Category Archives: Journalism

HacksHackers Manchester – The Launch

In the basement of a cool bar on the edge of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, the latest chapter of  HacksHackers was born on Wednesday night. My co-organiser, Rob Carroll, and I were amazed with the turnout – a real range of talent and interests.

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HacksHackers Mcr brings together Hacks (the journalists) and Hackers (the developers) to find inspiration for rethinking media and information. We also had designers at our first meet-up which completed the magic triangle.

Thanks to the longstanding HacksHackers chapter in Helsinki for giving us a wave!

 

Launch photo edit Launch photo 2 edit

What I loved most about the meet-up was listening to the general buzz you get when a group of creative technologists get together. It’s just exciting to hear about so many projects taking shape on our doorstep and seeing how people make new connections.

So what’s next for HacksHackersMcr?

So the launch was great but where do we take things from here? Each chapter of HacksHackers around the world is different; there’s no set formula. So Manchester will take on its own personality and we were keen to find out what the attendees wanted to get out of it. A few ideas came up on our hi-tech A3-paper-and-pen user interface.

  • It’s important to have plenty of time to mingle. This seemed to be most people’s favourite aspect of the meet-up
  • A few lightning talks/guest speakers e.g. designing for digital journalism, exploring specific journalism tech challenges
  • Hands-on events/challenges e.g. civic engagement/democracy ahead of 2015 general election. What tools could Hacks and Hackers come up with?

So Rob and I are getting our heads together to plan our next meet-up. If you have suggestions, do let us know. Who should we invite to talk to us?

And if you’re curious about the direction of digital media/journalism/communications, then I highly recommend visiting our meet-up page and coming along to our next gathering. Or follow us on Twitter.

Get ready for Doing Journalism with Data MOOC

Exit Festival 2012 by Bernard Bodo. Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Exit Festival 2012 by Bernard Bodo. Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We’re excited! This MOOC from the European Journalism Centre  – “A free online data journalism course with 5 leading experts” – starts on Monday 19th May.

….and it’s not too late to join the party! I’m doing it because I want to keep building my Data Journalism skills and find out how data journalism is developing around the world. But, as an educator studying for a Masters in Blended/Online Learning, I’m also interested in the whole MOOC phenomenon.

So what’s the best way to get ready for this MOOC? Here are a few ideas.

Understand how Massive Online Learning works

Watch this for a quick familiarisation from Dave Cormier.

There are different platforms for MOOCs. Coursera is probably the best known, but there’s also Udacity and a platform created by the UK’s Open University called FutureLearn.  The Doing Data with Journalism MOOC will be using Canvas. I recommend adding the Canvas bookmarklet for this DJ course to your browser so it’s really easy to get to and a constant reminder you have work to do!

What kind of MOOC course are you doing?

Screenshot of Dave Cormier's MOOC video

Screenshot of Dave Cormier’s MOOC video

  • xMOOCs refers to the Coursera-type model where a teacher-expert transmits knowledge through carefully packaged videos and checks that knowledge has been acquired through computer-graded quizzes. Support comes from occasional tutor-participation in discussion forums. But support is also encouraged through students organising face-to-face meet-ups in their locality. There’s probably a Coursera meet-up group in your area!.
  • cMOOCs rely on a more connectivist approach, making use of the networked web 2.0 technology. There can be an emphasis on content creation, for example, as a way of building knowledge. They are more student-centred in that there is no set route through the course and a limited structure so there’s more learner autonomy. Webinars with guest speakers, blogs and online facilities for students to connect with each other are a strong feature. Support comes from peers and is facilitated by networked technology.
  • quasi-MOOCs are not much more than Open Educational Resources tutorials such as the Khan Academy and, more recently, Codecademy. The learning resources are asynchronous and don’t really offer social interaction unless students generate it themselves. quasi-MOOCs are not packaged as a course but as a series of standalone tutorials. So support would be minimal here.
  • Dead MOOCs OK, so this is my own category. I use it to describe archived MOOCs. So the actual MOOC is no longer running – the tutors aren’t around and the submission deadlines have passed – but you can still watch the video lectures and do the online quizzes. You won’t get a badge or certificate at the end but you can still learn.

