Here’s another collection of questions answered in public as part of the FAQ section – this time concerning citizen journalism:
Videographer Franzi Baehrle has published an ebook documenting lessons in delivering video training to non-journalists.
The ebook was part of her final project for the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, and based on her experiences of working with communities online and offline in Birmingham, with the Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project, the Birmingham Mail’s digital team, and independently.
I forgot to blog about it at the time it was published last Autumn, but better late than never: it’s an excellent piece of work, and well worth reading.
For the fourth in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices we head back to Wales. Launched by Richard Gurner in July 2009, the Caerphilly Observer acts as a local news and information website for Caerphilly County Borough.
The site is one of a small, but growing, number of financially viable hyperlocal websites. Richard, who remains the Editor of the site, told Damian Radcliffe a little bit about his journey over the last three years. Continue reading
For the third in our new series of Hyperlocal Voices we head North to the city of Preston in Lancashire, UK. Damian Radcliffe spoke to Blog Preston‘s Ed Walker and Ryan Gibson about some of the lessons they have learned over the last three and a half years.
1. Who were the people behind the blog?
Ed: There’s me, Ed, who used to live in Preston but now lives in London – studied and lived in Preston for five years. Plus Ryan Owen Gibson who is Preston born and bred, he’s co-editor. James Duffell a local web developer and designer is the technical brains behind the site. We’ve recently said goodbye to co-editor Joseph Stashko who was studying at the University of Central Lancashire but will be departing Preston soon after joining Blog Preston in April 2010. We also had co-editor Andy Halls on board from April 2010 to May 2011 before he joined The Sun. We also have some excellent guest contributors including Holly Sutton, Paul Swarbrick, Lisa McManus Paul Melling and many others!
2. What made you decide to set up the blog?
It was a cold January afternoon in 2009, the Preston Citizen (weekly free newspaper for the city) had recently shut down and there was a chance to create something new.
3. When did you set up the blog and how did you go about it?
Ed: Sunday 11th January 2009, started out as a wordpress.com blog to test the water and after a couple of months I recruited the help of James Duffell and he made an ace site and helped me move it to a proper domain. Just started posting local news and events, and build it up from there – lots of Freedom of Information requests, local photos, events coverage and nostalgia.
4. What other blogs, bloggers or websites influenced you?
Ed: I saw the St Albans Blog, and thought, hey, this could happen here.
5. How did – and do – you see yourself in relation to a traditional news operation?
Ryan: I don’t think Blog Preston can compete with a traditional news operation, and I don’t think we would want to. What makes a hyperlocal blog such as ours so great is that we have the freedom, both editorially and strategically, to change our course very quickly. This means we that can adapt to our readership much faster than a traditional news operation can. I also like to think we listen to our readers more, and we try to engage with them through social media channels and on the blog itself.
6. What have been the key moments in the blog’s development editorially?
Ed: May 2010 – we covered the general election and we’ll touch on why that was so important. July 2009 was a big moment, we moved to a hosted solution with a proper domain and really started to accelerate the amount of content going on the site. 2011 was big as we teamed up with NESTA to train community reporters and we recruited a lot of guest contributors, plus Ryan came onboard and has really excelled at live event coverage.
7. What sort of traffic do you get and how has that changed over time?
Ed: We now average around 10,000 unique visitors a month, with 24,000 page impressions. In October 2010 the site was averaging 10,000 page impressions a month and 4,000 unique visitors.
8. What is / has been your biggest challenge to date?
Ed: Just keeping the momentum going, it’s easy to set a site up but when you move away from an area it’s a tough decision, do you shut the site or down to try to keep it going? Fortuntely there’s a great team of people who have stuck their hand up and got involved, and well, we’re still producing great community news for Preston.
9. What story, feature or series are you most proud of?
Ryan: Blog Preston has been lucky enough to break a number of stories that weren’t being picked up by the mainstream media at the time, such as an announcement that the BBC would be coming to Preston to film a series of short dramas, dubbed the Preston Passion, as part of its Easter output.
…I think the live coverage of the May 2010 electionsreally defines what we are about. The mechanics of that series was very simple – it was just a team of guys with a laptop and a mobile phone each, but the level of coverage they managed to achieve went above and beyond what any of the other news operations were doing at the time.
We were the first to interview Preston MP Mark Hendrick after his re-election.
Perhaps this was the moment that people began to take us seriously.
10. What are your plans for the future?
Ryan: 2012 is very important for Preston due to its unique significance as a Guild year, which is only celebrated once every twenty years. So editorially, we are being kept busy covering local events and breaking new stories.
We are also working closely with a number of organisations to collaborate and increase our readership through joint ventures. We are in talks with lots of important people, which is exciting. Our main aim going forward is to grow the editorial team, to put us in a position where we can call on some of the best local writers and reporters to deliver the best content for Blog Preston readers.
Late last year I was asked to put together some presentations giving advice on verifying information, finding people and stories online, ethics, and news values. These were translated by Anas Qtiesh into Arabic as part of CheckDesk, a project to support Middle East citizen journalists created by Meedan at Birmingham City University.
The materials are collected at ArabCitizenMedia.org. I’ve linked to each presentation above.
Answers to another set of questions around ethics and online journalism, posed by a UK student, and reproduced here as part of the FAQ series:
Do you believe online journalism presents new ethical dilemmas and should have standards of its own?
Yes, I think any changing situation – whether technological or cultural – presents new ethical dilemmas.
