Sarah Booker

17/11/2014

Cutting through social noise at Buzzfeed

Filed under: journalism,Web journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 8:39 pm
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Buzzfeed finds the news people want to share by keeping its fingers on the social media pulse.

One of the key places its journalists find news is on Tumblr, UK news editor Richard James told students at Brighton Journalist Works

“Tumblr interesting because there is so much stuff,” he said.

“It has quite a young demographic but it is miles ahead of everyone, breaking news and stories.”

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Buzzfeed has a young audience because it is writing about what interests them in an informative and shareable way.

As Richard pointed out, traditional media does not know how to deal with or categorise social media stars.

He said: “The Sam Pepper saga was a story the mainstream press would not know what to deal with.

“He’s a YouTube star, so knowing what was being discussed meant we could reach out to people.

“There is huge gap in the market for someone like us as the mainstream press don’t appreciate the fame of these people.”

Buzzfeed also informs with what Richard described as explainer pieces to give people an introduction and wider understand of a story.

These often end up trending on Facebook or Twitter as they share well.

Richard said: “We want to be one stop shop for people wanting to find out more about Hong Kong protests.

“We try to do something different rather than blocks of text for example using an image of a poppy for every soldier killed in the First World War or Following Russian soldiers on Instagram in Ukraine. You can tell a story in a thousand different ways.”

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The amount of stories Buzzfeed is covering is growing and reporters are recruited every as the site is building a good reputation for news.

Richard said: “Our reporters are on the ground around the world from Liberia, Syria and Ukraine, this not what people assume Buzzfeed is doing.

“We are getting great exclusives and hard hitting pieces.

“It is a case of looking at what people are talking about, but not in the mainstream press, we see what people are talking about on Facebook.

“Reporters are spending the time properly investigating stuff.

“There is so much noise on social media I am pleased and proud at how we look at what is trending and then give you the full back story as sometimes online the wider context gets lost.”

His advice to Journalist Works students is to be all over social media, watching and monitoring the trending subjects.

It is the best way to find news and the buzz of what is going on in the world.

04/07/2014

My own Rolf Harris experience

Filed under: journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 1:04 pm
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Back in 1993 I interviewed Rolf Harris at the Glastonbury festival.

He had just performed a storming set on the Pyramid stage and signed autographs for fans at the side gate.

I felt lucky to have the opportunity to interview one of my childhood heroes.

Rolf answered my questions, telling me how much he enjoyed the experience.

Afterwards I told friends how weird it felt to have him staring at my chest the entire time.

It was a hot summer day and I wore a vest with a crochet top over it.

“Nice shirt,” he said at the end of the interview.

He’d obviously enjoyed looking at my 22-year-old boobs.

I felt disappointed but thought he’s a man, that’s how some men are.

Since his conviction other journalists have told how he touched them inappropriately.

Now I feel fortunate for nothing more than a look and sleazy comment.

Picture above from Glastonbury 2010 by DG Jones licensed by Creative Commons on Flickr.

12/06/2014

Student journalists scoop Brighton traveller stand-off

Last night (June 11-12) I burnt the midnight oil with three Journalist Works students who went into a hostile situation for a breaking news story.

Travellers evicted from Wild Park in Lewes Road, Brighton, had moved onto a community playing field in at he suburb of Patcham.

Angry neighbours blocked the field with a car and a four-hour stand off with travellers began.

Walking into a hostile situation takes gumption but Georgina Townshend, Lisa Meakin and Federica Bedendo did just that.

The story they put together had strong quotes from both sides.

People in Patcham and across Brighton and Hove are frustrated at repeated incursions on public parks and playing fields.

Equally travellers need to park up for the night and lack transit camps.

Their article gave a voice to both sides of the argument.

As a nursing mum I’m often up at unearthly hours so could advise on a copy edit to tighten up the story and keep it in Argus style.

The stand off finished at 10.30pm and the first draft was completed at 1.30am with pictures.

It was an excellent piece of work and read for The Argus website first thing in the morning.

28/09/2011

Following Hacks/Hackers London

Filed under: journalism,Storify — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 8:15 pm
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As I couldn’t make it tonight I created a Storify from Hacks/Hackers London.

