Monthly Archives: April 2010

I've moved my blog – here's why

In the past few days the Online Journalism Blog has moved to hosting on Journal Local, a platform primarily aimed at hyperlocal publishers.

I’ve moved the blog for a number of reasons. Firstly, the platform offers specialist support that doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else. Philip John, who built Journal Local, is an experienced hyperlocal publisher (of the Lichfield Blog) himself, and he knows his stuff. He has already been able to provide technical assistance on all sorts of things I don’t always have the time to look into, from themes and plugins to sorting things out when the blog has been the target of hackers.

In fact, just having someone around who knows when the blog is being targeted by hackers is going to give me a bit more peace of mind.

Secondly, I want to support what Philip is trying to do. Journal Local is an attempt to find one sustainable business model for hyperlocal publishing. It’s not only well thought-out and executed but, for me, could make it easier for hyperlocal publishers generally to continue to operate both editorially and commercially.

It’s a freemium service, with a free, bespoke platform for those who are trying out hyperlocal publishing, but also – in the premium version – more control and support for existing publishers who are looking to make their operations more professional. Both are expanding markets.

And although Journal Local hasn’t yet officially launched, already North West Sheffield News and Inside the M60 have signed up, and the Future of News website is using the platform too.

A key element for me is that Journal Local isn’t just a technical service but an information service as well. If you’ve met Philip, you’ll know he’s an important part of the hyperlocal movement and always ready to offer help to other bloggers and publishers. I think that’s key in any new media business – that it’s a vocation for the founder.

Particularly interesting are the features tailored to hyperlocal site owners and online journalists. The basic setup comes with plugins that pull from TheyWorkForYou.com, WriteToThem.com and Opening Times – as well as an Addiply plugin that allows publishers to instantly sell advertising. The service will also be bolstered in the near future by features that take advantage of such great tools as OpenlyLocal and Patient Opinion, among others.

In that context, I’d much rather give the money I currently pay on hosting and domain name registration to Journal Local. It’s a no-brainer.

And I may well start recommending that students running their own hyperlocal operations use the free version of the service.

In the meantime, I guess if you want to use it yourself you’d need to contact Philip John on Twitter or something.

Telegraph launches powerful election database

The Telegraph have finally launched – in beta – the election database I’ve been waiting for since the expenses scandal broke. And it’s rather lovely.

Starting with the obvious part (skip to the next section for the really interesting bit): the database allows you to search by postcode, candidate or constituency, or to navigate by zooming, moving and clicking on a political map of the UK.

Searches take you to a page on an individual candidate or a constituency. For the former you get a biography, details on their profession and education (for instance, private or state, oxbridge, redbrick or neither), as well as email, website and Twitter page. Not only is there a link to their place in the Telegraph’s ‘Expenses Files’ – but also a link to their allowances page on Parliament.uk. Continue reading

Open Data in Spain: AbreDatos

I come from Argentina, where the government isn’t obliged by law to give away public information to citizens or NGOs that request it. There are, though, some access-to-information projects ready to be discussed in Congress in the next few days. Still, this is why I’m always amazed by all the open data initiatives in the USA and UK.

But now I can show you an open data project from Spain called Desafío AbreDatos, organized by the ProBonoPúblico association and supported by the Basque Government.

AbreDatos 2010 consists of two days’ programming by groups of 4 developers building websites, apps, widgets or mashups with at least one source coming from a public organization in digital format (APIs, XML, CSV, SPARQL / RDF, HTML, PDF, scanned images). Many of those sources can be found in datospublicos.jottit.com.

Of course the initiative wants to encourage the opening up of public data and transparency of administrations, and some of the projects are very interesting (my favorite is a website that shows if Congress staff really earn their salaries).

One to keep an eye on.

Date for the diary: JEEcamp 2010 on May 21

jeecamp

Given that Roy Greenslade has beaten me to blogging about my own event, I thought I’d better go ahead and blog about it here. I’m talking about JEEcamp of course – a conference-cum-unconference about journalism experimentation and enterprise. Put another way, if you read this blog, the sort of stuff I talk about.

It’s on May 21st at The Bond in Birmingham. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • Keynote from Simon Waldman, Author, Creative Disruption, and Digital Director, Guardian Media Group. (When I started blogging this was one guy I always read – and he’s still ahead of the game.)
  • Panel: What does the election result mean for publishers and startups? Confirmed so far: Tom Loosemore (ex-Ofcom, -BBC, now-Channel 4), Talk About Local’s Will Perrin and outgoing Creative Industries minister Sion Simon.
  • Please nominate who you would like as the fourth panellist.
  • Closing keynote: Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of Scotland’s first online-only newspaper, Caledonian Mercury (@calmerc), which launched earlier this year.

More importantly, in between all of that are a whole bunch of fringe meetings, chats over coffee and group discussions. You decide what to talk about here. Because, really, that’s what we go to conferences for, isn’t it?

And in the spirit of the internet, there’s a low barrier to entry: tickets are only £30

For those who haven’t been before, there’s coverage of last year’s event here and here. For those who have, feel free to post a comment.

You really don’t need to use any more brainpower on this. Book a ticket by emailing Kelly.ONeil@BCU.ac.uk (invoices available!) and sign up on the Facebook page or wiki.

