Monthly Archives: November 2014

HOW TO: Find out the ages of people using Excel

excel for journalists ebook

This post is taken from the ebook Finding Stories With Spreadsheets

“How do I calculate an age in Excel?” Marion Urban, a French journalist and student on the MA in Online Journalism in Birmingham, was preparing data for the forthcoming UK General Election.

In order to do this Marion had downloaded details on the candidates who had stood successfully in the previous election.

“It was a very young intake. But it wasn’t easy to calculate their ages.”

Indeed. You would think that calculating ages in Excel would be easy. But there is no off-the-shelf function to help you do so. Or at least, no easy-to-find function.

Instead there are a range of different approaches: some of them particularly, and unnecessarily complicated.

In this extract from Finding Stories in Spreadsheets I will outline one approach to calculating ages, which also illustrates a useful technique in using spreadsheets in stories: the ability to break down a problem into different parts. Continue reading

“Pinboard is down!”: 3 ways to make sure your bookmarks are still accessible when the site isn’t

ifttt recipe pinboard to google drive

On Saturday the social bookmarking service Pinboard experienced some lengthy downtime.

For those who rely on the service – like me – as professional archive, this was a problem. But it was a good example of why archives should always be backed up.

Here, then, are 3 ways you can – and probably should – back up your bookmark archives, whether you’re using Pinboard or another service. Continue reading

Birmingham Mail uses social media ‘Thunderclap’ to mark pub bombing anniversary campaign

birmingham mail thunderclap

The Birmingham Mail is to invite its readers and followers to sign up today to a week-long experiment with the ‘crowdspeaking’ platform Thunderclap.

Thunderclap, launched in 2012, allows users to sign up to send coordinated social media messages around a particular issue or campaign.

Staff at the paper have already started ‘seeding’ the campaign by emailing their own networks. An email from publishing director Marc Reeves explains:

Continue reading

“If we don’t move with it then the low-brow side wins”: obstacles to gamification part 2: perceptions, standards and time

http://www.ipadio.com/embed/v1/embed-352x200.swf?phlogId=142401&phonecastId=4593835

Click on the player above to listen to full audio of Alex’s interview

In the second of two guest posts for OJB (read the first part here), Alex Iacovangelo interviews Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus (full audio above) on the reasons why gamification has not been more widely used in journalism.

What is a game? Why audiences like games, and editors don’t

The word ‘game’ attracts new types of audiences, especially when so many are gamers, but within the news business it can have the opposite effect internally, especially when pitching.

“It was the word ‘game’ that put people off,” says Juliana.

“I’ve tried explaining what gamification is as a process and once you actually break down the mechanics people really get it, but it is the word – because games aren’t seen as serious.

“People raise their eyebrows and I was very careful when I pitched it.”

Continue reading

3 reasons why journalists are wary of gamification: an interview with Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus

http://pixabay.com/en/video-game-controller-controller-152852/

Al Jazeera’s gamified project’s symbol

http://www.ipadio.com/embed/v1/embed-352x200.swf?phlogId=142401&phonecastId=4593835

Click on the player above to listen to full audio of Alex’s interview

Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus was one of a team of reporters involved in creating an award-winning news game. In a two-part guest post for OJB, Alex Iacovangelo interviews Juliana (full audio above) in the context of wider issues with gamification that have prevented it being more widely used in journalism.

Why is gamification, one of the greatest forms of interaction available, so slow to be adopted by journalists at a time when engaging audiences is more important than ever?

One of the most recent examples of gamification in journalism is Al Jazeera‘s award-winning investigative news piece on illegal fishing in Africa, which they turned into a standalone educational game.

The story on illegal fishing focused on an injustice that needed to be exposed. But attracting and enlightening thousands of readers to injustices exposed in investigative pieces is a difficult challenge – especially when they are taking place so far from the audience’s home.

Juliana Ruhfus, Al Jazeera’s senior reporter, told us that:

“Quite a few people have reacted positively and I think the process of investigative journalism lends itself particularly well to be gamified because you have the process of evidence gathering, of collecting clues and discovery.

“The vast majority of people who’ve been on the interactive project that we’ve created are first time visitors to Al Jazeera, so it certainly seems that one thing we’ve managed to do is reach different audiences.”

Continue reading

“I haven’t got time” is not acceptable when it comes to basic data techniques

clock workings

Picking apart the time you spend on things can identify false economies. Image by Vittorio Pandolfi

Yesterday I spoke at the BBC Data Day: an event bringing together people at the BBC interested in data-related issues, techniques and tools. During the question and answer session following my talk one person mentioned a common reason why he wasn’t using data journalism techniques:

“I haven’t got the time.”

For some reason this time the phrase bristled. And later I realised why.

A journalist wouldn’t get away with saying they “hadn’t got the time” to get a response quote.

A journalist wouldn’t get away with saying they “hadn’t got the time” to get the background to a story.

A journalist wouldn’t get away with saying they “hadn’t got the time” to check a key fact. Continue reading

The Scarcity Principle: writing online headlines which ‘click’

Increasingly, when journalists now write headlines for the web or for social media, they specify the medium or format involved. They shout VIDEO and AUDIO in caps at the start of the tweet or post; MAPPED or INFOGRAPHIC; INTERVIEW or LIVEBLOG.

Sometimes the medium or format is implied more subtly, with a call to action: we urge users to ‘Watch’, ‘See’ and ‘Listen’. But we also invite them to ‘Join’, ‘Meet’ and ‘Find out’.

Users choose the medium as well as the message

Why do we do this? Part of it is that we recognise that the medium is something special; that users often make a choice based on the medium itself.

But I think putting the medium/format front and centre is about more than just user preference: it’s about abundance and scarcity. Continue reading