But should ‘online journalism’ have a separate code? I don’t see how it can. Where would you draw the line when most journalists work online? Ethical standards are relatively platform-agnostic, but journalists do have to revisit those when they’re working in new environments. Continue reading
Here’s a must-read for anyone interested in sports journalism that goes beyond the weekend’s player ratings. As one of the biggest names in European football goes into administration, The Guardian carries a piece by the author of Rangerstaxcase.com, a blogger who “pulled down the facade at Rangers”, including a scathing commentary on the Scottish press’s complicity in the club’s downfall:
“The Triangle of Trade to which I have referred is essentially an arrangement where Rangers FC and their owner provide each journalist who is “inside the tent” with a sufficient supply of transfer “exclusives” and player trivia to ensure that the hack does not have to work hard. Any Scottish journalist wishing to have a long career learns quickly not to bite the hands that feed. The rule that “demographics dictate editorial” applied regardless of original footballing sympathies.
“[…] Super-casino developments worth £700m complete with hover-pitches were still being touted to Rangers fans even after the first news of the tax case broke. Along with “Ronaldo To Sign For Rangers” nonsense, it is little wonder that the majority of the club’s fans were in a state of stupefaction in recent years. They were misled by those who ran their club. They were deceived by a media pack that had to know that the stories it peddled were false.”
The Guardian reports on the AP photographer whose image dominated the front pages today. The following passage on how he returned to his office with a member of the public who had filmed it on his mobile phone passes by without remark:
“The adrenaline was running by now. So I turned [the flash] on and took five pictures. I realised they were important and I saw another guy shooting video on his phone.
“So I got him into a taxi and we went back to AP’s offices in Camden.”
It is hard to imagine that a sports-crazed country like the US would have any dearth in sports reporting. However, while professional and major college sports get covered no end by traditional media, sports leagues and user-generated sites alike, high school and minor college sports remain largely uncovered, an issue that is being exacerbated by declining revenues.
This was one of the reasons that inspired Ted Sullivan, a former minor league baseball player and a graduate of Harvard Business School, to ease the pain of parents, coaches and fans of youth sports, literally, by launching an application that is making the process of scoring simpler, and allowing for easier distribution of stats from the field.
“An entire category of content called real-time sports doesn’t exist for what is the enormous majority of athletic events happening everyday, whether that is organized sports from the small college level or high school and youth sports,” says Sullivan.
Having not only played the sport, but also having coached at a downtown little league in Manhattan, Sullivan understood the challenges of scoring baseball manually. Earlier this year, along with co-founder Kiril Savino, he launched GameChanger, an iPhone application that transmits data in real time from the field. Using the tool, scores and stats, as they happen, can be tapped into an iPhone by coaches, fans and parents. This is translated into a “gamestream” that appears on the Gamechanger site instantaneously so fans can access live updates, box scores, and play by plays.
Balls, strikes and hits are recorded using the tool’s menu options, and players are tracked by dragging and dropping names. In addition, a coach or scorekeeper can create a team’s schedule, roster and lineup. There is also a provision for fans to add to the stream by posting comments or uploading photos and video.
“I believe in the mobile device as a great data collector,” says Sullivan. While mobile devices are useful for content consumption, the very nature of smart phones prompts something more than passive viewing by the user. And this makes them ideal vehicles for data gathering and delivery.
So GameChanger provides an application to the community surrounding a team, which, in turn, allows the community to provide data from the field to GameChanger. In other words, it is crowdsourcing with organized content gathering.
Each team can have more than one hub based on how many people choose to use the app for scoring, but Sullivan assures me that the tedium of score-keeping restricts it to few, very avid fans or parents, thus reducing potential imposters or error-prone score keepers. Besides, GameChanger makes baseball scoring easy enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the sport, thus alleviating the need for extensive experience or in-depth knowledge.
“The key piece here that needs to be stressed is that this business doesn’t work if we aren’t providing a huge incentive to the person that is using the application and collecting the data for us for free,” says Sullivan. He explains that manual scoring takes an average of 45 minutes to an hour per game; factor in several games per week stretched over an entire season, and therein lies Gamechanger’s incentive.
Lisa Winston attests to this over at the MLB Blog, bemoaning the fact that an app “so brilliant and simple” wasn’t available when her daughter played in the little league.
All the content that is collected is available on the GameChanger site. While some content is free, more detailed information, such as play by plays, requires a subscription. Sullivan believes that the data is exclusive and time sensitive enough for people to be willing to pay for it. For a fee, a simple html code also allows local news sites to pull data from GameChanger’s database in the form of widgets. Profits are shared with news partners.
Potential other uses in journalism?
If such an application can make data gathering, analysis and distribution easier in the case of simple scoring of a little league game, could it find potential in other, more complex issues? Such as election results, exit polls or the statistics of climate change? With the popularity of crowdsourcing, citizens are being entrusted with more and more complex tasks in areas such as citizen science and E-governance. Such a foolproof application would increase participation and minimize error.
While projects like WNYC’s crowdsourced maps have successfully used their Web sites as data collectors, the content obtained from the public in such cases has been relatively simple, such as the number of cars on a street, or the price of milk at a grocery store. In these and similar such exercises, the task of making sense of the data or painting the bigger picture has been that of a journalist, perhaps rightfully so.
But if data-specific applications could be designed to maximize contributions from the public, it would perhaps make citizen journalism more relevant and valuable while reducing the workload on news organizations. It’s debatable if it will work for areas more serious than sports or entertainment, but, if anything, such weighty topics could use applications that would make information gathering easier.
All of the bases will be covered, it seems: Multimedia, social media, hyperlocal, crowdsourcing, datamashups, and news business models.