Monthly Archives: March 2012

Should a community editor be a magazine’s first hire?

Mollie Makes magazine - image from Specialist Media Show

Mollie Makes magazine - image from Specialist Media Show

Interesting strategy by Future’s Mollie Makes magazine, which mirrors the way I teach online journalism (community first, then content, then platform):

“Future employed a Community Editor to engage with the online craft audience and build a buzz in the months leading up to the launch of Mollie Makes. Continue reading

University Funding – A Wider View

A post on the Guardian Datablog yesterday (Higher education funding: which institutions will be affected?) alerted me to the release of HEFCE’s “provisional allocations of recurrent funding for teaching and research, and the setting of student number control limits for institutions, for academic year 2012-13″ (funding data).

Here are the OU figures for teaching:

Funding for old-regime students (mainstream) Funding for old-regime students (co-funding) High cost funding for new-regime students Widening participation Teaching enhancement and student success Other targeted allocations Other recurrent teaching grants Total teaching funding
59,046,659 0 2,637,827 23,273,796 17,277,704 22,619,320 3,991,473 128,846,779

HEFCE preliminary teaching funding allocations to the Open University, 2012-13

Of the research funding for 2012-13, mainstream funding was 8,030,807, the RDP supervision fund came in at 1,282,371, along with 604,103 “other”, making up the full 9,917,281 research allocation.

Adding Higher Education Innovation Funding of 950,000, the OU’s total allocation was 139,714,060.

So what other funding comes into the universities from public funds?

Open Spending publishes data relating to spend by government departments to named organisations, so we can search that for data spent by government departments with the universities (for example, here is a search on for “open university”:

Given the amounts spent by public bodies on consultancy (try searching OpenCorporates for mentions of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, or any of EDS, Capita, Accenture, Deloitte, McKinsey, BT’s consulting arm, IBM, Booz Allen, PA, KPMG (h/t @loveitloveit)), university based consultancy may come in reasonably cheaply?

The universities also receive funding for research via the UK research councils (EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC, MRC, BBSRC, NERC, STFC) along with innovation funding from JISC. Unpicking the research council funding awards to universities can be a bit of a chore, but scrapers are appearing on Scraperwiki that make for easier access to individual grant awards data:

  • AHRC funding scraper; [grab data using queries of the form select * from `swdata` where organisation like "%open university%" on scraper arts-humanities-research-council-grants]
  • EPSRC funding scraper; [grab data using queries of the form select * from `grants` where department_id in (select distinct id as department_id from `departments` where organisation_id in (select id from `organisations` where name like "%open university%")) on scraper epsrc_grants_1]
  • ESRC funding scraper; [grab data using queries of the form select * from `grantdata` where institution like "%open university%" on scraper esrc_research_grants]
  • BBSRC funding [broken?] scraper;
  • NERC funding [broken?] scraper;
  • STFC funding scraper; [grab data using queries of the form select * from `swdata` where institution like "%open university%" on scraper stfc-institution-data]

In order to get a unified view over the detailed funding of the institutions from these different sources, the data needs to be reconciled. There are several ID schemes for identifying universities (eg UCAS or HESA codes; see for example GetTheData: Universities by Mission Group) but even official data releases tend not make use of these, preferring instead to rely solely on insitution names, as for example in the case of the recent HEFCE provisional funding data release [DOh! This is not the case – identifiers are there, apparently (I have to admit, I didn’t check and was being a little hasty… See the contribution/correction from David Kernohan in the comments to this post…]:

For some time, I’ve been trying to put my finger on why data releases like this are so hard to work with, and I think I’ve twigged it… even when released in a spreadsheet form, the data often still isn’t immediately “database-ready” data. Getting data from a spreadsheet into a database often requires an element of hands-on crafting – coping with rows that contain irregular comment data, as well as handling columns or rows with multicolumn and multirow labels. So here are a couple of things that would make life easier in the short term, though they maybe don’t represent best practice in the longer term…:

1) release data as simple CSV files (odd as it may seem), because these can be easily loaded into applications that can actually work on the data as data. (I haven’t started to think too much yet about pragmatic ways of dealing with spreadsheets where cell values are generated by formulae, because they provide an audit trail from one data set to derived views generated from that data.)