Brilliant #HHLdn opening from @timesjoanna about why the event helps newsroom journalists get digital training they might not get elsewhere
currybet
September 28, 2011
Impressed that ten people in #HHLdn just put their hands up to say they were online in 1993
currybet
September 28, 2011
Here is the original article about Scientology that Wendy M. Grossman is talking about at #HHLdn *cough* with link http://t.co/GgbLWUaw
currybet
September 28, 2011
At #HHLdn, @wendyg is talking about “astroturfing” – 1995 style – http://t.co/1uJFZLh5
currybet
September 28, 2011
Great to hear a story about a journalist trying to get to grips with computers, anonymity & the interwebs in the early 90s #HHLdn – @wendyg
currybet
September 28, 2011
Fabulous trip down memory lane at the hacks/ hackers event. Early days of internet hacking – and I was there :-)
joannejacobs
September 28, 2011
Chris Sumner starts by saying that Maltego is great if you’re in to stalking :-) #hacks/hackers
joannejacobs
September 28, 2011
At #HHLdn @TheSuggmeister is showing Maltego – http://t.co/AzSySuK7 – a way of visualising Twitter networks
currybet
September 28, 2011
Another great #HHLdn phrase from @TheSuggmeister – “I’m willing to share the code for free”
currybet
September 28, 2011
At #HHLdn, @TheSuggmeister is suggesting that it has become a lot harder to search the archives of Twitter. He also just said Perl & STDOUT
currybet
September 28, 2011
Also pitched at #HHLdn, some great looking courses from the centre for investigative journalism – http://t.co/DbGThENi
currybet
September 28, 2011

11/09/2011

Remembering 9/11

Filed under: journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 11:00 am
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It is one of those days when you remember where you were. I was sitting at my desk at the Buckinghamshire Advertiser office in Chalfont St Peter. We had just put the latest edition to bed, and were planning the next one, when the editor walked out of his office. I’ll never forget his words:

My wife’s just phoned and said a plane has crashed into one of the World Trade Centre buildings.

It was such a different time. We had no television, no radio and just a dial-up internet connection on one machine in the office. It was jealously guarded by the deputy editor, but he fired it up.

When the editor came out of his office a few minutes later and told us his wife had called to say another plane had flown into the second tower. we knew it was an attack. I grabbed the phone and called Heathrow and kept hitting redial as the deputy editor asked for someone to call. “Already on it,” I said.

Once we established there was no immediate local link we knew we didn’t have to ‘hold the front page’. The one radio we had didn’t work without earphones, so I listened as we worked on. Then the horror hit.

I’ll never forget the terror in the voice of the correspondent, I think we were listening to Radio 4, as they started to describe the first tower falling. I relayed her words and I remember seeing the shocked looks on my colleagues faces. A few minutes later the editor returned, we hadn’t noticed he’d gone. He had a small TV and indoor aerial.

We gathered around the TV when it was set up and saw the second tower go. Again I’ll never forget the editor’s words:

We have just watched thousands of people die, and we’re going to know some of them.

We did.

Six months later I went to Oli Bennett‘s memorial service. I had interviewed his mother Joy Bennett before it and a few times afterwards. She was against the Iraq war and featured in Roger Graef’s film September Mourning.

It was a moving memorial. One of Oli’s colleagues spoke about the many friends he had lost that day, his voice breaking with the emotion.

I don’t think they’ve found any trace of Oli. The Bennetts buried an urn of ash from Ground Zero in the churchyard at Penn Street, near their home. Even though I didn’t know Oli, I always think of him and particularly the loving parents he left behind every September 11 and whenever I hear the ELO song Mr Blue Sky which was played at his memorial.

25/08/2011

#hhldn : Sex, lies and digital news

Sex, lies and instant messenger

If you don’t want your partner to catch you cheating don’t use the internet. This was Alec Muffett’s advice at Hack/Hackers London’s August gathering.

There was a serious message behind Alec’s advice on keeping your illicit affair and dodgy porn habit a secret. Anyone who needs to keep a secret, a dissident or whistle-blower, needs to consider how they communicate.

If you need to keep a secret don’t use Skype, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, smartphones, applications with pop ups, iTunes, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), work hardware etc. All this can come back to bite you.

Skype shares everything with any machines you’ve installed it on. Even if you delete and re-install, messages they come back from the dead.

Facebook ends up everywhere, as does Google. These companies also comply with US law, which means if the National Security Agency (NSA) asks for your data, it’s handed over.

Smartphones also have comedy potential. Alec told a tale of a person whose boyfriend was sending saucy messages which their boss read when details popped up on their iPhone.

What can you do to protect yourself?

