Data Analysis: Google lure for data journalism

Saturday 21st January 2012
Data Analysis. Courtesy: http://mippi.ornl.gov/images/palustris_network.png

Last November, Google announced its support for a new Data Journalism competition, organised by the Global Editors Network. The competition is now open to submissions and a London event detailed on how to compete and win a total of six prizes worth €45,000. Hopefully even if the UK makes a poor fist at it this time, it will encourage higher teaching associations specialising in journalism to push at data analysis and social network analysis tools and skills.

The European Journalism Centre is running the contest as .


journalism goes through an exciting—ifwrenching— transition from off to online.

 “Data journalism is a new, exciting part of the media industry, with at present only a small number of practitioners,” said Peter Barron, (right) Google’s director of External Relations. “We hope to see the number grow.”

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In data journalism, reporters leverage numerical data and databases to gather, organise and produce news.” Bertrand Pecquerie, the Global Editor Network’s /  CEO, believes the use of data will, in particular, revolutionise investigative reporting. “We are convinced that there is a bright future for journalism,” he said at the London event. “This is not just about developing new hardware like tablets. It is above all about producing exciting new content."

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The European Journalism Centre, a non-profit based in Maastricht, has been running data training workshops for several years. It is producing the Data Journalism Awards website and administering the prize. “This new initiative should help convince editors around the world that data journalism is not a crazy idea, but a viable part of the industry,” says (left)  Wilfried Ruetten, director of the center.



Projects should be submitted  have an April 10, 2012 deadline. Entries should have been published or aired between April 11, 2011 and April 10, 2012. Media companies, non-profit organisations, freelancers and individuals are eligible. 

Submissions are welcomed in three categories: data-driven investigative journalism, data-driven applications and data visualisation and storytelling.

National and international projects will be judged separately from local and regional ones. “We wanted to encourage not only the New York Times’s of the world to participate, but media outlets of all sizes,” says Pecquerie.

“Journalism students are also invited to enter, provided their work has been published.”

An all-star jury has been assembled of journalists from prestigious international media companies including the New York Times, the Guardian, and Les Echos. Paul Steiger, the former editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal and founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, will serve as president.

Winners will be announced at the Global News Network’s World Summit in Paris on May 31, 2012. 

How will UK investigative journalism fare?

Putting the term Computer Assisted Reporting to a Google UK news search will currently return “computer assisted dying” and “Trojans hijacking smart cards”. The same term for the US draws up Digging Deeper on CAR .

As early as 2007 a blog CAR: An Essential Newsroom Tool was praised as “easily accessible data being a great equalizer … allowing smart reporters at any size of news organisation to saw wood on national or state issue, drill the stories down, sometimes to neighbourhood level. But,” grumbled author, Jason Method investigative/computer-assisted projects reporter, “many frontline reporters have not joined in the computer-assisted reporting revolution, some 15 years after its advent. Instead, they wait to ask the computer experts in their newsroom for help, if they ask at all.

“CAR has, for many, evolved into a priesthood of computer specialists who have long since abandoned writing words in favour of writing code, queries and command statements as they master more and more advanced programs.”

“Spreadsheets, databases and online services such as LexisNexis offer immediate help for even the most pressing deadline stories. Classic programs for CAR practitioners, like SPSS and the ArcView mapping program, offer sophisticated analysis for a relatively modest price. There is an investment of time required to learn, but it can pay immediate dividends.”

Investigative Journalism and institutions lack CAR & SNA
“The techniques of investigative journalism can be put to partisan, commercial or corrupt use, as muchas to right wrongs or overcome evil,” noted editor, author Hugo De Burgh in his updated 2010 “Investigative Journalism” dealing with justice, the lack of it, misuse of power, the bullying and the lies that shroud the realpolitik. 

The book he edited  offers a riveting insight into the development and execution of 21st century information and communication which needs acute and balanced data analysis.

It is in the UK, that film expert (left to right) Gavin MacFadyen, Australian professor, Michael Bromley and Sheffield’s Mark Hannah raise and highlight, almost as an aside, the issue of computer data analysis as a key toolset in investigative journalism.

As databases continue their massive growth and social networks flourish, UK educational organisations appear not to have empowered either school children or  journalists.

In the Investigative Journalism index, blogs get four references, computer assisted reporting (CAR) gets two, databases, software and hackers get none.

Bromley lists five factors in a perceived ‘degeneration of journalism.’ Constant information demand; a shift of power to PR; consumer preference for specialist targeted news; and need to fill, and blockbuster, cheap and easy journalism strips the resources from more difficult, less sensational but important reporting.”

Against this he notes that “computers provided investigative reporting with the wherewithal to monitor government,” adding that by the late 1990’s “computer assisted investigative reporting was more, rather than less, routine in many newsroom.”

Not so, write Gavin MacFadyen in his digging coverage of science, Computer Assisted Reporting and Social Network Analysis. CAR “used and taught in the US and Scandinavia is virtually unavailable” [in the UK].

Mark Hannah agrees, noting then that Sheffield’s teaching module “does not set students tasks in CAR to analyse statistical data” But at the University of Missouri, McFadyen points out CAR is employed to download, digest and analyse large quantities of statistical data.  Important stories affecting ‘airline safety, public health, road transport accidents and the environment’ can be found in these, all of which require CAR techniques to extract it.

That other computer based skill, Social Network Analysis, mapping and measuring relationships, is the next step in important investigative analysis “used to illustrate interlocking corporate directorates, how terrorist cells or criminal groups operate, what ethnic group is disenfranchised, who has the most powerful community connections.” This also requires a toolset and training.

European case in point made by US CAR
In 2009 when for the first time all of the 27 nations in the European Union were forced to disclose how they distribute the money from farm subsidies, with the exception of Germany the only nation failing to comply in full. A July computer analysis by The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune of the recipients in major countries broke the first detailed look at who receives the money.

Data underscore the extent to which the subsidy program evolved beyond its original goals of increasing food production and supporting traditional farmers. It illustrated how the EU had moved to emphasize rural development, instead of price support and production incentives, in the process decentralized the system, giving countries more discretion over subsidy dispersal.

Data showed biggest share of aid, about €37.5bn, goes to landowners and farmers, distributed in thousands of individual payments across the Continent. Hundreds of of millions of euros are also paid to individuals and companies with little to no connection to traditional farming.

Largest sums flow to multinational companies like food conglomerates, sugar manufacturers and liquor distillers.
In France, the single largest beneficiary was (historic successor to Henry IV and every pot) the chicken processor Groupe Doux, at €62.8m, and about a dozen sugar manufacturers that together reaped more than €103m.

Sugar processors do not run farms. Groupe Doux outsources chickens raising to thousands of contract breeders. But they qualified for the agricultural export refunds, government rebates to cover the difference between the European price of a commodity and its lower world market price. It is also how the German candy maker Haribo (above) qualified for €332,000 in subsidies for sugar in its gummy bears.
 

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