Computer Assisted Reporting

December 14, 2009

As is usually the way in the UK, we catch on to something the US has been doing a good 50 years after they started doing it.

Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) has been around in The States since 1952, delivering raw information on local communities and making it searchable to others. CAR is a way of communicating data effectively and was originally developed from journalists using tools like databases and spreadsheets. It gets others involved in what you’re doing, while inadvertently helping you to cut down your workload. Instead of being the lowly intern who has to weed through 458,832 pages of MPs’ expenses, by using CAR other people can gain access to the material and you can sift through it together.

Freedom of Information Act requests make documents available to the public and can form the backbone of a great story. Data like restaurant inspections and police league tables show the public what is going on and local people can see how their community is performing compared with neighbouring ones. It’s a great way of getting the community involved.

By using a new tool we can revert back to the meaning of old journalism – getting information to the masses.

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Capturing Cardiff: R ‘n’ R – Reduce and Recycle

December 5, 2009

Whether you bin it, recycle it or compost it – your rubbish has to go somewhere. But Cardiff’s landfills are filling up fast and residents have been told they need to do more to help the situation.

The Welsh Assembly Government has recently been given new powers to impose financial penalties for local authorities who fail to meet recycling targets. They’re launching a new waste strategy scheme aimed at making Wales 70% waste-free by the year 2025 and 100% waste-free by 2050.

However, as Highway Operations and Waste Management Press Officer for Cardiff County Council, Ian Lloyd-Davies says: zero-waste is the far element and there are a number of targets to achieve before attempting this mammoth goal. Cardiff currently recycles 40% of its waste which means it has met the Landfill Diversion Target set out by Welsh Authorities, but needs to look at ways to recycle at least 30% more.

Listen to the full Interview with Ian Lloyd-Davies here.

As well as recycling glass, tins and plastics, households across the county have recently been issued with composting bins for leftover food and teabags. While the inclusion of composting in the recycling system is a step forward for Cardiff, too many households are either refusing to participate or participating minimally in the scheme. Binman Paul Jones says: ‘students and the elderly are among some of the worst’ offenders.

How can recycling in Cardiff be improved?

  • By giving incentives – some areas of the UK offer the chance to win an iPod for the household that recycles the most in a certain area. Lloyd-Davies says this is bribery.
  • By introducing fines – Kent County Council has proposed introducing fines for those who refuse to contribute to the scheme. Lloyd-Davies says County Councils do not have the legislation to impose such charges.
  • By increasing adverts for a waste-free Wales – leaflet drops in places with the lowest rates for recycling across the city.
  • By encouraging shop owners to produce less packaging.

If Cardiff fails to reach the targets set by the Welsh Assembly Government, and exceeds their landfill, there will be financial consequences for the whole county and residents’ pockets will suffer. Landfills are running out, so local authorities need to find new ways to treat waste without using landfills like they have in the past. For this reason alone it is essential that we recycle more.

But what can be recycled, when can it be recycled, and why should people recycle?

I went along to Cardiff’s biggest landfill site on Lamby Way to find out exactly what happens to our rubbish once it leaves our street.

I arrived at the location in Rumney on a typically wet and windy day. As soon as I’d donned a pair of steel-toe capped boots, a hard hat and a ‘hi viz’ orange tabard I was given a tour of the site.

The piles of rubbish that greeted me were overwhelming. Even though they had been repeatedly compressed into garbage blocks the sheer volume of them dominated the landscape.

The waste was divided into three types: recyclable, non-recyclable and food waste. The recyclable items were sorted into different categories through various magnetic machines, compressed and then sold on to the highest bidder. The non-recyclable waste was compressed and emptied in the landfill, while the food waste was driven up to Derby for treatment.

Yes that’s right, Derby . Since Cardiff does not yet have the facilities to deal with the compost it collects, the food waste is driven for three hours up the M5 to a place that can process it. Such unnecessary pollution seems to be at odds with the council’s new greener outlook. Surely it would have made more sense to wait until Cardiff was able to handle its own food waste before introducing the composting scheme?

The route from Cardiff to Derby:

Lloyd-Davies wouldn’t give an answer for when he expects the compost treatment plant to be finished in Cardiff. So, for the foreseeable future it seems as though our food waste will be taking a costly tour of the M5, while Cardiff citizens are educated about the essential role they play in the recycling process.

Recycling saves energy – when we make new paper from old we use 60% less energy than making it from virgin timber. On a global level, by increasing the amount we recycle we will save energy and reduce our need for raw materials (like trees). On a local level, by increasing the amount we recycle we will prevent our landfills from becoming full and Cardiff County Council from being heavily fined, which could increase our council tax.