  • Create a complex password only you know.
  • Use a very boring pseudonym such as Edward Wilson or Carole Smith, because anything unique will come back to you.
  • Avoid linking identities and never describe yourself.
  • Use a different browser for day-to-day use and keep Firefox for your naughty secrets.
  • Log out of Facebook.
  • Clear cookies, don’t accept third-party cookies.
  • Switch off everything.
  • Don’t bookmark.
  • Don’t save passwords
  • Do not leave voicemail.

Illicit affairs and unusual kinks provide plenty of entertainment to geeks like Alec. It is amazing what is retrieved from hardware sold on eBay, he said.

His slides of advice are here: dropsafe.crypticide.com/article/5078

How digital destroyed the news cycle and what you can do about it

Demand for newspapers is falling but people still clamour for information. Tools from Twitter to Tumblr are quick ways to share information. As Martin Belam pointed out, there was one event he was following on Twitter when official sources had no details at all. (It was something about football I didn’t understand).

Digital has destroyed the traditional news cycle, but it has created a new one. Print newspapers are an enjoyable read but are always historical. Online is live and as up-to-date as possible, although social media sources can be unreliable.

Martin simplified the news cycle as write newspaper, print newspaper, wrap fish and chips in newspaper, before adding embellishments including sub-editing, layout, legal checks and loading everything online. The Guardian has a digital first policy and publishes across a multitude of platforms from iPhone to Kindle, with iPad, Windows phone and Android apps, due for released soon (nothing for Blackberry). The way the newspaper presents its product on different platforms is something Martin says needs to be addressed.

“Stop the shovels”, he said. Mobiles are not tablets, tablets are not desktops and we don’t read the stories as PDFs online. One of the frustrations facing user experience architects like Martin is making content work for a multitude of mediums. He highlighted problems with visualisations on the Telegraph and Guardian’s websites, which required a mouse, not helpful when you’re on an iPad, or copy is exported without the through for the medium with notes guiding readers to images from print which aren’t online.

Interactivity has changed the way the Guardian works.  When there are mistakes “we are subbed by the comments very quickly”, Martin explained. Journalists are actively using Twitter as a news-gathering source. Paul Lewis was asking where trouble was flaring up during the recent riots, which resulted in his reports from the thick of the violence.

The Guardian is known for its liveblogging. It is a platform Martin described as a “native digital format”. Throughout the day there are political, sport and TV liveblogs generating a huge amount of traffic and an engaged readership interacting with the information.

Digital is part of storytelling now. Martin was critical of a report compiled by the NCTJ* where editors ranked web skills and social media below time management as key skills for journalists.

“It is unfair to be equipping young journalists for a job they would have been doing in the 80s and 90s.”

He pointed out the survey shows the entrenched attitude of people in control of newspapers. “They’re not interested in turning the tanker around,” Martin said.

When I teach online journalism, I tell the students I am providing them with the skills they will need to be employed in five years time. Martin has the same opinion and advised journalists to keep learning and developing as he knows digital is the future.

His summing up of the future of news raised a round of applause from the crowd:

“Let the digital people get on with saving this business properly.”

* Martin was critical of a different website that didn’t link to the report. I would like to point out the piece I sub-edited did have a link to the NCTJ page. However, this does not overcome the issue with the report page which advises people to click on the link to the right…

14/01/2011

Missing out on selling to the nationals

Filed under: journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 11:46 am
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My colleague Alex Therrien has found out the hard way about selling on a great story.

Picking up the phone paid off for him with a great story about Tammy Page from Worthing who  had the tip of her finger bitten off by a fox.

It was such a great, quirky and topical tale a local agency picked it up and sold it on to the Daily Mail and The Sun.

The Worthing Herald hits the streets on a Wednesday afternoon, despite the Thursday publishing date, so any reporter who wants to make some much-needed cash needs to get on the phone pretty quickly before someone else jumps in.

At least Alex discovered he is not alone as all of us could list great stories we had just been too late to sell but had made it to the nationals.

29/11/2010

Data projects presented at #hhhrbi

Filed under: journalism,technical — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 6:45 pm
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Transparency

How your money is really being spent.

Wanted to look at local government spending in various areas. Looked at government account figures published on Number 10 website.

Government temp spending is triple it’s own staff budget

Found page with 190,000 individual data entires.

Had someone writing in java, one in Ruby and found the data was a bit rubbish.

Date columns were not filled, or had the number of days since 1900.

Cannot trust the data, have to ask if it’s correct and can be validated.

Had a massive amount of data, tried to break through agency and temp staff. Cutting back a massive spreadsheet.

Used Zoho(?) where you can see things pretty quickly.

