Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hyperlocal voices interviewed elsewhere

While I’ve been blogging my series of interviews with hyperlocal bloggers I’ve come across a few more elsewhere that may be of interest – and thought it worth linking to them here.

Talk About Local is running a ‘Ten Questions’ series of interviews along the same lines.

Nick Booth of Podnosh (which I work for) is writing a blog about hyperlocal bloggers on the BBC website. He has also  interviewed Steph Jennings and James Clark of WV11 – audio embedded below:

[audio:http://audioboo.fm/boos/194465-steph-jennings-and-james-clark-of-wv11.mp3%5D

I recently had Ventnor Blog founder Simon Perry talk to students on the MA in Online Journalism that I teach at Birmingham City University. Samuel Negredo filmed part of his visit, which can be seen on his blog post about the visit and is also embedded below:

Also interviewed elsewhere – by Philip John – is Brownhills Bob.

Lara O’Reilly interviews Dave Lee about Olympic Borough.

And in the US, Bob Yoder of the Redmond Neighborhood Blog is interviewed by Outside.in, which also gets some tips from Elllie Ashford in Annandale.

Organising your journalism: Springpad

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing with a new web service and mobile app called Springpad. LifeHacker describes it as a “super advanced personal assistant”. And I can see particular applications for journalists and editors. Here’s how it works:

Investigating on the move, and online

In Springpad you create a ‘notebook’ for each of your projects. You can then place Tasks, Notes, bookmarks and other objects in those notebooks.

For a journalist, the notebook format lends itself well to projects or investigations that you’re working on, especially as ideas occur to you on the move. As new tasks occur to you (‘I must interview that guy’, or ‘follow up that lead’) you add them to the relevant notebook (i.e. project or investigation) from the mobile app – or the website.

If you’re browsing the web and find a useful resource, you can use the Springpad bookmarklet to bookmark it, tag it, and add it to the relevant notebook(s).

And any emails or documents you receive that relate to the project you can forward to your Springpad account.

What’s particularly useful is the way you can choose to make public entire notebooks or individual items within them. So if you want others to be able to access your work, you can do so easily.

There are also a range of other features – such as events, contacts, barcode recognition, search, and a Chrome bookmarklet – some of which are covered in this video:

How I use it

Springpad seems to me a particularly individually-oriented tool rather than something that could be used for coordinating large groups (where Basecamp, for example, is better). None of its constituent elements – tagging, to-do lists, notes, etc. – are unusual, but it’s the combination, and the mobile application, that works particularly well.

If you have a number of projects on the go at any one time you tend to have to a) constantly remember what needs to be done on each of them; b) when; c) with whom; and d) keep track of documents relating to it. The management of these is often spread across To Do lists, a calendar, contacts book, and filing or bookmarks.

What Springpad effectively does is bring those together to one place on your mobile: the app (although at the moment there’s no real reason to use it for contacts). This means you can make notes when they occur to you, and in one place. The fact that this is both synced with the website and available on the app when offline gives it certain advantages over other approaches.

That said, I’ve adopted a few strategies that make it more useful:

  • Assign a date to every Task – even if it’s in 3 months’ time. This turns it into a calendar, and you can see how many things you need to get done on any given day, and shuffle accordingly.
  • Tasks should be disaggregated – i.e. producing an investigation will involve interviews, research, follow ups, and so on. Each of these is a separate task.
  • Start the day by looking at your tasks for that day – complete a couple of small ones and then focus on a bigger one.
  • If new ideas related to a Task occur to you, add them to that task as a note (these are different to standalone Notes). This is particularly useful for tasks that are weeks in the future: by the time they come around you can have a number of useful notes attached to it.
  • Use tags to differentiate between sub-projects within a notebook.
  • Install the bookmarklet on your phone’s browser so you can bookmark project-related webpages on the go.
  • Add the email address to your contacts so you can email key documents and correspondence to your account (sadly at the moment you still need to then open the app or website to tag and file them, but I’m told they are working on you being able to email-and-file at once).

Not a replacement for Delicious

You can import all of your Delicious bookmarks into Springpad, but I’ve chosen not to, partly because the site lacks much of the functionality that I’m looking for in a Delicious replacement, but also because I see it as performing a different task: I use Delicious as a catch-all, public filing system for anything that is or might be relevant to what I do and have done. Springpad is about managing what I’m doing right now, which means being more selective about the bookmarks that I save in it. Flooding it with almost 10,000 bookmarks would probably reduce its usefulness.

