Tag Archives: olympics

How do you navigate a liveblog? The Guardian’s Second Screen solution

I’ve been using The Guardian’s clever Second Screen webpage-slash-app during much of the Olympics. It is, frankly, a little too clever for its own good, requiring a certain learning curve to understand its full functionality.

But one particular element has really caught my eye: the Twitter activity histogram.

In the diagram below – presented to users before they use Second Screen – this histogram is highlighted in the upper left corner.

Guardian's Second Screen Olympics interactive

What the histogram provides is an instant visual cue to help in hunting down key events.

Continue reading

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A case study in online journalism: investigating the Olympic torch relay

Infographic: Where did the Olympic torch relay places go? What we know so far

image by @CarolineBeavon

For the last two months I’ve been involved in an investigation which has used almost every technique in the online journalism toolbox. From its beginnings in data journalism, through collaboration, community management and SEO to ‘passive-aggressive’ newsgathering,  verification and ebook publishing, it’s been a fascinating case study in such a range of ways I’m going to struggle to get them all down.

But I’m going to try.

Data journalism: scraping the Olympic torch relay

The investigation began with the scraping of the official torchbearer website. It’s important to emphasise that this piece of data journalism didn’t take place in isolation – in fact, it was while working with Help Me Investigate the Olympics‘s Jennifer Jones (coordinator for#media2012, the first citizen media network for the Olympic Games) and others that I stumbled across the torchbearer data. So networks and community are important here (more later).

Indeed, it turned out that the site couldn’t be scraped through a ‘normal’ scraper, and it was the community of the Scraperwiki site – specifically Zarino Zappia – who helped solve the problem and get a scraper working. Without both of those sets of relationships – with the citizen media network and with the developer community on Scraperwiki – this might never have got off the ground.

But it was also important to see the potential newsworthiness in that particular part of the site. Human stories were at the heart of the torch relay – not numbers. Local pride and curiosity was here – a key ingredient of any local newspaper. There were the promises made by its organisers – had they been kept?

The hunch proved correct – this dataset would just keep on giving stories.

The scraper grabbed details on around 6,000 torchbearers. I was curious why more weren’t listed – yes, there were supposed to be around 800 invitations to high profile torchbearers including celebrities, who might reasonably be expected to be omitted at least until they carried the torch – but that still left over 1,000.

I’ve written a bit more about the scraping and data analysis process for The Guardian and the Telegraph data blog. In a nutshell, here are some of the processes used:

  • Overview (pivot table): where do most come from? What’s the age distribution?
  • Focus on details in the overview: what’s the most surprising hometown in the top 5 or 10? Who’s oldest and youngest? What about the biggest source outside the UK?
  • Start asking questions of the data based on what we know it should look like – and hunches
  • Don’t get distracted – pick a focus and build around it.

This last point is notable. As I looked for mentions of Olympic sponsors in nomination stories, I started to build up subsets of the data: a dozen people who mentioned BP, two who mentioned ArcelorMittal (the CEO and his son), and so on. Each was interesting in its own way – but where should you invest your efforts?

One story had already caught my eye: it was written in the first person and talked about having been “engaged in the business of sport”. It was hardly inspirational. As it mentioned adidas, I focused on the adidas subset, and found that the same story was used by a further six people – a third of all of those who mentioned the company.

Clearly, all seven people hadn’t written the same story individually, so something was odd here. And that made this more than a ‘rotten apple’ story, but something potentially systemic.

Signals

While the data was interesting in itself, it was important to treat it as a set of signals to potentially more interesting exploration. Seven torchbearers having the same story was one of those signals. Mentions of corporate sponsors was another.

But there were many others too.

That initial scouring of the data had identified a number of people carrying the torch who held executive positions at sponsors and their commercial partners. The GuardianThe Independent and The Daily Mail were among the first to report on the story.

I wondered if the details of any of those corporate torchbearers might have been taken off off the site afterwards. And indeed they had: seven disappeared entirely (many still had a profile if you typed in the URL directly – but could not be found through search or browsing), and a further two had had their stories removed.

Now, every time I scraped details from the site I looked for those who had disappeared since the last scrape, and those that had been added late.

One, for example – who shared a name with a very senior figure at one of the sponsors – appeared just once before disappearing four days later. I wouldn’t have spotted them if they – or someone else – hadn’t been so keen on removing their name.

Another time, I noticed that a new torchbearer had been added to the list with the same story as the 7 adidas torchbearers. He turned out to be the Group Chief Executive of the country’s largest catalogue retailer, providing “continuing evidence that adidas ignored LOCOG guidance not to nominate executives.”

Meanwhile, the number of torchbearers running without any nomination story went from just 2.7% in the first scrape of 6,056 torchbearers, to 7.2% of 6,891 torchbearers in the last week, and 8.1% of all torchbearers – including those who had appeared and then disappeared – who had appeared between the two dates.

Many were celebrities or sportspeople where perhaps someone had taken the decision that they ‘needed no introduction’. But many also turned out to be corporate torchbearers.

By early July the numbers of these ‘mystery torchbearers’ had reached 500 and, having only identified a fifth, we published them through The Guardian datablog.

