How to make the newsroom embrace data journalism

Struggling to get your entire news organisation enthusiastic about the possibilities inherent in big data sets? Texas Tribune has the answer.

I can’t recall just how many times the terms "data journalism" or "computer assisted reporting (CAR)" have elicited big yawns from other journalists.

It is certainly nothing which will draw journalists to an event, unless you focus on the most spectacular stories this kind of journalism has made possible. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Texas Tribune’s recipe for success is both simple and daunting:

Just do it, and the enthusiasm will follow from the results.

"Data accounts for 66% of our traffic. I don’t think all the journalists saw the light instantly, but as they saw really interesting stories come out of the data and traffic started to pick up, everybody got interested," said Rodney Gibbs, Chief Innovation Officer for Texas Tribune at Online News Association's annual conference last weekend, ONA12.

He was on the panel together with Stephen Engelberg, Managing Editor of ProPublica and Meghan Farnsworth, Senior Manager Distribution and Online Engagement at the Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIR) for a session called "The Business of Collaboration".

Engelberg said they saw immense potential in sharing big data sets with different news organisations who each focus on their own regional angle, and that ProPublica’s collaborative data sets are now so distributed he discovers partnerships via Google Alerts.

"It is really important to figure out if there are tools out there which will help you distribute your content better," said Farnsworth, and spoke of Publish2 as an incredible tool (which sort of reminded me I haven’t used Publish2 for ages, better try to check in and have look around again soon).

"We certainly view everyone at ProPublica as journalists: it’s just that some of them write words and others write code – that is the future of journalism," said Engelberg.

Twitter promises better curation tools for journalists

Emily Bell interviewing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was one of the highlights of ONA12 – and the session also revealed some good news in store.

Twitter is working to create better event curation tools for journalists; Costolo promised we will be able to download all our tweets within the end of the year and a Twitter-version of Google Analytics is underway.

Those, to my mind, was some of the good news from this keynote session at Online News Association’s annual conference, ONA12, which I attended in San Fransisco last weekend.   

But that is playing down the entertainment (or should that be infotainment?) value of the interview.

Here are a few tidbits:

- I’d like to thank Costolo for ruining my attention span… In my journalistic lifetime Twitter has probably been the tool that has had the biggest impact on our professional lives in terms of how we do the job, said Bell at the start of the session.

- You are dictating the biorhythm of free speech for an increasing number of people all over the world.. How does it feel to be in charge of free press in 21st Century?

- It’s important for us to help our users protect their freedom of speech… We were put between the rock and a hard place when we were told to hand over information before the court of appeal was held, said Costolo, referring to the Malcolm Harris-case. The Guardian’s Matt Wells has written more in detail on that here.

Costolo agreed that this kind of judicial challenge is just going be a more entrenched problem for Twitter in the times ahead.

As for the recent crackdown on third party apps, Costolo said, among other things that this was "to make sure all our users got all our new features and fixes immediately". Techcrunch has more on this story, but Costolo also answered a question by Jeff Jarvis related to this by saying: - If you mean that are there anything more we will restrict or restrain in the near future? Then no.

- Is the area of openness over?, asked Bell. - No. We’ll continue to spend a ridiculous amount of money to keep our API open, said Costolo

Bell: -When is instant translation coming? Costolo: - Not soon. Bell: - When can we download all our tweets? Costolo: - Before the end of the year. But you got to take into account it’s the CEO saying this, not the engineer building it. It is a priority we actually want to have out by the end of the year.

Bell: - Twitter analytics like Google analytics, when can we have that? Costolo: - We have the function, but have to improve it before rolling it out. Bell: - Can we have it by the end of the year? Costolo: - No, I’m only going to over-commit from stage once. Bell: - So end of next year (no protest from Costolo there).

Two other interesting points:

Costelo said Twitter would like to migrate to a world where the 140 limit can serve as a caption for further content. In general, he said Twitter is not about being a destination. - I’m a huge believer in syndication and in that true platform companies always outflanks products, he concluded.

(Oh, and I just realised I’ve used the standard Norwegian way to write up quotes – and not " ...", but it goes better with my very quick write-up of my notes)