For the same reason I don’t see it as particularly comparable to Evernote. Dan Gold has an extensive guide explaining why he switched from Evernote to Springpad, and simplicity again plays a large role. It’s also worth reading to see how Dan uses the tool.

Perhaps the best description of the tool is as a powerful To Do list – allowing you to split projects apart while also keeping those parts linked to other items through notes, tags and categories.

Early days – room for improvement

The tool is a bit rough around the edges at the moment. Navigation of the app could be a lot quicker: to get from a list of all Tasks to those within one notebook takes 3 clicks at the moment – that’s too many.

Privacy could be more granular, allowing password-protection for instance. And the options to add contacts and events seem to be hidden away under ‘Add by type’ (in fact, the only way to add an event at the moment appears to be to sync with your Google account and then use a calendar app to add a new event through your Google calendar, or to go to an existing event in your app and create a new one from there).

The bookmarklet is slow to work, and alerts only come via RSS feed (you could use Feedburner to turn these into email alerts by the way).

That said, this is the first project management that I’ve actually found effective in getting stuff out of my head and onto virtual paper. Long may that continue.

Universities without walls

@majohns Economist believes in future their distinguished and knowledgable audience is as important as their editors #smart_2011

This post forms part of the Carnival of Journalism, whose theme this month is universities’ roles in their local community.

In traditional journalism the concept of community is a broad one, typically used when the speaker really means ‘audience’, or ‘market’.

In a networked age, however, a community is an asset: it is a much more significant source of information than in other media; an active producer of content; and, perhaps most importantly, at the heart of any online distribution system.

You can see this at work in some of the most successful content startups of the internet era – Boing Boing, The Huffington Post, Slashdot – and even in mainstream outlets such as The Guardian, with, for example, its productive community around the Data Blog.

Any fledgling online journalism operation which is not based on a distinct community is, to my thinking, simply inefficient – and any journalism course that features an online element should be built on communities – should be linking in to the communities that surround it.

Teaching community-driven journalism

My own experience is that leaving the walls of academia behind and hosting classes wherever the community meets can make an enormous difference. In my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, for example, the very first week is not about newsgathering or blogging or anything to do with content: it’s about community, and identifying which one the students are going to serve.

To that end students spend their induction week attending the local Social Media Cafe, meeting local bloggers and understanding that particular community (one of whom this year suggested the idea that led to Birmingham Budget Cuts). We hold open classes in a city centre coffee shop so that people from Birmingham can drop in: when we talked about online journalism and the law, there were bloggers, former newspaper editors, and a photographer whose contributions turned the event into something unlike anything you’d see in a classroom.

And students are sent out to explore the community as part of learning about blogging, or encouraged to base themselves physically in the communities they serve. Andy Brightwell and Jon Hickman’s hyperlocal Grounds blog is a good example, run out of another city centre coffee shop in their patch.

In my online journalism classes at City University in London, meanwhile (which are sadly too big to fit in a coffee shop) I ask students to put together a community strategy as one of their two assignments. The idea is to get them to think about how they can produce better journalism – that is also more widely read – by thinking explicitly about how to involve a community in its production.

Community isn’t a postcode

But I’ve also come to believe that we should be as flexible as possible about what we mean by community. The traditional approach has been to assign students to geographical patches – a relic of the commercial imperatives behind print production. Some courses are adapting this to smaller, hyperlocal, patches for their online assessment to keep up with contemporary developments. This is great – but I think it risks missing something else.

One moment that brought this home to me was when – in that very first week – I asked the students what they thought made a community. The response that stuck in my mind most was Alex Gamela‘s: “An enemy”. It illustrates how communities are created by so many things other than location (You could also add “a cause”, “a shared experience”, “a profession”, “a hobby” and others which are listed and explored in the Community part of the BASIC Principles of Online Journalism).

As journalism departments we are particularly weak in seeing community in those terms. One of the reasons Birmingham Budget Cuts is such a great example of community-driven journalism is that it addresses a community of various types: one of location, of profession, and of shared experience and – for the thousands facing redundancy – cause too. It is not your typical hyperlocal blog, but who would argue it does not have a strong proposition at its core?

