Author Archives: Paul Bradshaw

Empathy as an investigative tool: how to map systems to come up with story ideas

Zooming out of a network map of homelessness

By starting from one person you can start to identify the different parts of the systems that affect your topic — and useful story leads and ideas

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been helping students on my MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism and MA in Data Journalism come up with story ideas for specialist reporting and investigations. Part of the process involves an exercise around scoping out a particular subject or system you are interested in — for example, the housing system, or ‘dark kitchens’, the Oscars, or air pollution — and identifying the gaps in your knowledge that can lead to stories.

It’s an exercise where empathy plays a central role.

Here’s how the process works — and why empathy is so important to it. Continue reading

It’s not all about numbers: 6 ways that data can give you a story lead

Changing figures: 'New data says X' Data leads to an interview feature or profile Data leads to reaction/action story Explainers, infographics + 'in numbers': topical context Explorers: interactives, 'mapped', 'you draw it' A story about the lack of data, or concerns over quality

It’s a common misconception of data journalism that the resulting stories will be all about numbers. In fact, the data is often just a stepping stone — it might take you to interviews, or help you find case studies; it might give you the spark for a feature idea without a single number.

Recently I was asked about these alternatives to ‘number stories’ by one of my part time PGCert Data Journalism students — so here are the 6 tips I shared with them:
Continue reading

How to: plan a journalism project that needs data entry

Panorama source: FOI sent to 144 councils

This Panorama investigation involved entering data from 144 FOI responses

Data-driven reporting regularly involves some form of data entry — some of the stories I’ve been involved with, for example, have included entering information from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, compiling data from documents such as companies’ accounts, or working with partners to collect information from a range of sources.

But you’ll rarely hear the challenges of managing these projects discussed in resources on data journalism.

Last week I delivered a session on exactly those challenges to a factchecking team in Albania, so I thought it might be useful to share the tips from that session here.

They include some steps to take to reduce the likelihood of problems arising, while also helping to ensure a data entry project takes as little time as possible. Continue reading

Sigma Awards: new data journalism competition launched

Sigma awards

Data journalists are being invited to enter a new data journalism award, launched to “celebrate the best data journalism around the world [and] to empower, elevate and enlighten the global community of data journalists.”

The Sigma Awards were created by Aron Pilhofer and Reginald Chua, with support from Marianne Bouchart and Google’s Simon Rogers. Bouchart managed the Data Journalism Awards organised by the Global Editors Network, which closed last year.

There are nine awards across six categories:

  • Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
  • Best visualisation (small and large newsrooms)
  • Innovation (small and large newsrooms)
  • Young journalist
  • Open data; and
  • Best news application

Aside from a trophy, up to two people from each winning project will receive an all-expenses-covered trip to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia on 1–5 April 2020 where the awards will be celebrated.

The organisers hope that winners will “participate in and lead data journalism panels, discussions and workshops” at the festival.

Entries to the competition are open until 3 February 2020 at 11:59 pm ET via an online form.

FAQ: How can journalism lecturers keep up with a fast-changing industry?

Abigail Edge teaching at BCU

Abigail Edge teaches a guest workshop on advanced Google tools in BCU’s newsroom

The latest frequently asked questions post is an answer to Ian Silvera who asks a number of questions about teaching journalism within the context a fast-changing industry. You can read his post here.

How do you think journalism lecturers should keep up with the fast-changing industry?

Following the industry press is pretty essential for anyone teaching in the field. Sites like Journalism.co.uk and Niemanlab are especially good at covering developments, but there’s also InPublishing and HoldtheFrontPage who cover it more broadly including new technologies and issues. And tons of email newsletters.

It’s easier than ever to follow individuals inside the industry, too – on Twitter as well as professional blogs, Medium.com and anywhere else. I maintain Twitter lists of people reporting in particular fields or in particular roles, for example, and generate Nuzzel newsletters for those lists so I’m up to date with what they’re sharing. Continue reading

A guide to Slack for journalism students (and lecturers)

Slack screengrab showing channels on left

A screenshot of the Slack group for MA journalism students at Birmingham City University

For a number of years I’ve been using Slack with students on both the MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism, and the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University. As a new academic year begins, here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years – whether you are a lecturer considering integrating Slack into your teaching, or a student considering using it in a journalism project.