I don’t know which model Doing Journalism with Data will follow so it’ll be interesting to find out.

You can read this article by George Siemens to learn more about the MOOC phenomenon.

Statistics: Making Sense of Data

By Ainali. Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0

By Ainali. Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0

Without a basic understanding of statistics, data doesn’t mean much. I’ve been taking this Statistics MOOC from the University of Toronto for the last couple of months. It uses the Coursera platform and, thanks to the video lectures from Jeffrey Rosenthal and Alison Gibbs, I can now only talk about data in a Canadian accent. It’s a great example of a dead, xMOOC! Even though the discussion forums are a year old, they’re still really useful when I get stuck (often.) The submission deadlines are long gone so I’m not going to get any badges or certificates, but I still get marks for the multiple choice quizzes I do and I can even do my assignments because the lecturers have supplied a “model answers” sheet for me to check against. It’s been a great way of brushing up my A-Level Statistics and putting it into a more practical context and I highly recommend adding some statistics to your Data Journalism skill set.

Let’s kill the myth that journalists can’t do maths here and now!

Explore examples of Data Journalism

This is a great way to get in the zone. Once you start looking, you’ll find loads of examples. Think about the kind of data that was used and where it came from. What journalistic processes were added to the raw data to make it journalism – e.g. context, visualisation, interactivity?

And a note of caution, just because it’s data doesn’t mean it’s journalism. You still have to check your facts, the data source and make sure you’re not asking your data to do more than it’s capable of. Here’s a cautionary tale you should read before embarking on your Data Journalism MOOC. It’s about this map of kidnappings in Nigeria produced by FiveThirtyEight.

See you there….

So, if you’re one of the 20 393 people already registered for the MOOC, I hope to see you online and share some learning. Do drop by and say hello!

Next job – I’ll be putting together a list of Top Tips for learning with MOOCs in the next day or so.

Digital Journalism Classroom Activity – Creating a simple survey, visualising and mapping the results

This has taken up a lot of my time today. I had a fairly simple idea in mind. At the start of my Digital Journalism module with first year undergraduates in a few weeks time, I want to conduct a very simple survey of the students – how many own smartphones, what social media do they use, which one do they use most. I thought it would be fun to compare our students with the national and international picture.

I wanted to avoid Survey Monkey or the Blackboard tool because I wanted to show the students how data could be collected, put into a machine-readable format and visualised. This would be a very simple introduction to the idea of Data Journalism. My idea is to collect the data before they go on a break then show them what I’ve been able to do with that data when they get back. I may not show them all the nitty gritty of the process in week 1.

It’s been a fun task because I had to learn so much along the way and solve some tasks I didn’t think I’d be able to. This is another lesson I want to pass on to students – you can Google your way out of any situation if you put your mind to it.

So if you’re a data-beginner like me, some of this might be useful.

    • Create the Survey

This is the easy bit! Go to Google Drive, create a form and start putting together your survey questions.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 21.13.46

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 22.00.51

You’ll be asked to Choose Response Destination. I chose to create a new spreadsheet (but you could chose to keep the data in the google form and download it later).

This is where all the responses to your questions will appear. The beauty of having them in a spreadsheet is that you can analyse the results and use various Google tools to visualise them.

Here’s the ludicrously simple form I’m using as an example for this post.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 22.05.23

NB the third question “Which social media do you use?” is a checkbox question – the students can tick as many boxes as they want. The following question is multiple choice so they can only tick one box. This becomes important later on, folks!

There’s a Send Form button at the bottom which generates a Link so you can send this to your whole class by email, for example.