2) have a column containing regular identifiers using a known identification scheme, for example, HESA or UCAS codes for HEIs. If the data set is a bit messy, and you can only partially fill the ID column, then only partially fill it; it’ll make life easier joining those rows at least to other related datasets…

As far as UK HE goes, the JISC monitoring unit/JISCMU has a an api over various administrative data elements relating to UK HEIs (eg GetTheData: Postcode data for HE and FE institutes, but I don’t think it offers a Google Refine reconciliation service, (ideally with some sort of optional string similarity service)…? Yet?! 😉 maybe that’d make for a good rapid innovation project???

PS I’m reminded of a couple of related things: Test Your RESTful API With YQL, a corollary to the idea that you can check your data at least works by trying to use it (eg generate a simple chart from it) mapped to the world of APIs: if you can’t easily generate a YQL table/wrapper for it, it’s maybe not that easy to use? 2) the scraperwiki/okf post from @frabcus and @rufuspollock on the need for data management systems not content management systems.

PPS Looking at the actual Guardian figures reveals all sorts of market levers appearing… Via @dkernohan, FT: A quiet Big Bang in universities

5 hyperlocal things {UPDATED}

Here and Now report

A new community for hyperlocal bloggers has been launched: Hyperlocal Alliance is “intended for grass-roots hyperlocal site owners, [and] is invite only (at the moment)”.

The Journalism Foundation has published a resource aimed at hyperlocal publishers – How To Build a Local Site (PDF) – including a chapter taken from the Online Journalism Blog (a rather curious choice, but there you go) and a link to Help Me Investigate in the Further Reading section.

NESTA has published Here And Now, its report (PDF) into the UK hyperlocal scene (shown above).

It’s also offering up to £50,000 in funding for hyperlocal projects.

And Birmingham City University (where I run the MA in Online Journalism) are recruiting a Research Assistant for a research project on hyperlocal publishing.

See comments for a 6th…

Get started in data scraping – and earn £75 for the pleasure

OpenlyLocal are trying to scrape planning application data from across the country. They want volunteers to help write the scrapers using Scraperwiki – and are paying £75 for each one.

This is a great opportunity for journalists or journalism students looking for an excuse to write their first scraper: there are 3 sample scrapers to help you find your feet, with many more likely to appear as they are written. Hopefully, some guidance will appear too (if not, I may try to write some myself).

Add your names in the comments on Andrew’s blog post, and happy scraping!


Comparing apples and oranges in data journalism: a case study

A must-read for any data journalist, aspiring or otherwise, is Simon Rogers’ post on The Guardian Datablog where he compares public and private sector pay.

This is a classic apples-and-oranges situation where politicians and government bodies are comparing two things that, really, are very different. Is a private school teacher really comparable to someone teaching in an unpopular school? What is the private sector equivalent of a director of public health or a social worker?

But if these issues are being discussed, journalists must try to shed some light, and Simon Rogers does a great job in unpicking the comparisons. From pay and hours worked, to qualifications and age (big differences in both), and gender and pay inequality (more women in the public sector, more lower- and higher-paid workers in the private sector), Rogers crunches all the numbers: Continue reading

Research: disengaging from the news and hyperlocal engagement

People who live in areas branded as ‘problem communities’ by the media feel disengaged with the news – but hyperlocal citizen journalism offers an opportunity to re-engage citizens. These are the findings of a piece of research from the Netherlands called ‘When News Hurts‘, which measured mainstream coverage of ‘problem communities’ then followed a hyperlocal project which involved local people.