Lloyd-Davies assures: “it’s in everybody’s best interests to recycle and compost, both for the environment and for the money they have in their pockets.”

Bring On The Wall??

December 1, 2009

You wouldn’t expect to have a drink at a bar without handing over some money first, nor walk past a supermarket till with a basket full of groceries. We’d never stroll out of a newsagent and not pay for our newspaper, so why is it that we’ve come to expect to get our news for free?

It’s no secret that ever since digital media evolved the way we consume our news, newspaper publications have been in catastrophic decline. But what’s the solution? An increase in advertisement, the Press Association pitching for public money, or are pay walls to become the online norm?

It’s been announced that Times Online will bring in pay walls from the Spring, but the UK Editor of Paid Content, Rob Andrews, has conducted extensive research which suggests this method won’t work for the majority of publications. When asked: what would you do if your favourite news site started charging? 74% of people admitted they would find another free site and only 5% said they would pay to continue reading.

Whilst it is true that The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal have subscriptions, business titles are able to do this since they have wealthy customers with a more disposable income, something which readers of other newspapers might not.

Andrews believes that B2B professionals that publishers are targeting with niche information, like Farmer’s Weekly, do have a future because customers are willing to pay for the unique information they receive. But can you also charge for general consumer news like The Mirror and The Sun? Probably not.

And even if people are willing to pay something, there’s not as much value placed on digital content since much of it is easily replicable elsewhere.

Even as a journalism student, I’m not convinced I would pay for online content – it’s just not as satisfying as reading something that you yourself are holding and I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. Pay walls won’t convince me to buy online news, I’d rather revert to the old school practice of buying a newspaper.

Twitter Is Just The Start Of It

November 25, 2009

Any which way you turn, as a journalist or as not, you cannot escape social media. Twitter, facebook and blogs are no longer buzz words that conjure up images of computer geeks straining over their laptops in the early hours of the morning. These terms have fast become a part of our vocabulary, and for journalists – an essential part of our work.

Claire Wardle, Honorary lecturer of Cardiff University and freelance journalist and trainer of social media, discussed how we can maximise the role social media plays on our lives to dramatic effect.

We no longer have to wait until 6 o’clock, 10 o’clock or the morning paper to get our stories out. As soon as a news story unravels we can report on it instantaneously and reach the masses at the click of a button.

The plethora of tools at our fingertips is overwhelming, but search engines, social bookmarks, aardvark and book marking are all out there to enhance our journalism and help us be more aware of the issues that surround our audiences.

“Social media is an umbrella term which captures the millions of conversations that are going on now.” This enables us to interact with our audience about relevant information that they themselves are interested in. The role of journalists is still the same – to understand, listen and empathise with the reader, and social media tools allow us to do exactly that, in a much more efficient way. In short, we can tell “better, more informed stories, develop stronger relationships with existing audiences and connect with new audiences.”

The 140 Character Job Application Form

November 24, 2009

Have the days of filling out laborious job applications been replaced by the wonders of Twitter? A 6-page form, complete with additional attachments, substituted by 140 characters on a computer screen?

Social media isn’t just a method of communication anymore, it can also be a way of getting a job.
That’s how Joanna Geary ended up working as Web Development Officer for The Times…a title which even she isn’t clear of its meaning.

As a digital journalist, communicating with the reader is paramount. So it’s not all doom and gloom for new-age journalism, you can serve your audience better. If you know who is accessing your material then you can suggest other options for them.

So, although Murdoch’s pay-per-view news will reduce traffic to your site, the ability to interact with your reader will surpass that worry.

For Geary, it’s never been about blog statistics as these are not indicative of people engaging with your stories they’re simply people who pass through and may not even acknowledge what you’ve written.

Communication is Key

November 15, 2009

Being a Technology Correspondent isn’t about knowing the intricate details of the latest gadgets, or living your life in cyber space searching out the next invention to take social media by storm.
Being a Technology Correspondent, or indeed any correspondent, is about being able to communicate with your audience and tell them what is going on in the world. Understanding how something works and being able to explain that to your listeners is more crucial than being able to name the latest digital terminology.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent for the BBC, started his lecture by dismissing the cliché reference to ‘The Golden Days’ as “bollocks”. He cited that before the internet revolutionised communication, reporters were unable to interact with their audience. There was a lack of original journalism where broadcasters simply churned out material from the morning’s newspapers. He declared that journalism was done badly – as well as lacking in creative content the absence of graphics and movement meant reports lacked visual creativity too.

