The article explains what APIs are and how they differ from other data sources; the basic principles of how they work and how they can be used for stories; some of the jargon to expect — and where to find them. Read the article here.
Satellite imagery is increasingly a key asset for journalists. Looking from above often allows us to put a story into context, take a more interesting perspective or show what some power prefers to keep hidden.
But with hundreds of satellites taking thousands of images of the Earth every day, it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. How can we find relevant stories in this ocean of data?
That includes ‘functions’ and ‘methods’ that allow you to request certain types of data; ‘arguments’ that allow you to specify what you want data about, or what format; and API ‘keys’ that act as passwords to access the data.
APIs can be very useful sources of data for data journalists. In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain what an API is and how they have been used in a variety of data-driven stories.
Earlier this year The Economist team published an interactive analysis delving into 5 years of Spotify’s data in 70 countries. It was a large data project that started with a scraper — by data journalist Dolly Setton, who was interested in the role of language on the platform — but getting the data was just the beginning.
“I thought it was an interesting experience at the beginning, exploring and figuring out together what was the heart of the piece,” says Olivia. “We didn’t realise what the story was going to be until sort of midway through.”
As I say in the introduction, I focused on “the areas that are most strongly contested and hold the most importance for the development of news reporting”, namely:
competition over copyright between individuals, news organisations, and social media platforms;
the move to hyperlocal and international-scope publishing;
the tensions between privacy and freedom of speech; and
attempts by governments and corporations to control what happens online.
These and other developments (such as the growth of APIs which “connect the information that we consume with the information we increasingly embody”) are then explored with specific reference to issues of editorial independence, public interest and public service, pluralism and diversity, accountability, and freedom of expression.
Wikipedia defines a mashup particularly succinctly, as “a web page or application that uses or combines data or functionality from two or many more external sources to create a new service.” Those sources may be online spreadsheets or tables; maps; RSS feeds (which could be anything from Twitter tweets, blog posts or news articles to images, video, audio or search results); or anything else which is structured enough to ‘match’ against another source.
This ‘match’ is typically what makes a mashup. It might be matching a city mentioned in a news article against the same city in a map; or it may be matching the name of an author with that same name in the tags of a photo; or matching the search results for ‘earthquake’ from a number of different sources. The results can be useful to you as a journalist, to the user, or both.
Why make a mashup?
Mashups can be particularly useful in providing live coverage of a particular event or ongoing issue – mashing images from a protest march, for example, against a map. Creating a mashup online is not too dissimilar from how, in broadcast journalism, you might set up cameras at key points around a physical location in anticipation of an event from which you will later ‘pull’ live feeds: in a mashup you are effectively doing exactly the same thing – only in a virtual space rather than a physical one. So, instead of setting up a feed at the corner of an important junction, you might decide to pull a feed from Flickr of any images that are tagged with the words ‘protest’ and ‘anti-fascist’. Continue reading →