  • Get the Results

As your students fill in the form, the results are sent to the Google spreadsheet you created. You now have some basic information about the students in a machine-readable format. It’ll look something like this.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 22.07.15

  • Create a Map

This is the fun bit! We can straight away visualise some of this data on a map. Just go to Google Maps (having watched this tutorial if, like me, you need a refresher).

Click on My Custom Maps and then Create. You will be given the option to Import. So go ahead and import your Google spreadsheet of survey responses.

I ran into a problem here straightaway the first time I tried this.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 00.36.28

Googlemaps rejects any spreadsheets which has punctuation it doesn’t like in the column headings (which correspond to your survey questions) so it’s best to avoid brackets and commas etc in your survey questions. You can, of course, edit the column headings on the spreadsheet before importing it into Googlemaps.

UPDATE – I’ve found an other upload error into google maps which generates this message – “Column names cannot include these characters.” If the column name is too long, the spreadsheet gets rejected too. So you might have to rewrite some column headings to shorten them if the survey questions on your original form were long.

You’ll end up with something like this, following the instructions in the tutorial. I gave YES responses (pins) a different colour from NO responses. Note that Google maps also tells you how many YES and NO responses you got so you might want to make a note of those figures to make a chart later.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 22.36.47

  • Create a Pie Chart

You could now go back to your Google spreadsheet and maybe you want to create a pie chart to show which is the most used social media. Click on the drop down menu at the top of this column and choose Sort a-z. This will cluster the different responses. Count them up and create another two columns on your spreadsheet to display this new information. But, if you’re feeling fancy (and if you’re dealing with a lot of responses) you should use a COUNTIF formula to automate this process and save you having to count. This video explains it really well.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 22.48.41

Not very exciting. Perhaps a pie chart will spice it up?

The Googlechart facility makes this job really easy once you’ve sorted the data. Again, the video above explains the process really clearly. And I think the pie chart does the job here. Facebook wins!

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 22.49.56

  • Google Refine – multiple values in a single cell on spreadsheet

That just leaves one survey question we’ve not tackled yet. Remember I created a checkbox question where students were asked to tick all the social media they used. That means we’ve got multiple responses in a single cell on our spreadsheet. This is not very machine-friendly and you won’t be able to do any visualisation with it looking like this. We need to separate out those responses into different rows or columns.Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 23.05.15

I ended up using Google refine to do this. It’s amazing! It’s a tool for cleaning up messy data which is just what I need here and these tutorials are pretty useful although the second is a bit daunting for a beginner like me.

You need to download GoogleRefine (easy) and import your Google spreadsheet (I had to export it to Excel first). Go to the column with the problem data and click the drop down arrow on the column header. Choose Edit Column – Split into several columns.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 23.11.28

The pop-up box then asks you what’s separating the different elements in the cell that you want separating. Easy – a comma (but it might be a hyphen or just a space, for example).

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 23.12.17

Click OK. Wow!Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 23.14.49

Now all the responses are separated into different cells and the computer can do something with them!

OK, I’m finished with Google refine now and can head back to Google Spreadsheet. So I can Export as a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file then import that file into Google spreadsheet.

But I still want to be able to count up the responses for each social media and it’s a pain having them spread over several columns like that. So I just copy and paste the values from each column into one column.Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 10.03.43

As this point I highlight the whole spreadsheet and go to the View tab so I can Freeze Row 1. That just stops things moving around when you come to sorting your data.Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 09.53.58

So now I’ve got all the instances of each social media in a separate cell in one single column. Now it’s pretty straightforward from here on in. I start by selecting the column and sorting it A-Z so that it clusters the different values together for me which just makes it neater and easier to handle.Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 10.01.53

Then I start another column in the spreadsheet and I copy and paste each value onto a separate row like this.Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 09.59.43

 

I copy and paste rather than writing out manually just in case I make a mistake or inadvertently add a space or something which might skew the results. So I want to find out how many times each of those words appears in Column C I created in the step before. We can use a COUNTIF formula here for each value. For example, =COUNTIF(C2:c17, O2) should tell us how many times the value FACEBOOK appears in Column C. So just do that for each value.