There were other signals, too, where knowing the way the torch relay operated helped.

For example, logistics meant that overseas torchbearers often carried the torch in the same location. This led to a cluster of Chinese torchbearers in StanstedHungarians in Dorset,Germans in BrightonAmericans in Oxford and Russians in North Wales.

As many corporate torchbearers were also based overseas, this helped narrow the search, with Germany’s corporate torchbearers in particular leading to an article in Der Tagesspiegel.

I also had the idea to total up how many torchbearers appeared each day, to identify days when details on unusually high numbers of torchbearers were missing – thanks to Adrian Short – but it became apparent that variation due to other factors such as weekends and the Jubilee made this worthless.

However, the percentage per day missing stories did help (visualised below by Caroline Beavon), as this also helped identify days when large numbers of overseas torchbearers were carrying the torch. I cross-referenced this with the ‘mystery torchbearer’ spreadsheet to see how many had already been checked, and which days still needed attention.

But the data was just the beginning. In the second part of this case study, I talk about the verification process, SEO and collaboration.

A case study in online journalism: investigating the Olympic torch relay

Infographic: Where did the Olympic torch relay places go? What we know so far

For the last two months I’ve been involved in an investigation which has used almost every technique in the online journalism toolbox. From its beginnings in data journalism, through collaboration, community management and SEO to ‘passive-aggressive’ newsgathering,  verification and ebook publishing, it’s been a fascinating case study in such a range of ways I’m going to struggle to get them all down.

But I’m going to try. Continue reading

Two guest posts on using data journalism techniques to investigate the Olympics

Corporate Olympic torchbearers exchange a 'torch kiss'

Investigating corporate Olympic torchbearers - analysing the data and working collaboratively led to this photo of a 'torch kiss' between two retail bosses

If I’ve been a little quiet on the blog recently, it’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time involved in an investigation into the Olympic torch relay over on Help Me Investigate the Olympics.

I’ve written two guest posts – for The Guardian’s Data Blog and The Telegraph’s new Olympics infographics and data blog – talking about some of the processes involved in that investigation. Here are the key points: Continue reading

“All that is required is an issue about which others are passionate and feel unheard”

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.”

Over at Rangerstaxcase.com, the site expands on this in its criticism of STV for uncritical reporting: Continue reading

Announcing Help Me Investigate the Olympics

My crowdsourced investigative journalism project Help Me Investigate has launched a fourth specialist site: Help Me Investigate the Olympics.

The site is being run by a colleague of mine from Birmingham City University, Jennifer Jones, as part of a project we’re working on which sees students at BCU and other universities connecting to wider online networks in investigating Olympics-related questions.

Jennifer knows those networks particularly well as the coordinator for #media2012, web editor and staff editor for Culture @ the Olympics. She is also writing her PhD on Social Media, Activism and the Olympic Games at the University of the West of Scotland.

If you want to contribute to the site or related investigations, get in touch in the comments or via Olympics@helpmeinvestigate.com

The test of data journalism: checking the claims of lobbyists via government

Day 341 - Pull The Wool Over My Eyes - image by Simon James

Day 341 - Pull The Wool Over My Eyes - image by Simon James

While the public image of data journalism tends to revolve around big data dumps and headline-grabbing leaks, there is a more important day-to-day application of data skills: scrutinising the claims regularly made in support of spending public money.

I’m blogging about this now because I recently came across a particularly good illustration of politicians being dazzled by numbers from lobbyists (that journalists should be checking) in this article by Simon Jenkins, from which I’ll quote at length:

“This government, so draconian towards spending in public, is proving as casual towards dodgy money in private as were Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Earlier this month the Olympics boss, Lord Coe, moseyed into Downing Street and said that his opening and closing ceremonies were looking a bit mean at £40m. Could he double it to £81m for more tinsel? Rather than scream and kick him downstairs, David Cameron said: my dear chap, but of course. I wonder what the prime minister would have said if his lordship had been asking for a care home, a library or a clinic.

“Much of the trouble comes down to the inexperience of ingenue ministers, and their susceptibility to the pestilence of lobbying now infecting Westminster. On this occasion the hapless Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson, claimed that the extra £41m was “worth £2-5bn in advertising revenue alone”, a rate of return so fanciful as to suggest a lobbyist’s lunch beyond all imagining. Robertson also claimed to need another £271m for games security (not to mention 10,000 troops, warships and surface-to-air missiles), despite it being “not in response to any specific security threat”. It was just money.

“This was merely the climax of naivety. In their first month in office, ministers were told – and believed – that it would be “more expensive” to cancel two new aircraft carriers than to build them. Ministers were told it would cost £2bn to cancel Labour’s crazy NHS computer rather than dump it in the nearest skip. Chris Huhne, darling of the renewables industry, wants to give it £8bn a year to rescue the planet, one of the quickest ways of transferring money from poor consumer to rich landowner yet found. The chancellor, George Osborne, was told by lobbyists he could save £3bn a year by giving away commercial planning permissions. All this was statistical rubbish.

“If local government behaved as credulously as Whitehall it would be summoned before the audit commission and subject to surcharge.”

And if you want to keep an eye on such claims, try a Google News search like this one.