There’s a further step, too, which requires particular boldness on the part of journalism schools, and innovativeness in assessment methods: we need to be prepared for students to create sites where they don’t create any journalism themselves at all. Instead, they facilitate its production, and host the platform that enables it to happen. In online journalism we might call this a community manager role – which will raise the inevitable questions of ‘Is It Journalism?’ But in traditional journalism, with the journalism being produced by reporters, a very similar role would simply be called being an editor.

PS: I spoke about this theme in Amsterdam last September as part of a presentation on ‘A Journalism Curriculum for the 21st Century’ at the PICNIC festival, organised by the European Journalism Centre. This is embedded below:

Slides can be found below:

Comment call: do your students run hyperlocal blogs?

Thanks to the massive interest in hyperlocal blogs a lot of journalism courses are either asking their students to create hyperlocal websites, or finding their students are creating them anyway. This post is to ask what your own experiences are on these lines?

PS: I’ve also created a Google Group on the topic should you want to exchange tips with others.

Where do I get that data? New Q&A site launched

Get the Data

Well here’s another gap in the data journalism process ever-so-slightly plugged: Tony Hirst blogs about a new Q&A site that Rufus Pollock has built. Get the Data allows you to “ask your data related questions, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • “where to find data relating to a particular issue;
  • “how to query Linked Data sources to get just the data set you require;
  • “what tools to use to explore a data set in a visual way;
  • “how to cleanse data or get it into a format you can work with using third party visualisation or analysis tools.”

As Tony explains (the site came out of a conversation between him and Rufus):

“In some cases the data will exist in a queryable and machine readable form somewhere, if only you knew where to look. In other cases, you might have found a data source but lack the query writing expertise to get hold of just the data you want in a format you can make use of.”

He also invites people to help populate the site:

“If you publish data via some sort of API or queryable interface, why not considering posting self-answered questions using examples from your FAQ?

“If you’re running a hackday, why not use GetTheData.org to post questions arising in the scoping the hacks, tweet a link to the question to your event backchannel and give the remote participants a chance to contribute back, at the same time adding to the online legacy of your event.”

Off you go then.

Bootstrapping GetTheData.org for All Your Public Open Data Questions and Answers

Where can I find a list of hospitals in the UK along with their location data? Or historical weather data for the UK? Or how do I find the county from a postcode, or a book title from its ISBN? And is there any way you can give me RDF Linked Data in a format I can actually use?!

With increasing amounts of data available, it can still be hard to:

– find the data you you want;
– query a datasource to return just the data you want;
– get the data from a datasource in a particular format;
– convert data from one format to another (Excel to RDF, for example, or CSV to JSON);
– get data into a representation that means it can be easily visualised using a pre-existing tool.

In some cases the data will exist in a queryable and machine readable form somewhere, if only you knew where to look. In other cases, you might have found a data source but lack the query writing expertise to get hold of just the data you want in a format you can make use of. Or maybe you know the data is in Linked Data store on data.gov.uk, but you just can’t figure how to get it out?

This is where GetTheData.org comes in. Get The Data arose out of a conversation between myself and Rufus Pollock at the end of last year, which resulted with Rufus setting up the site now known as getTheData.org.

getTheData.org

The idea behind the site is to field questions and answers relating to the practicalities of working with public open data: from discovering data sets, to combining data from different sources in appropriate ways, getting data into formats you can happily work with, or that will play nicely with visualisation or analysis tools you already have, and so on.

At the moment, the site is in its startup/bootstrapping phase, although there is already some handy information up there. What we need now are your questions and answers…

So, if you publish data via some sort of API or queryable interface, why not considering posting self-answered questions using examples from your FAQ?

If you’re running a hackday, why not use GetTheData.org to post questions arising in the scoping the hacks, tweet a link to the question to your event backchannel and give the remote participants a chance to contribute back, at the same time adding to the online legacy of your event.

If you’re looking for data as part of a research project, but can’t find it or can’t get it in an appropriate form that lets you link it to another data set, post a question to GetTheData.

If you want to do some graphical analysis on a data set, but don’t know what tool to use, or how to get the data in the right format for a particular tool, that’d be a good question to ask too.

Which is to say: if you want to GetTheData, but can’t do so for whatever reason, just ask… GetTheData.org