It’s then a simple process to turn it into a chart as before.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 23.22.08

…..and voila!

“Recalculating the newsroom: the Rise of the journo-coder?”

So, this is exciting.

As part of my journey to becoming more tech-minded, I wrote a chapter for a new book called “Data Journalism:Mapping the future.” (It’s due out in a couple of weeks time and I’ll post details then so you can rush out and buy a copy.) It’s edited by John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble with Paul Bradshaw and Teodora Beleaga (Abramis)

There’s a book launch on January 22nd at the Adam Street Private Members Club, just off The Strand. Do come!

 Data journalism – mapping the future?

Chair: Raymond Snoddy. (Former Media Editor The Times)

Panel: David Ottewell – Head of Digital Trinity Mirror

Martin Stabe – Head of Interactive News The Financial Times

Jacqui Taylor – CEO Flyingbinary Limited

A new way for journalism or just old clothes disguised as new? Should journalists be programmers? Should they all have computing skills? Does Data Journalism help comprehension?

To mark the publication of Data Journalism; Mapping the Future? Edited by John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble with Paul Bradshaw and Teodora Beleaga (Abramis)

So, what’s the chapter about?

I decided it was time to find out just how much coding skill journalists need in newsrooms today. Is the journo-coder a myth? Do we all need to have a github account as well as a blog? Should students ditch shorthand and learn to code instead?

I interviewed journalists and developers working in the interactive news departments at the BBC and Financial Times. They were extremely helpful and very generous with their time. I was interested in what skills they had,  how they learnt their skills and how they worked together.

Only one person was comfortable describing themselves as a “journo-coder” or any of the other ugly, hybrid phrases that are out there. The rest strongly identified as either journalist or developer. BUT, when pressed, the journalists admitted they had a pretty exceptional skill set that you wouldn’t expect a conventional newsroom journo to have. A top-notch developer wouldn’t call them coding skills and wouldn’t even mention them on their CV because they’re pretty trivial.  But for a journalist, WOW! Writing complex Excel functions or managing a database using SQL or writing a  simple scraper in Python – these are cutting-edge skills that move your journalism into an exciting new era of interactive storytelling. They are also highly marketable skills.

And they didn’t learn them in journalism class.

I’ll post more after publication and I’ll probably re-version it as a slideshare as well for anyone who’s interested.

Moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org – Things I wish I’d known

A long journey…

Journey of Discovery: Korla to Dunhuang

CC License – by Land Rover Our Planet on Flickr

This isn’t a guide – beginner or otherwise – to switching from WP.com to WP.org. There are plenty of those already out there. You might want to start with this one from Mashable. Instead, this is a reflection on the process from the viewpoint of a non-techy journalist. I’ll suggest a few websites that helped me and a few plugins (mostly free) which I’m finding really useful.

Most importantly, I’ll try to explain WHY your new blog isn’t appearing in a Google search. This scared me at first. What had I done wrong? Nothing, it turned out, once some friends explained a bit about how search engines work. Mostly you just have to be PATIENT. Yuck. This is what I wish I’d known before I started.

Why switch?

Good question. I’d been thinking about switching for a while mainly because I like using Storify and there is no reliable way to export a Storify to a WordPress.com site. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The only solution is to switch to WordPress.org where you can use a special plugin. Similarly, I was also keen to display the latest pins from my Pinterest board on “Coding for Beginners” in my sidebar – not possible unless you switch to a self-hosted account.

I also felt it would help consolidate some of the HTML/CSS skills I’d been learning on Codecademy if I had a self-hosted site I could do a bit of tinkering on.

I wanted to have control over meta-descriptions and the like. Not full blown SEO – just a bit of control.

