Monthly Archives: May 2013

Guest post: Columbia University students’ Project Wordsworth: How much is a good story worth?

17 students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York City came together to perform an experiment in 21st century journalism. I invited them to write about the results.

How much is journalism worth? Throughout the past semester, under the tutelage of our professor, Michael Shapiro, we have had endless discussions about how journalism is changing, what we can do to keep up, and how journalists can make a living when so much Internet content is free. To answer that simple question, we set up a website.

Instead of a paywall, we offered our 17 stories to the public for free. At the end of each story, there is a pay option. If the reader enjoys the story, we hope he or she will pay for it. How much? The reader decides.

Projectwordsworth.com was launched on May 9. By May 10, we had made over $1,200 and seen over 20,000 unique site visitors.

Some people donated $1. Others donated $50. Our experiment lasted one week. On May 16, we hoped to discover something new about how people consume and pay for stories. Do readers respond positively when you ask them to pay rather than force them? Do readers who pay for stories also share stories on social media? And last but not least, how much is a good story worth?

Please visit our site to learn more. Check out some stories. Share them. If you like them, pay for them. And if you want to hear about the results of our experiment, feel free to email us at project.wordsworth@gmail.com. Happy reading!

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Collaborative learning and journalism – event next week, with Jay Rosen

Next Thursday I’ll be speaking at an event looking at collaborative learning and collaborative journalism, hosted at Birmingham City University.

Also Skyping into the event will be Jay Rosen, who is exploring similar methods at New York University.

The event comes out of the ‘Stories and Streams’ project, which resulted in the ebook of the same name. One year on, I’ll be talking about my experiences of having used those methods a second time, what was changed, what worked and what didn’t, and what the plans are for next time.

To book onto the event (it’s free) email this booking form to seminar.series@heacademy.ac.uk

My next ebook: the Data Journalism Heist

Data Journalism Heist data journalism ebook

In the next couple of months I will begin publishing my next ebook: Data Journalism Heist.

Data Journalism Heist is designed to be a relatively short introduction to data journalism skills, demonstrating basic techniques for finding data, spotting possible stories and turning them around to a deadline.

Based on a workshop, the emphasis is on building confidence through speed and brevity, rather than headline-grabbing spectacular investigations or difficult datasets (I’m hoping to write a separate ebook on the latter at some point).

If you’re interested in finding out about the book, please sign up on the book’s Leanpub page.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for translators for Scraping for Journalists – get in touch if you’re interested.

 

My next ebook: the Data Journalism Heist

Data Journalism Heist data journalism ebook

In the next couple of months I will begin publishing my next ebook: Data Journalism Heist.

Data Journalism Heist is designed to be a relatively short introduction to data journalism skills, demonstrating basic techniques for finding data, spotting possible stories and turning them around to a deadline.

Based on a workshop, the emphasis is on building confidence through speed and brevity, rather than headline-grabbing spectacular investigations or difficult datasets (I’m hoping to write a separate ebook on the latter at some point).

If you’re interested in finding out about the book, please sign up on the book’s Leanpub page.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for translators for Scraping for Journalists – get in touch if you’re interested.

Two pieces of information

Two pieces of information that came to my attention today:

Firstly, from a piece of research on aspiring journalists in France:

“Students from the least privileged social sectors are more socially committed and more aware of their civic responsibility: These students want “to reveal cases of corruption, show realities that are unknown to the general public, and to do investigative journalism”.

“The students belonging to disadvantaged social classes value the profession of journalism the most, and have a culture of effort and selflessness, which has been inherited from their families. The force lifting the social elevator to access an intellectual profession like journalism is their constant effort. They consider journalism to be a “useful and noble” profession. They have a more romantic and social view of the profession: they want to be a real communication channel for the village people, the forgotten, and the voiceless … However, these students practice self-censorship by not working in recognised and prestigious media, unlike the students from more privileged social classes who do so because they have greater social capital and contacts in the profession of journalism thanks to their families.”

Secondly, from a number of sources on Twitter:

“Independent.co.uk is offering a rare opportunity to an aspiring young journalist. We’re looking for an exceptionally motivated, intelligent and organised undergraduate with a passion for our brand, the world of news, and student life, to come and gain work experience within our Digital team for three months this summer 2013.

“You must be able to work from Monday 17 June through to 30 August 2013. This is work experience, so it is not a paid opportunity, but your travel and lunch expenses will be covered. You will need to provide a letter from your university, confirming that this work experience placement is beneficial and supports your course.”

Over to you.

Why I stopped working with print publishers (for a while)

Scraping for Journalists book

This was first published on the BBC College of Journalism website:

I have just spent 10 months publishing an ebook. Not ‘writing’, or ‘producing’, but 10 months publishing. Just as the internet helped flatten the news industry – making reporters into publishers and distributors – it has done the same to the book industry. The question I wanted to ask was: how does that change the book?

Having written books for traditional publishers before, my plunge into self-publishing was prompted when I decided I wanted to write a book for journalists about scraping: the technique of grabbing and combining information from online documents. Continue reading

I am a coding denier

There is an exchange that sometimes takes place, perfectly described by Beth Ashton, between those who use technology, and those who don’t. It goes like this:

Prospective data journalist: ‘I’d really like to learn how to do data journalism but I can’t do statistics!’

Data journalist: ‘Don’t let that put you off, I don’t know anything about numbers either, I’m a journalist, not a mathematician!’

Prospective data journalist: ‘But I can’t code, and it all looks so codey and complicated’

Data journalist: That’s fine, NONE OF US can code. None of us. Open angle bracket back slash End close angle bracket.

“These people are coding deniers,” argues Beth.

I think she’s on to something. Flash back to a week before Beth published that post: I was talking to Caroline Beavon about the realisation of just how hard-baked ‘coding’ was into my workflow:

  • A basic understanding of RSS lies behind my ability to get regular updates from hundreds of sources
  • I look at repetitiveness in my work and seek to automate it where I can
  • I look at structure in information and use that to save time in accessing it

These are all logical responses to an environment with more information than a journalist can reasonably deal with, and I have developed many of them almost without realising.

They are responses as logical as deciding to use a pen to record information when human memory cannot store it reliably alone. Or deciding to learn shorthand when longhand writing cannot record reliably alone. Or deciding to use an audio recorder when that technology became available.

One of the things that makes us uniquely human is that we reach for technological supports – tools – to do our jobs better. The alphabet, of course, is a technology too.

But we do not argue that shorthand comes easy, or that audio recorders can be time consuming, or that learning to use a pen takes time.

So: ‘coding’ – whether you call it RSS, or automation, or pattern recognition – needs to be learned. It might seem invisible to those of us who’ve built our work patterns around it – just as the alphabet seems invisible once you’ve learned it. But, like the alphabet, it is a technology all the same.

But secondly – and more importantly – for this to happen as a profession we need to acknowledge that ‘coding’ is a skill that has become as central to working effectively in journalism as using shorthand, the pen, or the alphabet.

I don’t say ‘will be central’ but ‘has become‘. There is too much information, moving too fast, to continue to work with the old tools alone. From social networks to the quantified self; from RSS-enabled blogs to the open data movement; from facial recognition to verification, our old tools won’t do.

So I’m not going to be a coding denier. Coding is to digital information what shorthand was to spoken information. There, I’ve said it. Now, how can we do it better?