Is data journalism ‘time consuming’ or ‘resource intensive’? The excuse – and I think it is an excuse – seems to come up at an increasing number of events whenever data journalism is discussed. “It’s OK for the New York Times/Guardian/BBC,” goes the argument. “But how can our small team justify the resources – especially in a time of cutbacks?”
The idea that data journalism inherently requires extra resources is flawed – but understandable. Spectacular interactives, large scale datasets and investigative projects are the headliners of data journalism’s recent history. We have oohed and aahed over what has been achieved by programmer-journalists and data sleuths…
Instead it’s falling to the likes of Tony Hirst (an Open University academic), Dan Herbert (an Oxford Brookes academic) and Chris Taggart (a developer who used to be a magazine publisher) to fill the scrutiny gap. Recently all three have shone a light into the move towards transparency and open data which anyone with an interest in information would be advised to read.
What all three highlight is how control of information still represents the exercise of power, and how shifts in that control as a result of the transparency/open data/linked data agenda are open to abuse, gaming, or spin. Continue reading →
There have been quite a few scraping-related stories that I’ve been meaning to blog about – so many I’ve decided to write a round up instead. It demonstrates just the increasing role that scraping is playing in journalism – and the possibilities for those who don’t know them:
So here’s person number 4: Gary Becker, a Nobel prize-winning economist.
Fifty years ago he used the phrase ‘human capital’ to refer to the economic value that companies should ascribe to their employees.
These days, of course, it is common sense to invest time in recruiting, training and retaining good employees. But at the time employees were seen as a cost.
We need a similar change in the way we see our readers – not as a cost on our time but as a valuable part of our operations that we should invest in recruiting, developing and retaining. Continue reading →
I have now released the source code behind Help Me Investigate, meaning others can adapt it, install it, and add to it if they wish to create their own crowdsourcing platform or support the idea behind it.
I’m looking for collaborators and coders to update the code to Rails 3, write documentation to help users install it, improve the code/test, or even be the project manager for this project.
Over the past 18 months the site has surpassed my expectations. It’s engaged hundreds of people in investigations, furthered understanding and awareness of crowdsourcing, and been runner-up for Multimedia Publisher of the Year. In the process it attracted attention from around the world – people wanting to investigate everything from drug running in Mexico to corruption in South Africa.
Having the code on one site meant we couldn’t help those people: making it open source opens up the possibility, but it needs other people to help make that a reality.
If you know anyone who might be able to help, please shoot them a link. Or email me at paul(at)helpmeinvestigate.com
Many thanks to Chris Taggart and Josh Hart for their help with moving the code across.
“Few parts of the corporate world are limited to a single country, and so the world needs a way of bringing the information together in a single place, and more than that, a place that’s accessible to anyone, not just those who subscribe to proprietary datasets.”
Taggart and McKinnon are well placed to do this. In addition to charities data, Taggart has created websites that make it easier to interrogate council spending data and hyperlocal websites; McKinnon has done the same for the New Zealand parliament and UK lobbying.
Now this is an example of what’s possible with open data and some very clever thinking. Chris Taggart blogs about a new tool on his OpenlyLocal platform that allows you to send a Freedom of Information (FOI) request based on a particular item of spending. “This further lowers the barriers to armchair auditors wanting to understand where the money goes, and the request even includes all the usual ‘boilerplate’ to help avoid specious refusals.”
It takes around a minute to generate an FOI request.
The function is limited to items of spending above £10,000. Cleverly, it’s also all linked so you can see if an FOI request has already been generated and answered.
The man deserves a round of applause. Charity data is enormously important in all sorts of ways – and is likely to become more so as the government leans on the third sector to take on a bigger role in providing public services. Making it easier to join the dots between charitable organisations, the private and public sector, contracts and individuals – which is what Open Charities does – will help journalists and bloggers enormously.
“For now, it’s just a the simplest of things, a web application with a unique URL for every charity based on its charity number, and with the basic information for each charity available as data (XML, JSON and RDF). It’s also searchable, and sortable by most recent income and spending, and for linked data people there are dereferenceable Resource URIs.
“The entire database is available to download and reuse (under an open, share-alike attribution licence). It’s a compressed CSV file, weighing in at just under 20MB for the compressed version, and should probably only attempted by those familiar with manipulating large datasets (don’t try opening it up in your spreadsheet, for example). I’m also in the process of importing it into Google Fusion Tables (it’s still churning away in the background) and will post a link when it’s done.”
Chris promises to add more features “if there’s any interest”.
Journalism.co.uk have a list of this year’s “leading innovators in journalism and media”. I have some additions. You may too.
I brought Nick in to work with me on Help Me Investigate, a project for which he doesn’t get nearly enough credit. It’s his understanding of and connections with local communities that lie behind most of the successful investigations on the site. In addition, Nick helped spread the idea of the social media surgery, where social media savvy citizens help others find their online voice. The idea has spread as far as Australia and Africa.