The final straw that pushed me over the edge was purely practical. I was going to a conference and suddenly at the last minute realised that I needed business cards. I didn’t want them to be out-of-date a few months after I’d paid for them so I decided to switch websites that weekend so the business cards would be relevant.

How was the switch?

Horrific! It tested my tech skills to the max and I failed. Setting up a domain name and web host was fine (I used Laughing Squid which is one of the ones recommended by WordPress) but the actual WordPress.org installation was complicated (for me). Perhaps if I wasn’t working against a deadline (those damn business cards), I could have worked my way through it. But I didn’t have the luxury of time to research each step, I was getting frustrated and so I ended up calling on help from my husband who’s way more patient than I am.

So you might want to set aside a couple of days to do this and make sure you have a techy friend available on the end of the phone line for when you need help.

In hindsight, perhaps I should have chosen the Guided Transfer. This is where one of WordPress’ Happiness Engineers transfers your .com site to .org for you for a one-off price of $129. It would have saved me a lot of time….. but I felt it was cheating!

What next?

So let’s assume you’ve got your nice, shiny website, chosen your theme, added a header image. That’s all there is to it, right? WRONG! There are several more hoops to crawl through. You probably want to transfer the content from your old website onto your new one, you want people looking for your blog to be able to find it, you want to help people share your blogposts and a whole lot more. There are lots of plugins available. These enable you to extend the functionality of your blog in all sorts of ways. But be careful! Too many plugins slow your site down so it takes ages to load. Potential readers may not have the patience to wait. So choose your plugins with care.

        • You probably want to export all the posts and pages from your old website and import them into your new one. This is not too hard or time-consuming. The WordPress instructions are pretty good and there are plenty of YouTube videos out there too. It’s a bit nerve wrecking when you get to the final stages of the export/import but it did all work for me. Stay strong!
        • IMPORTANT. You’ll notice that a Google search still shows up your old wordpress.com website and doesn’t seem to find your new self hosted website at all. That’s not what you want. Ultimately, you just have to be patient. It will take the Google robots a while to trawl your website and add it to its searches. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to help. Firstly, add your blog’s new URL to Google’s webmaster tools. You then need to verify it which is a little tricky but, again, there’s help out there.
        • Install the Google XML SItemap Generator plugin. This helps search engines like Google index your blog and, hopefully, show it when somebody searches for it. You can check that Google is crawling the website OK by typing “site:YourBlog.com” into a google search box. Can you see your blog listed? Cool! You can read a clear explanation of this here. Go to Q1.
        • Set up a Site Redirect button on your old WordPress.com blog. You have to pay $18 a year for this but a year of redirects is probably enough. I think it’s money well spent. For example, people have linked to my blogposts from their websites. If somebody clicks on those links, they go to my old website which is not what I want. With the site redirect set up, they automatically get sent to the same post on my NEW website.
        • I’m a journalist rather than an entrepreneur so I’m not looking to monetise my blog or generate a huge amount of traffic. But I do want people to find me and I do want the information displayed on search engines to encourage people to click on my blog. So I strongly recommend the All in One SEO plugin. You don’t have to delve into the Dark Arts of SEO but it is useful to have a few tricks up your sleeve and this plugin does that. For example, I like to be able to rewrite the metadescription underneath the title and URL of each post. This is what should be displayed in searches.
          MetaDescription
          If you don’t write the metadescription yourself, Google just grabs a fairly random bit of text from your post and shoves it there. But be warned! Your changes to meta descriptions etc won’t show up instantly. Again, you have to be patient and wait until Google comes your way and sees the changes. It could take several weeks, I’m afraid.There are other things this plugin will do which you can explore at your leisure….
        • Now you want to spend a moment sorting out your permalinks. This is how the URL of each web post will look. WordPress has a weird default mode which you will probably want to change. In default mode, it just gives your blogpost a boring number rather than the title you carefully wrote. This website by Yoast explains it well. Follow the instructions in Section 1.1.
        • What I liked about WordPress.com was the social media aspect. There were easy-to-install share and like buttons so readers could share your blog posts on Facebook, Twitter etc. I also liked the stats. That stuff doesn’t come with your new wordpress.org blog but there’s an easy way to get it – the JetPack by WordPress Plugin. According to the blurb, JetPack will “supercharge your WordPress site with powerful features previously only available to WordPress.com users.”
          It’s really easy to install and there are lots of bits you can customise and add. Nothing too complicated and all pretty self-explanatory, I’d say.
        • I suggest installing the Aksimet plugin to deal with spam comments on your blog. It’s a slightly involved process getting your API key but not technically demanding. You can do it!