First things first: why Slack?

Slack is a professional chat app used widely in the media industry to organise projects. It has a number of advantages over other options for communicating between colleagues, whether that’s chat apps such as WhatsApp, or traditional email. These include:

  • The ability to take control over opting in or out of communications (rather than being endlessly ccd in on unimportant messages)
  • The ability to have ‘office hours’ and customise notifications based on your priorities and availability (rather than getting notifications for all communications)
  • A particularly powerful search functionality for finding documents or messages from previous communications
  • The ability to set yourself reminders
  • Automation of aspects of work, such as alerts

When it comes to teaching and learning there are two obvious selling points: firstly it empowers students to manage their own communication (with attendant benefits for mental health).

And secondly, it teaches them how to use an important industry tool. Continue reading

“This is him here”: Laura Kuenssberg and the ethics of social linking

This is him here

This week Twitter got angry.

Again.

It was angry because BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg identified the father of a sick baby who confronted the prime minister as a political activist, embedding one of his tweets in her own.

Then it was angry because people were attacking a journalist for doing her job.

Somewhere between the heated accusations and counter-accusations, however, there was an important lesson to be learned — and a reasonable discussion to be had.

It is a lesson about understanding very different online cultures, about new journalistic practices, and an emerging  dimension of journalistic ethics that few reporters have truly gotten to grips with. Continue reading

FAQ: Books to read in preparation for doing a data journalism course

This is what you’ll look like after reading all of these books… (“Study of a Man Reading” by Alphonse Legros)

This latest in the frequently asked questions series is an answer to an aspiring data journalism student who asks “Would you be able to direct me to any resources or text books that might help [prepare]?” Here are some recommendations I give to students on my MA in Data Journalism

Books on data journalism as a profession

Data journalism isn’t just the application of a practical skill, but a profession with a culture, a history, and non-technical practices.

For that reason probably the first thing to recommend is not a book, but just general reading (and listening and watching) as much data journalism, and journalism generally, as possible. These mailing lists (and these) are a good start, and following data journalists on Twitter, and the hashtag #ddj, will expose you to the debates taking place in the industry. Continue reading

Longform writing: how to avoid the ‘saggy middle’ — and end strongly

4 ways to structure a longform story

This year on my MA in Data Journalism and MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism I have been teaching students how to plan and organise a longform story. Having already written about story types that can help organise an investigation and beginnings, in this post I want to look at techniques for organising the middle of longform features — and how to wrap it all up at the end.

Middles and endings of long features are no less tricky than the beginnings you can spend so much time writing and rewriting. Often people fall back on particular habits which may not quite ‘work’ for the story being told.

Telling a story in chronological order, for example, is not always the most effective approach. Stories where the action is not equally dispersed chronologically can ‘sag’ in these cases and the momentum of a strong beginning get lost.

In those situations a storyteller with a varied toolbox might use places, or themes, or scenes, to keep that momentum going instead. Continue reading

Longform writing: how to write a beginning to hook the reader

7 ways to begin a longform story: person, place, action, detail, question, problem, revelation

Previously I’ve looked at 7 story types that can help organise an investigation and the 5 stages of a longform story. In this follow-up post (taken from a class in my MA in Data Journalism and MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism) I look in more detail at the editing process once you have a longform story laid out — specifically, how to start that long feature.

Beginnings are notoriously tricky for any writer. For news reporters the advice is simple: start with the ‘new’ thing in your story, and make sure there is a verb in there: a person has said something; a report has revealed something; authorities are looking for someone, warning about something, planning to do something; and so on.

But in longform and feature writing the approach is more subtle. Although we can choose to report that something has been ‘revealed’ right at the start, this risks removing tension from the story and leading the reader to abandon it before they have the full picture.

Instead, then, journalists use a number of techniques to keep the reader engaged across a longer format — with the important implied promise that the story is going to be worth it.

So, for anyone struggling to think of a way to start a longer story — or feel that you can improve the approach you’ve chosen — I’ve pulled together seven types of beginning that are used in longform reporting and feature writing, with some considerations to bear in mind — and plenty of examples. Continue reading