Monthly Archives: July 2010

Research: the limits of social networks for organising the social

Ulises Mejias has written a wonderful paper (subscription required) on how social networks don’t just enable participation – but limit them. Or as he asks: “Whether social network services engender publics (where opinion can be expressed freely) or masses (where opinion can be expressed freely but is not realised in action)”.

It’s a fascinating counterpoint to the ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric (think Twitter and the ‘Iran revolution’) that surrounds so much writing on social networks.

If you’re able to get hold of a copy, I recommend reading the paper in full, as there’s far too much of interest to summarise here. But if you can’t, here are some of the points that Mejias makes: Continue reading

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The New Online Journalists #7: Dave Lee

As part of an ongoing series on recent graduates who have gone into online journalism, Dave Lee talks about how he won a BBC job straight from university, what it involves, and what skills he feels online journalists need today.

I got my job as a result – delightfully! – of having a well-known blog. Well, that is, well-known in the sense it was read by the right people. My path to the BBC began with a work placement at Press Gazette – an opportunity I wouldn’t have got had it not been for the blog. In fact, I recall Patrick Smith literally putting it in those terms – saying that they’d never normally take an undergrad without NUJ qualifications – but they’d seen my blog and liked what I was doing. Continue reading

Let us record what happens in our courts – comment call

UPDATE: You can vote to repeal the ban on recording court proceedings here (Thanks to Alistair Kelman in the comments)

Heather Brooke is calling for a campaign to allow recording in UK courts. I agree. In the comments below, let’s talk strategy.

Meanwhile, here’s some of the background from Brooke’s related blog post:

How:

“The simple answer is to allow tape recorders for all: no party is disadvantaged and an ‘official’ recording is there for checking. This is how it works in other countries. But this is to ignore the root objection of the courts: that they are losing control of how court proceedings are presented to the public.”

Why:

“You might like to know whether the builder you’re going to give your keys to has any convictions for theft or if the company you’re about to do business with has a report for fraud. Tough. This information is not a click of a button away. Instead you’ll have to know the details of the case before you can call up any records – even though it’s the existence of cases that you’re trying to find in the first place. It’s Catch-22. If you do know the details of the case you’re then forced to undergo a tortuous and tedious process which involves battling a raft of petty officials across a number of court offices all for the simple purpose of accessing information that is supposedly public.”

And what:

“There are three main things that would make the courts useful to the general public:

  1. knowing by name who is using them (the court list);
  2. why (the particulars of claim);
  3. the result (the verdict, sentence or settlement).

“Yet trying to get any, let alone all, of these is fraught with difficulty.”

So: strategy. To kick things off, I’ll give you 3 starters:

Come up with some better ideas than that, and we’re somewhere.

Meanwhile, to spread awareness of this, why not tweet about this with the hashtag #opencourts (UPDATE: Also #courtrecord thanks to @JackofKent)

BBC moves to more structured data in its relaunch

code behind BBC pages

Behind the story of the BBC website’s recent relaunch is, among other things, an update to their content management system. In a post on the changes, John O’Donovan explains how the changes mean that webpages will have a more structured and semantic quality:

“We will … no longer be using tables to layout the content, instead we will be rendering the pages using CSS layout and only using tables for data.

“There are lots of reasons to do this, but some include making the content more efficient, more standards compliant and faster to render. It also allows us to publish semantic XHTML, which means that content blocks are better marked up to describe what they are and has benefits like creating a better header structure to help screen readers.

“Better structure also means you will see a more consistent presentation of stories in Google and search engines with, for example, story dates and author information showing more clearly.

“This reflects a new content model which is now largely based around a simple and generic data model of assets and groups of assets which are typed (meaning we don’t just manage blocks of content, we use metadata to describe what is in the blocks of content) and publishing through templates and services based around Velocity.”

In addition code that now looks like the image above will mean that the site is better search engine optimised (as if a PageRank of 9 wasn’t good enough), more accessible, and it will be easier for developers to do interesting things with BBC content.

On the subject of SEO the site is simplifying URLs but still won’t be including descriptive words there – but “there is more work to do yet on how we might use even shorter URLs (such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/10250603) and longer more descriptive ones http://www.bbc.co.uk/story-about-something-interesting.”

News sites based on social media content in Latin America

I have to admit I didn’t see this one coming… traditional media corporations in Latin America are launching news sites based exclusively on content originated in social media.

First of all, we have 140 – news of Twitter, a new web site lunched by Perfil in Argentina, intended as a site for “people who don’t have a Twitter account but want to find out what’s happening” in the microblogging world.

Twitter has had a tremendous growth in the country in 2010, thanks mainly to TV shows that sudenly began using Twitter as a live interactive tool with the audience.

Then local celebrities and world-cup football players joined the conversation, finishing the job of popularizing the social network, and now even politicians replace their traditional press releases with fleeting 140 character messages that sometimes end up in front pages.

140 was created by Darío Gallo, executive editor of Perfil.com and former Director of Noticias (the most popular political magazine of the country), one of the early adopters of Twitter in Argentina. He assured me the new project is receiving good reactions and traffic. Continue reading

A War Logs interactive – with a crowdsourcing bonus

Owni war logs interface

French data journalism outfit Owni have put together an impressive app (also in English) that attempts to put a user-friendly interface on the intimidating volume of War Logs documents.

The app allows you to filter the information by country and category, and also allows you to choose whether to limit results to incidents involving the deaths of wounding of civilians, allies or enemies.

Clicking on an individual incident bring up the raw text but also a mapping of the location and the details split into a more easy-to-read table. Continue reading

Two online journalism research opportunities

If you’re interested in researching online journalism full time there are a couple of opportunities available at the moment:

The first is a fully-funded PhD in ‘Developing a new model for local news provision and addressing the democratic deficit in the digital economy‘.

It’s a 3-year award funded by the European Social Fund which “provides for payment of tuition fees, together with a maintenance stipend set at £13,688 per annum (expected to increase annually). The research student will be based  at the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, in partnership with the Media Standards Trust.  Deadline: August 26th, 2010.

More at http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/resources/kessphdscholarshipcardiff.pdf (PDF)

The second is a job opportunity at the University of Leeds for Research Associate in Internet Journalism (fixed-term)

This is a part-time PhD studentship linked to a 50% FTE Teaching Assistantship. Pay is at University Grade 6 (£24,273 – £28,983 p.a. pro rata) plus annual stipend of £6,300; PhD fees will be paid by the Institute. For more information contact Professor David Hesmondhalgh, via email to d.j.hesmondhalgh (at) leeds.ac.uk. Application form and job details from http://hr.leeds.ac.uk/jobs/.