The findings won’t be a big surprise to those running hyperlocal blogs, which often focus on practical steps to improving their area and building civic participation rather than merely telling the stories of failure. But they do offer some lessons for traditional publishers, not just on what they could do better, but on what they’re doing badly in their current coverage – especially the regional publishers who would be expected to provide more ground-level reporting on local issues:

“Remarkably, in spite of being located close to these areas, the regional press hardly differed in their coverage from their national (quality) counterparts […] National newspapers quoted residents in 23 per cent of their larger reports on Kanaleneiland and 35 per cent of their reports on Overvecht. The regional newspaper quoted residents in only 26 per cent of its larger reports on Kanaleneiland and in 24 per cent of its reports on Overvecht. Unexpectedly, 55 per cent of all news items about a nearby elite neighbourhood (Wittevrouwen) used a resident as source.” Continue reading

Reduced Relevance – the downside of social, mobile news

Facebook Activity Plugin

News moves so quickly that your Facebook ‘friends’ just can’t keep up.

In a guest post for OJB, Neil Thurman highlights a new research report that suggests the increased availability of news on mobile platforms, and its harnessing of social networks—like Facebook—to power recommendations, comes at a price: stories that are less relevant to readers’ interests than those recommended by editors and found on news providers’ traditional websites.

Continue reading

What you need to know about the laws on harassment, data protection and hate speech {UPDATED: Stalking added}

The following is taken from the law chapter of The Online Journalism Handbook. The book blog and Facebook page contain updates and additions – those specifically on law can be found here.


The Protection From Harrassment Act 1997 is occasionally used to prevent journalists on reporting on particular individuals. Specifically, any conduct which amounts to harassment of someone can be considered to a criminal act, for which the victim can seek an injunction (followed by arrest if broken) or damages.

One example of a blogger’s experience is illustrative of the way the act can be used with regard to online journalism, even if no case reaches court. Continue reading

6 ways to get started in community management

Following on from my previous post on the network journalist role, and as part of a wider experiment around the 5 roles in an investigations team, I wanted to flesh out what exactly a community editor role means when adopted as part of a journalism project.

First I need to add a disclaimer: the terms “community editor” (CE) and “community manager” (CM) are used to refer to a very wide range of jobs in a number of industries. I’m not sure what distinction there is – if any – but my hunch is that the title ‘community editor’ has been overtaken by its ‘manager’ variation because it rightly places the focus more on the community than its content.

Even within journalism, the role can vary enormously. This is partly because the communities themselves, and the challenges that they represent, differ so much. For example:

  • A mass market – anonymous and diverse, which a CM must try to somehow ‘convert’ into one or more healthy niche communities
  • No community – the CM is asked to ‘build it from scratch’
  • The CM’s website(s) already have active communities. The CM’s role is to maintain, support, and further develop those.
  • Communities exist, but not on the website(s) of the CM’s employer – the CM is asked to engage with those (this is more of a Community Editor role)

This post will be dealing with the last situation, which is the one in which most journalists first find themselves: with neither a platform nor a community.

With that out of the way, here are 6 things I think an individual can do as part of their first foray into community management/editing as a journalist:

1. Know where the communities are

This seems like a no-brainer but it’s all too easy to miss communities because you can’t find any evidence of them on Twitter or Facebook.

Along with specialist social networks (LinkedIn for professionals; MySpace for musicians; even profession-specific networks such as, there are forums, wikis, mailing lists, and various other places where people gather to share information and support.

The social media prism by Brian Solis (shown below) is one useful tool for checking if you’ve covered every possible angle on this front. For example: have you thought of looking for your community on Flickr? Digg? A locally popular platform? (LiveJournal dominates in eastern Europe, for example, while QQ is China’s answer to Twitter, Mixi is Japan‘s answer to Facebook, and Orkut and Hi5 have a healthy userbase in places like Brazil and India)

social media prism

Look for the communities in every corner of the net – don’t expect them to come pre-labelled. For example, the forums of local football clubs and local newspapers often contain corners devoted to topics other than football and news. And follow people as well as topics: if you find someone in your field, search for their username across the web and see what other places they contribute to.