So, I reckon if you do all that, you should be good to go. You still need to be patient though. A google search for “LizHannaford” was still showing my OLD blog with no sign of my NEW one eight days after I’d set it up. Then it appeared and disappeared for a day – which was almost worse. I’m glad to report that on day nine (time of writing), it seems to have settled down. But it can take even longer than this.

Now the fun stuff!

This is where all your hard work becomes worthwhile!

My favourite bit was creating the Recent Pins in my blog’s sidebar. I had a look round various blogs for ideas and liked this one best from prettydarncute.com. It’s a little TOO cute for my needs on her blog but the css styling works great and I really like how it looks. There are plenty of other ideas around!

Finally, the reason I started this journey in the first place – Storify. I installed the Storify embed plugin. There are others. This one works very simply. I just paste the URL of the Storify into my blog post and it’s there! So I spent some time going back through my old blog posts redoing them with this new method because it just looks better.

There are loads more things I’d like to play around with and now that I’ve finally got Google’s attention, I’m going to enjoy doing that.

Mobile Reporting exercise using Soundcloud, smartphones and Storify

Digital Journalism is fun in the sunshine!

Digital Journalism is fun in the sunshine!

This is a class project I worked on with first year Journalism undergraduates at Salford University, MediaCityUK. It was part of their Digital Journalism module. There are four groups each with about 15-20 students. My aim was to get them to explore audio recording on their smartphones/iPads and to create digital stories using curation techniques.

Choosing a storyBEhgHIXCEAAhATP.jpg-large

Every week, students complain about the bus service which goes from the main university campus to our MediaCityUK building. It’s free to students on the stretch between the two campuses but it’s unreliable, they tell me. It’s a frequent reason they give me for being late to class! So let’s turn a negative into a positive and use this as the basis for our mobile reporting class.

The Tools

Most students in the class have smartphones or iPads – certainly enough to make this exercise work. Not many have done any serious audio work with them though so there are plenty of learning opportunities here. I’m indebted to Mark Settle at the BBC College of Journalism who specialises in smartphone reporting. His video tutorial on recording audio came out the day after this exercise so it was pretty timely! But my favourite tip came from Nick Garnett, a BBC 5Live reporter. He’s a bit of a pioneer when it comes to iPhone reporting and has pretty much ditched other recording equipment. His blog about his experiments and discoveries is incredibly useful. I’ve always been worried about using the internal mic on the iPhone for serious audio recording because it’s so prone to wind noise but I’m yet to find the perfect external mic solution. His tip is simple –  an ordinary windshield on the microphone end of the iPhone!

Windshield on iPhoneSee my twitter conversation with him about this. So I bought one the day before my first session with the students so I could get them to experiment for me. £4.49 in Maplins!

Most students already use Soundcloud for sharing and searching music so this seemed like a good place to start. I set up an account for all our students to use and gave them a quick demo in class, including the simple “top and tail” editing facility. I told them to save their audio as private. Not everybody had devices or 3G but so long as 5 or 6 in the class had it, we were OK. I also showed them Voddio in case some of them were feeling ambitious and wanted to do some proper editing and mixing on the go. Nobody did but that’s probably because you need to pay £6.99 to get the sharing/sending facility on Voddio.

