Tag Archives: crowdsourcing

Repubblica.it’s experiment with “Investigative reporting on demand”

Repubblica.it's experiment with

Alessandra Bonomolo reports on an Italian experiment to involve readers in investigative journalism.

Whether investigative journalism should be considered “dead” or “alive”, it still proves to be a topical issue able to engage readers by only mentioning its name.

Italian Repubblica.it, the online edition of the daily la Repubblica, has launched an investigative reporting “on demand” initiative. After the first three releases, the idea seems to be succeeding, with thousands of readers responding.

Every month, the online community is asked to choose an issue for reporters to investigate, among an array of options – all related to the environment. “Environment is a strategic editorial issue for us”, says Giuseppe Smorto co-editor of Repubblica.it.

The shortlist of options is drawn up by Repubblica’s correspondents. Most of the issues strongly affect a specific geographical community. Others may include follow-ups on big events in the past, such as the Winter Olympics held in Turin in 2006.

Although they are not all “nationwide and very appealing topics”, Repubblica considers the initiative as part of “an investment in the relation with the readership”. As the investigations are expected to mostly interest local communities, the proximity factor appears to play its part in the initiative’s good response. But, according to Giuseppe Smorto, the editorial focus remains on the environmental aspects.

The readers’ investigations are published both as online articles and videos. Such coverage clearly increases the costs for the news organisation, but it is seen as “an effective way to diversify the product for its final use (computer, smartphone or tablet) in order to reach out to more people”.

Unlike other outlets, Repubblica.it is not engaging its readers in the investigation itself (for instance, by asking them for tips like the Washington Post). Rather, the “investigation on demand” project involves readers in the editorial process, by choosing the topic of the investigation.

This strategy echoes another initiative of the website. Every day, Repubblica Domani broadcasts the morning editorial meeting, opening to the public the doors of their newsroom.

“This is a most advanced form of interaction with the readership”, says the online co-editor. But having readers participating in the editorial process implies that journalists also make their own investigative process open to the public. Should the original hypothesis not be verified by the facts, the reader will see an unexpected conclusion. Potentially, they will even read an investigation with no case at all, which can lead to disappointment.

“This comes with the imperative of transparency and verification”, says environment correspondent Antonio Cianciullo. The newspaper’s investigation into a controversial pollution case concluded, for example, that measures have been eventually put in place and now the situation is under control.

Given the response with the environmental “on demand” investigations, Repubblica says the initiative may be replicated in other sectors.

Help Me Investigate – anatomy of an investigation

Earlier this year I and Andy Brightwell conducted some research into one of the successful investigations on my crowdsourcing platform Help Me Investigate. I wanted to know what had made the investigation successful – and how (or if) we might replicate those conditions for other investigations.

I presented the findings (presentation embedded above) at the Journalism’s Next Top Model conference in June. This post sums up those findings.

The investigation in question was ‘What do you know about The London Weekly?‘ – an investigation into a free newspaper that was (they claimed – part of the investigation was to establish if this was a hoax) about to launch in London.

The people behind the paper had made a number of claims about planned circulation, staffing and investment that most of the media reported uncritically. Martin Stabe, James Ball and Judith Townend, however, wanted to dig deeper. So, after an exchange on Twitter, Judith logged onto Help Me Investigate and started an investigation.

A month later members of the investigation had unearthed a wealth of detail about the people behind The London Weekly and the facts behind their claims. Some of the information was reported in MediaWeek and The Media Guardian podcast Media Talk; some formed the basis for posts on James Ball’s blog, Journalism.co.uk and the Online Journalism Blog. Some has, for legal reasons, remained unpublished. Continue reading

Mapping the budget cuts

budget cuts map

Richard Pope and Jordan Hatch have been building a very useful site tracking recent budget cuts, building up to this week’s spending review.

Where Are The Cuts? uses the code behind the open source Ushahidi platform (covered previously on OJB by Claire Wardle) to present a map of the UK representing where cuts are being felt. Users can submit their own reports of cuts, or add details to others via a comments box.

It’s early days in the project – currently many of the cuts are to national organisations with local-level impacts yet to be dug out.

Closely involved is the public expenditure-tracking site Where Does My Money Go? which has compiled a lot of relevant data.

Meanwhile, in Birmingham a couple of my MA Online Journalism students have set up a hyperlocal blog for the 50,000 public sector workers in the region, primarily to report those budget cuts and how they are affecting people. Andy Watt, who – along with Hedy Korbee – is behind the site, has blogged about the preparation for the site’s launch here. It’s a good example of how journalists can react to a major issue with a niche blog. Andy and Hedy will be working with the local newspapers to combine expertise.

When crowdsourcing is your only option

Crowdsourced map - the price of weed

PriceOfWeed.com is a great example of when you need to turn to crowdsourcing to obtain data for your journalism. As Paul Kedrosky writes, it’s “Not often that you get to combine economics, illicit substances, map mashups and crowd-sourcing in one post like this.” The resulting picture is surprisingly clear.

