Meet the man who fought a dozen FOI battles to prove that data doesn’t cause crime

Empty Shops

Empty Shops image by Dan Thompson

For the last three years Gavin Chait has been fighting — and winning — multiple Freedom of Information cases to unlock data on vacant properties. In a special guest post ahead of his latest hearing, he explains how he uses a range of evidence to fight a widely misused exemption.

I don’t know how to break this to you, but you’re probably a terrorist.

According to Richard Woolford, Strategic Director of Security and Counter Terrorism with the City of London Corporation, unoccupied properties — and especially unoccupied commercial properties — are attractive for those intent on committing terrorism.

Any knowledge about vacant properties is so dangerous, he believes, that no information about them should be placed in the public domain.

Estate agents against terrorism

This will come as tough news to terrorism enablers, especially real-estate agents, property developers, banks, insurers, and Google Street View.

If you were hoping to find somewhere new to live, or somewhere to open your dream business, then – for the safety of everyone – you’ll need to stay put. Continue reading

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Emma Youle: “Local newspapers are one of the best places to do in-depth investigations because they are very well connected to the community”

emma youle

Emma Youle speaking at the Data Journalism UK conference in 2017 – photo by Wan Ulfa Nur Zuhra

As Archant’s award-winning Emma Youle announces she is to leave local newspapers to join Huffington Post UK as a special correspondent. Victoria Oliveres spoke to the investigative journalist about setting up local investigations, using data, and campaigning.

If you’ve looked at any UK journalism awards ceremony in the last few years, chances are you will have seen Emma Youle’s name: winner of the Private Eye Paul Foot Award in 2017, and the Weekly Reporter of the Year at Regional Press Awards 2016, she has also been shortlisted in many others, largely for her approach to showing the impact of national decisions at local level.

This success has come after a career of over a decade in journalism, including the last three years as part of Archant‘s investigations unit, where she uncovered in-depth stories from London boroughs.

Setting up local investigations

The unit was set up in 2015, which Youle considers to be quite pioneering at the time.

“I think local newspapers are one of the best places to do in depth investigations because they are very well connected to the community,” Emma says. Continue reading

How to: create a Slack alert bot for Parliament events

robot

robot image by Max Wheeler

Following a request on the Bureau Local Slack channel (join here) I created a tutorial on how to create a Slack bot which would post alerts whenever a new House of Commons or House of Lords event was added to the Parliamentary calendar (this can be adapted for any events calendar that provides an RSS feed). I thought I’d share it here too…

Slack is a great platform for organising a team — and it’s very easy to integrate with bots that will post alerts to a channel whenever something happens. Here’s how to do that using the free tool IFTTT. Continue reading

Designing data journalism courses: reflections on a decade of teaching

Presentation

Students from the MA Data Journalism join conference attendees in a session at the Data Journalism UK conference

In this second extract from a commentary for Asia Pacific Media Educator I reflect on the lessons learned from a decade of teaching dedicated data journalism courses. You can read Part One — on teaching one-off data journalism classes — here.

In contrast to the one-off classes involving data journalism, courses and modules that focus on data journalism skills present a different type of challenge.

These courses typically attract a different type of student, and provide more time and space to work with.

My own experience of teaching on such courses comes from three contexts: in 2009 I launched an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University with an explicit focus on data-driven techniques (the term “data journalism” was yet to be popularised). A year later I acted as an advisor to the MA in Interactive Journalism that City University London were then developing (delivering guest classes in data journalism for the following 5 years as a visiting professor). Finally, in 2017 I replaced the MA in Online Journalism with a dedicated MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University.

In this post I talk about the factors that shaped course design, and how student output compared to the objectives of the course. Continue reading

Teaching data journalism — fast and slow

lecture theatre

Lecture theatre image by judy dean

I’ve now been teaching data journalism for over a decade — from one-off guest classes at universities with no internal data journalism expertise, to entire courses dedicated to the field. In the first of two extracts from a commentary I was asked to write for Asia Pacific Media Educator I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned, and the differences between what I describe (after Daniel Kahneman) as “teaching data journalism fast” and “teaching data journalism slow”. First up, ‘teaching data journalism fast‘ — techniques for one-off data journalism classes aimed at general journalism students.

Like a gas, data journalism teaching will expand to fill whatever space is allocated to it. Educators can choose to focus on data journalism as a set of practices, a form of journalistic output, a collection of infrastructure or inputs, or a culture (see also Karlsen and Stavelin 2014; Lewis and Usher 2014; Boyles and Meyer 2016). Or, they might choose to spend all their time arguing over what we mean by ‘data journalism’ in the first place.

We can choose to look to the past of Computer Assisted Reporting and Precision Journalism, emerging developments around computational and augmented journalism, and everything that has happened in between.

In this commentary, I outline the different pedagogical approaches I have adopted in teaching data journalism within different contexts over the last decade. In each case, there was more than enough data journalism to fill the space — the question was how to decide which bits to leave out, and how to engage students in the process. Continue reading

3 concepts from archive studies that every data journalist should know

Until last month I hadn’t heard of diplomatic studies. It’s the discipline of studying historical documents, and comes from the word ‘diploma’, as in ‘verifying that someone hasn’t faked their records’ (I’m paraphrasing here). But this discipline of verification has some useful lessons for journalists — particularly data journalists — because it provides a very handy framework for picking apart what makes a record (data) credible, and what we should be looking out for when establishing that.

Particularly useful are three terms that are used to distinguish different aspects of a record’s credibility: authenticity; reliability; and accuracy.

Luciana Duranti’s paper on electronic records (PDF) defines each of the three concepts in depth, and — although she notes that the terms are given different meanings in different sectors — it is worth exploring in detail… Continue reading

GEN Summit: AI’s breakthrough year in publishing

This week’s GEN Summit marked a breakthrough moment for artificial intelligence (AI) in the media industry. The topic dominated the agenda of the first two days of the conference, from Facebook’s Antoine Bordes opening keynote to voice AI, bots, monetisation and verification – and it dominated my timeline too.

At times it felt like being at a conference in the 1980s discussing how ‘computers’ could be used in the newsroom, or listening to people talking about the use of mobile phones for journalism in the noughties — in other words, it feels very much like early days. But important days nonetheless.

Ludovic Blecher‘s slide on the AI-related projects that received Google Digital News Initiative funding illustrated the problem best, with proposals counted in categories as specific as ‘personalisation’ and as vague as ‘hyperlocal’.

Digging deeper, then, here are some of the most concrete points I took away from Lisbon — and what journalists and publishers can take from those.

Continue reading