One other place to look: the physical world. Live events, conferences, meetups and other gatherings are ideal places to build relationships with members of the community – as well as a great opportunity for providing live coverage online that will lead you to others, and others to you.

2. Look for problems to solve

Once you’ve identified and are following the community, try to find your best role within it. Remember that the community is not here to serve you: barging in and asking for case studies will get you the same response as if you did that in any physical social space: blank stares and muttered insults.

The simplest way to find a place in a community is through solving problems.

Listen for questions that people are asking, or complaints that they make. A key skill of a journalist is to find the answers to questions, or get responses to complaints – so that’s likely to be one way you can contribute.

Those answers and responses, of course, also make for good evergreen content (which can help you attract other members of the community), so cross-post them on your blog as well as on the platforms where the community gathers.

You might also see the need for physical meetups or other events – don’t be afraid to get stuck in and organise one.

3. Be interested – listen and ask questions

You will be both a better journalist and community editor if you listen as much as possible, and ask when you want to hear more about something.

It doesn’t have to be newsworthy – in fact, it’s sometimes better when it’s not – because often it’s an understanding of the small details and complex context which makes for better journalism and, by extension, better – and more – relationships with contacts.

4. Create content out of the process of discovery

As you explore a community a good practice to adopt is to record your research in ways that make it easier for others to engage with the community too. This helps you see what is interesting about a community, as well as creating content which can help contacts find you.

Examples of typical content created from the process of community research include:

  • ‘Top 20 people in [an industry] to follow on Twitter’
  • ‘The best forums for [your field or issue]‘
  • ‘The hottest discussions about the [issue] right now’
  • ‘Where do [profession] go for advice on [problem]?’
  • ‘The best blogs about [your field/issue]‘
  • ‘Forums roundup: what people are saying about [issue/question]‘

You may need to make a choice on where to post this content, especially if the community is not a big user of blogs. Don’t publish in a way that is disconnected from the community that you are supposed to be serving: at the very least cross-publish to the platforms where discussion is healthiest. Don’t spam shared spaces with links to external content.

You might also profile members of the community, or – at a later stage – create something that pulls together profiles, points of view, or experiences. For example: this Times Educational Supplement piece collects excluded pupils’ experiences (incomplete version online); We Are The 99 Percent uses Tumblr to pull together the experiences that inspired a protest movement; and Spitalfields Life seeks to document the places and people of the area, while this Guardian interactive allows you to explore the voices of 100 NHS workers on health reforms.

5. Link, retweet, attribute and comment

Finally, it’s important to link to content from your community as often as possible. This does two things: firstly, it demonstrates good attribution and demonstrates that you are not looking to take credit for yourself which belongs to others. And secondly, it makes other people aware of your work: a link to another blog generates a ‘pingback’ which alerts the author to your piece. Twitter users are notified if their tweet is retweeted by you, Facebook users if you ‘like’ their update, and so on. Comments are an extension of the same principle of acknowledgement.

Linking – or ‘linkblogging’ – is also the simplest way to begin engaging with a field and its communities, and a good habit to get into if you want to understand an area and get in the habit of keeping up to date with it. For more on that, 7 ways to follow a field… is a good guide.

6. Read about community management

As you gain in confidence and reputation, you may find yourself doing more and more in your community. Community management is, to my mind, one of the hardest roles in online journalism to do well, and the more insights you can gather from others, the better prepared you will be.

This list of resources from FeverBee is as good as they come. You should also follow blogs in the field – that list contains a section on those, but if you just want 5 to start with, here’s a bundle to subscribe to.

PS: If you want to see explanations of job descriptions of the CM, and other roles such as social media manager, this post by Blaise Grimes-Viort does a very good job of trying to unpick the subtle differences and links to typical job descriptions. More on traits of community managers at ReadWriteWebThe Constant Observer and Business2Community.