Visuals created once separated the costs. Need to dig deep into the data to find the quirks.

Taking home to learn the accuracy of data, structured database, other axis of investigation, getting data clean, automatically updating.

Is it worth it?
Took extensive salary data.

Put in location and job and then the function shows if it’s worth living there.

A Welsh teacher earning £45,000, not competitive.

Someone in London working as an accountant at £45,000, data showed 16 applicants per job making it a 50/50.

From the initial data service a map was created where you can choose a function, a job title and a region to find out visually whether a job is worth it. It pushes down per region.

Can also zone in to regions using a slider system.

A splendid and complex visualisation. (The winner)

Truck stops

Started with the idea of truck stops and which ones were safe.

Started looking for data on the Highways Agency site and found it wanting.

Found a map with decent truck stop sites.

Had the xml source and started to develop a scraper on Scraperwiki and got a view on Google maps.

Plotted all the points. Letter on the point shows how safe by analysing which ones had CCTV and various security measures.

Further on wanted to find out more about truck crime. Looked ast the TruckPol website and took the data from PDFs and put in a spreadsheet.

Updated the view with the information about crimes. Red ones not so great, blue are good and a purple is okay.

(Winner of the best scraper award from Scraperwiki and third place overall).

Take over watch

UK Takeover panel was the prime source of information showing all take overs in play. The aim was to create something to provide details about companies.

Had scraped data but needed to add sector and revenue to create context.

Also used Investigate.co.uk

Had a live table showing activity from the last two days.

Have different sectors and can pull information out to see what’s happening in different areas

Snow Holes

Creates a map showing areas affected by snow and see where the nearest snow hole is. (See snow hole blog)

Plantlife

How people move around the chemical world

Used Google Refine to play with the data. Pulled out the geocode to map where the companies were.

Google Fusion also used.

Top 100 chemical companies. Merged Google finance information with Isis.

Created a visual showing how sales had gone down with the chemical industry sales halving from 2007-08.

(Second place)

Creating something visually stimulating from data #hhhrbi

Filed under: journalism,technical — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 12:56 pm
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We were quite a large group to start with, so we’ve ended up splitting in two. One group is working on scraping details of registered care homes, and I’m in a group working on information gathered but creating an interesting and informative visual.

Our first battle was making sure Scraperwiki could read our data so we could work with it.

First of all I uploaded to Google docs, but the comma separated values (CSV) scraper didn’t like it. Then when the spreadsheet was published as a web page, as suggested by  it still wasn’t happy because it wanted to be signed into Google.

Matt suggested putting the CSV onto his server, so I exported it and sent it over to him.

Francis Irving also suggested scraping What Do They Know, because it was Freedom of Information dat.

After much fiddling Matt managed to pull out the raw data by popping (pulling from the top of the list) and using a Python scraper.

It turned out the data we had was so unstructured it wasn’t possible to work with it.

After lunch we’re working on a different project.

Introduction to ScraperWiki #hhhrbi

Filed under: journalism,technical — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 10:44 am
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Francis Irving of Scraperwiki explains how it works.

Take the Gulf oil spill. You can find a list of oil fields around the UK, but it’s all in a strange lump.

He shows a piece of Python code reading the oil field pages and turns it into a piece of data.

It’s quite simple to make a map view, but also code to make more complicated views.

Scraperwiki is automatic data conversion.

 

Scrape internet pages, Parser it, organise it, collect it and model it into a view. It will keep running and give the dataset constantly.

 

There are two kinds of journalism to use with the data. You can make tools, specific tools and find a story.

In Belfast took a list of historic houses in the UK. The data scraper looked through a host of websites, using Python, can use Ruby.
There are a multitude of visuals available. The Belfast project showed a spike in 1979, this was explained due to a political sectarian issue.

Answering a question, Francis confirms you can scrape more than one website at a time.

Francis would like to see more linked data and merging datasets together.

Asked about licensing for commercial use. Francis says it’s mainly used for public data. Scraperwiki blocks scraping Facebook because it’s private data, but the code can be adjusted.

Interested areas for projects today are: farming, local government budgets, public sector salaries, mapping chemical companies and distributors, environment, transport, road transport crime, truckstops map, energy data, countryprofile link to carbon emissions, e-waste, airline data, plastics data, empty shops, infotainment to make user interested in the data, another visualisation on companies ranking based on customer reviews, using the crowd to share information with data and create interesting information, data annotating content and enriching content, health data… and anything else we’re doing.

 

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