Journalism is not a zero-sum game

Last Friday I took part in a debate organised by UNESCO to promote World Press Freedom Day (full video here). Lined up to argue in support of the motion that “Unregulated political comment online helps the democratic process” were Sunny Hundal of the Liberal Conspiracy blog; the founder of MORI, Sir Robert Worcester, and, speaking from the floor, me.

Arguing against the motion were Westminster University’s Professor Steven Barnett; the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thomson; and, speaking from the floor, Nick Jones, formerly of the same corporation.

With an audience of diverse professional backgrounds packing the Frontline Club, it was a healthy discussion – although if you’ve attended a journalism event in the last few years you’ll have recognised some of the threads throughout, as the usual straw men were wheeled out to justify either regulating the internet or ignoring it altogether: ‘it’s not representative‘; ‘it’s just sound and fury, signifying nothing‘ (actually, no one quoted Shakespeare, sadly).

I’ve addressed some of the general anti-web arguments in another blog post, but I thought I’d add a couple of specific observations about the thinking behind the arguments being put forward at the event.

The Zero Sum view of journalism

Thomson’s argument (listen in full here) started with the idea that political comment online could not be left in isolation, but needed to be selected and presented within an editorial context and analysis – not surprisingly, the sort of context and background that the BBC itself could provide.

Members of the public did not have the “understanding” that journalists could provide, said Thomson*. Continue reading

GameChanger: providing tools for citizen sports journalism

It is hard to imagine that a sports-crazed country like the US would have any dearth in sports reporting. However, while professional and major college sports get covered no end by traditional media, sports leagues and user-generated sites alike, high school and minor college sports remain largely uncovered, an issue that is being exacerbated by declining revenues.

This was one of the reasons that inspired Ted Sullivan, a former minor league baseball player and a graduate of Harvard Business School, to ease the pain of parents, coaches and fans of youth sports, literally,  by launching an application that is making the process of scoring simpler, and allowing for easier distribution of stats from the field.

“An entire category of content called real-time sports doesn’t exist for what is the enormous majority of athletic events happening everyday, whether that is organized sports from the small college level or high school and youth sports,” says Sullivan.

Having not only played the sport, but also having coached at a downtown little league in Manhattan, Sullivan understood the challenges of scoring baseball manually. Earlier this year, along with co-founder Kiril Savino, he launched GameChanger, an iPhone application that transmits data in real time from the field. Using the tool, scores and stats, as they happen, can be tapped into an iPhone by coaches, fans and parents. This is translated into a “gamestream” that appears on the Gamechanger site instantaneously so fans can access live updates, box scores, and play by plays.

Balls, strikes and hits are recorded using the tool’s menu options, and players are tracked by dragging and dropping names. In addition, a coach or scorekeeper can create a team’s schedule, roster and lineup. There is also a provision for fans to add to the stream by posting comments or uploading photos and video.

“I believe in the mobile device as a great data collector,” says Sullivan. While mobile devices are useful for content consumption, the very nature of smart phones prompts something more than passive viewing by the user. And this makes them ideal vehicles for data gathering and delivery.

So GameChanger provides an application to the community surrounding a team, which, in turn, allows the community to provide data from the field to GameChanger. In other words, it is crowdsourcing with organized content gathering.

Each team can have more than one hub based on how many people choose to use the app for scoring, but Sullivan assures me that the tedium of score-keeping restricts it to few, very avid fans or parents, thus reducing potential imposters or error-prone score keepers. Besides, GameChanger makes baseball scoring easy enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the sport, thus alleviating the need for extensive experience or in-depth knowledge.

“The key piece here that needs to be stressed is that this business doesn’t work if we aren’t providing a huge incentive to the person that is using the application and collecting the data for us for free,” says Sullivan. He explains that manual scoring takes an average of 45 minutes to an hour per game; factor in several games per week stretched over an entire season, and therein lies Gamechanger’s incentive.

Lisa Winston attests to this over at the MLB Blog, bemoaning the fact that an app “so brilliant and simple” wasn’t available when her daughter played in the little league.

All the content that is collected is available on the GameChanger site. While some content is free, more detailed information, such as play by plays, requires a subscription. Sullivan believes that the data is exclusive and time sensitive enough for people to be willing to pay for it. For a fee, a simple html code also allows local news sites to pull data from GameChanger’s database in the form of widgets. Profits are shared with news partners.

Potential other uses in journalism?

If such an application can make data gathering, analysis and distribution easier in the case of simple scoring of a little league game, could it find potential in other, more complex issues? Such as election results, exit polls or the statistics of climate change?  With the popularity of crowdsourcing, citizens are being entrusted with more and more complex tasks in areas such as citizen science and E-governance. Such a foolproof application would increase participation and minimize error.

While projects like WNYC’s crowdsourced maps have successfully used their Web sites as data collectors, the content obtained from the public in such cases has been relatively simple, such as the number of cars on a street, or the price of milk at a grocery store. In these and similar such exercises, the task of making sense of the data or painting the bigger picture has been that of a journalist, perhaps rightfully so.

But if data-specific applications could be designed to maximize contributions from the public, it would perhaps make citizen journalism more relevant and valuable while reducing the workload on news organizations. It’s debatable if it will work for areas more serious than sports or entertainment, but, if anything, such weighty topics could use applications that would make information gathering easier.