Monthly Archives: July 2016

How to: fix spreadsheet dates that are in both US and UK formats


This map by Artem Karimov shows which countries use which data formats

It’s quite common when working with Google Sheets to have data set to US format (Month-Day-Year) without realising it. This is because Google will format your dates based on what ‘locale’ or language you have set – and the default is US English.

Instructions on how to change that are here – but what if it’s too late? What if you’ve already inputted or imported data which, when updated to a different format, will make it the wrong date? Continue reading

German intelligence reforms: will some journalists be more equal than others?

In a guest post for OJB, Christian Mihr explains how German plans to allow surveillance of foreign journalists represent a threat to reporters all over the world.

There is perhaps no author more quoted when it comes to surveillance than George Orwell, and his book 1984. The recently proposed reforms to Germany‘s Foreign Intelligence Service, BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), however, bear more resemblance to Orwell’s novel Animal Farm.

In the novel, farm animals drive their human masters away in hope of achieving democracy. But once the pigs of the farm seize power they become as tyrannical as the humans that came before them, proclaiming:

“All animals are equal – but some animals are more equal than others.”

Some journalists are more equal than others

Politicians are of course not pigs; however, this single principle of the pigs in Animal Farm seems to be the underlying assumption which led the German-ruling parties SPD and CDU/CSU (Social Democrats and the conservative Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists) to draft the new BND law, proposed at the end of June to the German public.

In the law, those more equal than others are not pigs, but rather German journalists. Continue reading

Snapchat Memories is nothing to do with memories – but it changes everything

Snapchat memories

Swipe up from the camera screen to access Snapchat Memories, then tap the camera roll option

Snapchat’s new Memories feature is being pitched as a way to share old snaps and stories — but the real change is what it means for those creating and reporting stories in the tool. Now for the first time Snapchat users can create non-chronological sequences and stories using images or video that they have not taken themselves. Continue reading

All the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry report documents structured by entities and dates

When you’re dealing with documents amounting to 2.6million words spread across over 50 PDFs, you need to do more than just be able to press the CTRL and F keys together.

And yet political journalists across the country will be relying on just that to report on the Chilcot Report into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war (also known as the Iraq Inquiry) this week.

I’ve uploaded all the PDFs to the document analysis service DocumentCloud. You can find them on the site here. You’ll need a DocumentCloud account to see it, but if you haven’t got an account you can also search all 55 documents at the same time in an embedded search I’ve created over on HelpMeInvestigate.


One of the advantages of using a service like DocumentCloud is ‘entity analysis’. This basically goes through the documents and identifies entities such as people, places, organisations and ‘terms’ (for example: ‘chemical warfare’), treating each type of entity separately and creating a little histogram showing where those entities are mentioned in the document.

To view the documents in this way, you just need to click the ‘Analyze’ button in DocumentCloud and choose the view you want:

Analyze buttons: view entites or timeline

Click the Analyze button to see the documents by timeline or entities

‘View Entities’ gives you a view like the one shown below:

chilcot report on document cloud

In the entity analysis view you can see that the Ministry of Health is mentioned a lot towards the end of this document

If you hover over any of those little bars you should see a popup showing the context within which the entity is mentioned…

entity popup

Hovering over this bar shows the text surrounding the location identified

And you can click to see the raw text in full:

selly oak hospital in context

If you choose the Analyze Timeline option DocumentCloud will show you a timeline of events it has identified in the selected documents. This allows you to spot outliers (such as the earliest events in the narrative), clusters, or to zoom into a particular key period.

documentcloud timeline

You can click and drag to zoom in. Again by hovering over any point you will see a preview of the context within which a date is mentioned, and can click on that to see the original text in full.

documentcloud zoom timeline

Those are just some of the basic ways in which DocumentCloud makes interrogating documents much quicker. You can also use Overview to analyse it in other ways, but that’s another story…

overview chilcot

How the Chilcot report looks in Overview

Free investigation training for independent journalists and publishers

CIJ logo

On August 17-18 the Centre for Investigative Journalism is organising some free training workshops for independent community based journalism outlets in Birmingham (and yes, I’ll be helping too).

They write:

Through investigative training; advice and guidance in journalistic practice; and support in building regional networks and sustainable business models we aim to revive local and community based reporting to address the democratic deficit left by a decades-long decline in budgets, staff and overall plurality across the UK local media industry.

The new programme hopes to help independent publishers improve their ability to gain access to information and investigate issues affecting their communities, and to share their findings in the public interest.

Some of the reasons behind the training include:

  • to encourage greater government and corporate accountability at a local level
  • to support democratic scrutiny
  • and to reinforce civil society from the ground up

Birmingham isn’t the only region this will be happening, but it will be the first. If you are interested in being involved, please contact us at

Due to the remit of this project CIJ are only able to provide training to journalists working with a specific community/regional focus on a part-time or voluntary basis. The project has been funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Google knows what you did last summer: how to use the My Activity page to make it forget

Google My Activity news

Google knows what I was reading last summer

If you use an Android phone, the Chrome browser, or even just YouTube, you may at some point have been surprised by how much Google knows about you. If you haven’t, take a look at Google’s new My Activity feature.

Rolled out this week, the feature allows you to see the videos Google knows you’ve watched; the searches you’ve typed in ( and ‘sound search‘ too); the images you’ve looked for – and which ones you viewed; video search. Continue reading