The final element was Storify. I love Storify and was really keen to introduce it to my students! Again, I set up an account for the class to use and gave a quick demo. Storify is not perfect and sometimes it doesn’t hook up to Twitter as it should. We had some issues with it in the first two sessions but found a workaround. It was fine the following day with the other two groups. I know some people have given up with Storify completely because of its problems. I’m sticking with it because, when it does all work, it opens up so many creative opportunities for storytelling and engaging. Great teaching tool too.

The Task

I asked three students in each group to volunteer to man our digital newsroom (an ordinary classroom with PCs). There was no shortage of volunteers, I’m pleased to report! Everybody else teamed up into reporting teams – mostly pairs but some slightly bigger groups. We decided which aspects of the story we were interested in and what kind of audio material we wanted.

The newsroom team then took charge of deploying their reporters with additional instructions to take photos and tweet information.

Once the reporters were despatched, I briefed the newsroom team in more detail. I gave more instruction on Storify but, to be honest, they didn’t really need it. We talked about what makes good curation. Again, credit here to Mu Lin at Georgian Court University, New Jersey for putting together some guidelines. Basically, don’t drag and dump; provide context and background; have a structure; be selective.

One student specifically looked after the Soundcloud material once that started coming through. They listened through to all the material and made public the ones which were good enough for our story. They then alerted the Storify editor to the availability of the material.

I also wanted the newsroom team to use social media to engage the broader student community which also relies on this bus service. Could they get people outside this exercise to contribute to the debate? They came up with the hashtag #50busprobs.

Once the exercise was over and everybody was back in the classroom, the newsroom team briefed the reporters on what they’d been doing. we published the stories and explained the “notify” option on Storify.

I encouraged students to embed/export the Storify to their personal blogs and add a paragraph about their own contribution and analysis of the task. This was not assessed.

The Outcome

You can see an example of the stories created by students here just to give you a flavour of what they were able to do in the limited time (about 75 minutes).

The newsroom team worked really hard to engage with the broader community with some success. Maybe we should have started doing this in the week before the exercise to build momentum.

Working with Storify was great. It’s a really intuitive tool for building digital stories quickly. The students picked up the concept of curation v drag ‘n’ dump really well. They worked together to find relevant background context and structure whilst they waited for the audio material to come in from the field.BEhd7oUCcAAha7E.jpg-large

The students assigned to editing the Soundcloud material quickly worked out what kind of material would work best in a digital story. They also made sure to add titles and, in most cases, relevant photos to each Soundcloud to maximise their visual impact on the final story.

The reporters in the field all managed to find interesting audio material and get it back to the newsroom. We also got lots of really useful photographic evidence of buses standing idle round the corner rather then en route! All students reported finding Soundcloud easy and fun to use.

Some students has borrowed my windshield to experiment with. Apart from one group which had put it on the wrong end (!! my fault. I should have showed them), they reported good results

Evaluation

The students loved Storify and several of them went away and experimented with it on their own. Really pleased about this!

One student said she’d have liked longer for the exercise so that we could have rotated roles. I agree but on the plus side, she said she’d go and experiment with Storify on her own which is a good outcome!

Overall, the audio quality needed some work. That was mainly down to lack of editing. They needed to be ruthless with their material! This is largely my fault for not emphasising enough the need to edit BEFORE uploading the material. But on the plus side there was a great range of material and creative use of the medium. They definitely used audio to enhance our appreciation of the story.

Interestingly, the students doubted they’d be taken seriously with an iPhone as opposed to a “professional” recording device. That’s at odds with the professionals’ view. I suspect it will change as iPhones become a more acceptable part of the broadcast industry. Watch this space!

Conclusion

This was a fun exercise and I would definitely do it again. There is so much learning and thinking involved. The tools worked well. They’re free and easy to learn and use straightaway so everyone benefits.

We were lucky with the weather on both days – bright and sunny with minimal wind. I’m not sure how much we would have got done in more typical MediacityUK weather (howling wind, rain, cold)