And news organisations could learn a lot from the way this has been executed. Although the default map view is of the US, the site detects your location and offers you prices nearest to you. It’s searchable and browsable. Sadly, the raw data isn’t available – although it would be relatively straightforward to scrape it.

As the site expands globally it is also adding extra data on the social context – tolerance and  law enforcement. (via)

Lessons in crowdsourcing: Claire Wardle on using Ushahidi for the Tube strike

The following is cross-posted from Claire Wardle’s blog:

Late on Monday night, I wrote a short post in anticipation of the crowdmap I’d just set up for BBC London, which I hoped would provide a useful service the following day for the London tubestrike, 7th September 2010.

It’s now Wednesday morning, and I can write, while still feeling slightly shell-shocked from the experience, that all in all, I’m very pleased with how it went.

I want to use this post to reflect on some of the things that worked, some of the things that didn’t work as well, and some things I will do differently if the next scheduled tube strike goes ahead.

Bottom line was that lots of people saw it: 18,860 unque visitors, and 39,306 page views from 55 countries. 13,808 were from the UK, 3863 from the US, and I can’t get over the fact that we had 2 people form Bermuda, 1 person from Uruguay, and 9 from Kenya, the home of the Ushahidi platform. The power of social media never ceases to amaze me.

We posted 202 reports yesterday. About 50 were sent directly to the map from the audience, either via the web form or the specific SMS channel we set up. The rest of the reports we took from twitter, either tweets in the #tubestrike stream or replies to the @BBCTravelalert account. Continue reading

A War Logs interactive – with a crowdsourcing bonus

Owni war logs interface

French data journalism outfit Owni have put together an impressive app (also in English) that attempts to put a user-friendly interface on the intimidating volume of War Logs documents.

The app allows you to filter the information by country and category, and also allows you to choose whether to limit results to incidents involving the deaths of wounding of civilians, allies or enemies.

Clicking on an individual incident bring up the raw text but also a mapping of the location and the details split into a more easy-to-read table. Continue reading

Crowdsourcing an investigation: interview with The Faster Times' Nathan Hegedus

The Faster Times have been experimenting with crowdsourcing as with their users they investigate the backgrounds of own brand foods (that is, foods which are sold under the brand of a supermarket, e.g. ‘Tesco cornflakes’). I spoke to Nathan Hegedus who is overseeing the investigation:

Listen!

GameChanger: providing tools for citizen sports journalism

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.

Interview: Nicolas Kayser-Bril, head of datajournalism at Owni.fr

Past OJB contributor Nicolas Kayser-Bril is now in charge of datajournalism at Owni.fr, a recently launched news site that defines itself as an “open think-tank”.

“Acting as curators, selecting and presenting content taken deep in the immense and self-expanding vaults of the internet,” explains Nicolas, “the Owni team links to the best and does the rest.”

I asked Nicolas 2 simple questions on his work at Owni. Here are his responses:

What are you trying to do?

What we do is datajournalism. We want to use the whole power of online and computer technologies to bring journalism to a new height, to a whole new playing field. The definition remains vague because so little has been made until now, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to slideshows, online TV or even database journalism.

Take the video game industry, for instance. In the late 1970’s, a personal computer could be used to play Pong clones or text-based games. Since then, a number of genres have flourished, taking action games to 3D, building an ever-more intelligent AI for strategy games, etc. In the age of the social web, games were quick to use Facebook and even Twitter.

Take the news industry. In the late 1970’s, you could read news articles on your terminal. In the early 2010’s you can, well… read articles online! How innovative is that? (I’m not overlooking the innovations you’ll be quick to think of, but the fact remains that most online news content are articles.)

We want to enhance information with the power of computers and the web. Through software, databases, visualizations, social apps, games, whatever, we want to experiment with news in ways traditional and online media haven’t done yet.

What have you achieved?

We started to get serious about this in February, when I joined the mother company (22mars) full-time. In just a month, we have completed 2 projects

The first one, dubbed Photoshop Busters (see it here), gives users digital forensics tools to assess the authenticity of an image. It was made as a widget for one of our partners, LesInrocks.com.

More importantly, we made a Facebook app, Where do I vote? There, users can find their polling station and their friends’ for the upcoming regional election in France.

It might sound underwhelming, but it required finding and locating the addresses of more than 35,000 polling stations.

On top of convincing a reluctant administration to hand over their files, we set up a large crowdsourcing effort to convert the documents from badly scanned PDFs to computer-readable data. More than 7,000 addresses have been treated that way.

Dozens of other ideas are in the works. Within Owni.fr, we want to keep the ratio of developers/non-developers to 1, so as to be able to go from idea to product very quickly. I code most of my ideas myself, relying on the team for help, ideas and design.

In the coming months, we’ll expand our datajournalism activities to include another designer, a journalist and a statistician. Expect more cool stuff from Owni.fr.

What I expect at news:rewired — and what I hope will happen

Screen shot 2010-01-06 at 11.23.20Next Thursday is the news:rewired event at City University London, which is being put on by the good people at journalism.co.uk. I’ll be on hand as a delegate.

All of the bases will be covered, it seems: Multimedia, social media, hyperlocal, crowdsourcing, datamashups, and news business models.

Continue reading