Although statistics may show smaller audiences are tuning in to hear the News at Ten, digital journalism has resulted in a more fragmented audience who are actively involved in contributing to news pieces.
By reflecting on internet statistics journalists have the power to challenge the professionalism of their editors and persuade them of a story’s worthiness.

Yes, journalism is changing. But at the heart of it still lies the importance of story-telling and being able to communicate key ideas with your audience. And if anything, technology is improving our ability to do this every day.

No-one Knows Where Journalism’s Going…But They Never Have

November 8, 2009

It’s refreshing to hear a lecturer stand up in front of you and not ask why you’ve signed up to a journalism course, or utter the (terribly clichéd) phrase: ‘it’s a perilous time for journalism. Who knows where it’s going?’ Not me. I don’t think I’ve heard such an overused expression since I was encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ back at school.

But then Daniel Meadows isn’t exactly your everyday university professor. In 1973 the self-professed hippie took off around England in a double-decker bus. No, not as a passenger – hopping on at one stop and off at another – the man bought a double-decker bus. He converted it into a dark room and drove all over the country taking portraits of people he met along the way. 30 years later, with the help of local newspapers, he tracked down his subjects and took new portraits.

Since then he has taken inspirtion from California’s Centre for Digital Storytelling and set up audience workshops across Wales teaching people to be inventive with their memories and interact more with the world around them.

That’s right, he actually encourages the audience to interact with the media and make their own tv. Rather than live in fear of what the future will bring in terms of the audience becoming the producer, Meadows tackles the situation head on. He teaches digital photography skills to others and helps them to capture their memories on-screen in imaginative ways.

His alternative approach to story-telling emphasises his excitement around the ways media can develop. So maybe it’s not such a perilous time for journalism. No-one knows where it’s going…but they never have.

The Importance of Diverse Blogging

November 1, 2009

Diversity is key for bloggers according to Adam Tinworth from Reed Business Information (RBI). He said in a recent lecture that us bloggers need to use various techniques such as pictures, videos and links to maintain our audience’s interest and keep them coming back for more.

Bloggers need to be more than just a source of information; they need to be the homepage for that information, providing the audience with the most up to date details about a chosen subject. Whenever we find anything of interest to our readers, we need to tell them!

Like many voices before him, Tinworth stressed the importance of a digital world and argued that we need to post regularly, responding in real time to the issues surrounding the themes mentioned in our writing.

Most people of older generations are sceptical about bloggers – believing them to have almost too much freedom. This allows an endless diatribe of opinionated dribble to form the content of their blog. However, apparently, conversation is not opinion. Opinion is what bloggers need to separate themselves from in order to achieve accuracy and clarity that we desire.

Internet Manifesto

October 16, 2009

Online, online, online. Everything is moving online…but does this mean the end to offline? Techno enthusiasts have been speculating about the death of the newspaper industry since any invention came along with the ability to mutate media and serve it up differently to ink on paper.

The wireless, the television, 24-hour news satellite channels and now the internet are all supposed to have eclipsed the previous models; so why are The Times, The Daily Mirror and The Sun still around? I do not for a second deny that their readership numbers have dwindled, or that their profits aren’t as healthy as in years gone by. But isn’t there something satisfying about picking up a paper and flicking through at your leisure; whether it’s over breakfast with your family or commuting on a train?

The 17-point Internet Manifesto set out by a group of German Journalists seems to bypass the issue of customer satisfaction and obsesses only on the need for speed, accuracy and our desire for more, more, more – by enlarge ignoring the existence of print media. Whilst journalists may salivate at the thought of a newsroom in cyberspace that boasts an infinite amount of bulletins and broadcasts at the touch of a button, we are not the only ones who use the internet and we are by no means representative of the masses who are reluctant to catch an update from Trevor McDonald in the evening.

While the document is largely inoffensive, I do resent being told that if I don’t interact with the internet then I am ‘excluding myself from social discourse’. How about interacting with real people instead of a machine that will no doubt inflict RSI and poor posture onto me as I am encouraged to spend an increasing amount of time in front of it? I agree that ‘the media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it’, but having said this, you cannot assume that every wants to digest their news in the same way and therefore ignore the existence of current forms.

I would agree with the Liverpool Echo journalist Alison Gow who points out that one thing wrong with the 17 points is that ‘they are on …the internet’ and therefore cannot be accessed by the realms of the computer illiterate.

What about countries like Vietnam or Turkey where the internet is very much restricted and popular sites like youtube have been banned? If you rely solely on the internet for your information then rather than increasing your freedom it can put further limitations on it.