.com.

More importantly, we made a Facebook app, Where do I vote? There, users can find their polling station and their friends’ for the upcoming regional election in France.

It might sound underwhelming, but it required finding and locating the addresses of more than 35,000 polling stations.

On top of convincing a reluctant administration to hand over their files, we set up a large crowdsourcing effort to convert the documents from badly scanned PDFs to computer-readable data. More than 7,000 addresses have been treated that way.

Dozens of other ideas are in the works. Within Owni.fr, we want to keep the ratio of developers/non-developers to 1, so as to be able to go from idea to product very quickly. I code most of my ideas myself, relying on the team for help, ideas and design.

In the coming months, we’ll expand our datajournalism activities to include another designer, a journalist and a statistician. Expect more cool stuff from Owni.fr.

19 thoughts on “Interview: Nicolas Kayser-Bril, head of datajournalism at Owni.fr

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