Why open data needs to be “Citizen literate”

A “data literate” citizen isn’t someone who knows how to handle a spreadsheet — it’s someone who inherently understands the value of data in decision making.

So says Adi Eyal in a piece very much worth a read, called Why publishing more open data isn’t enough to empower citizens  over on IJnet.

I’m right behind the sentiment expressed in the headline.

I’m fascinated by the tensions caused by the use of open data – or perhaps more specifically the rhetoric of its use.  I often find myself questioning the claims of the ‘usefulness’ of open data, especially when they are linked to social and community outcomes. I share Eyal’s view that  whilst there may be some big claims, “there is not yet a larger body of work describing how open data has brought about systemic, long-term change to societies around the world.”

Some might argue (me included) that its just too early to make judgements.  As idealistic and iconoclastic as the promises may be at times, I do think it is just a matter of time before we begin to see tangible and consistently replicable  social benefit from the use of open data.

But the the key challenge is not the destination or how long it takes to get there. It’s how we do it.

In the IJNet piece Eyal makes a distinction between simply freeing the data and its effective use, especially by average citizens. He makes a strong case for the role of “infomediaries” :

These groups (data wranglers, academics, data-proficient civil society organizations, etc.) turn data into actionable information, which can then be used to lobby for tangible change.

I’m very drawn to that idea and it reflects the way the open data ecosystem is developing and needs to develop. But I do think there’s an underlying conflation in the article that hides a fundamental problem in the assumption that infomediaries are effective bridges – It assumes that open data and open government data are the same thing.

It’s an important distinction for me.  The kind of activities and infomediaries the article highlights are driven in the most part by a fundamental connection to open government (and its data).  There is a strong underpinning focus on civic innovation in this reading of the use and value of open government data. I’d argue that Open Data is driven more  by a strong underpinning of economic innovation – from which social and civic innovation might be seen as  as value created from the use of services they provide.

There is a gap between those who hold the data and use it make decisions and those that are affected by those decisions.   I don’t think that open data infomediaries always make that gap smaller,  they simply take up some of the  space.  Some do reach across the gap more effectively than others – good data journalism for example.  But others, through an economically driven service model, simply create another access point for data.

From an open data ecosystem point of view this is great, especially if you take a market view. It makes for vibrant open data economy and a sustainable sector.  From the point of view of the citizen, the end user, the gap is still there. They are either left waiting for other infomediaries to bring that data and its value closer or required to skill-up enough to set out across the gap themselves.

The space between citizens and government is often more of a market economy rather than a citizen driven supply chain.

There is a lot of the article that I agree with but I’d support the points made with a parallel view and suggest that as well as data literate citizens as Eyal describes them, open data infomediaries need to be “citizen literate”:

A citizen literate data infomediary isn’t one that just knows how to use data – its one that understands how citizens can effectively use data to be part of a decision making process.

 

 

 

 

 

Hyperlocal. open data. journalism conference: If you’ll come, I’ll build it.

Update: I’ve decided on dates. 6th and 7th of November 2015 in Preston. If you’re interested you can tell me what you’d like to see through a quick survey

As part of my current research activity into hyperlocal and open data, I’m finding myself at events talking to a lot of people in open data circles and a lot of people in Hyperlocal circles. But more often than not they aren’t the same events.

I know there are lots of moves to get hyperlocal’s interested in data journalism (especially with the election fresh in peoples mind). Likewise I know that a lot of open data people are also committed to (or ideologically disposed to ) the transparency and accountability aspects of journalism.

So, finding myself with some resources (that does mean money), I thought it would be fun to get some people in the same room.

So if you’re a hyperlocal, open (government) data person, journalist or local government person involved in data, would you come round to my place for a mini-conference on Making hyperlocal data journalism?

I have some ideas for what we could do…

  • Some open training sessions in data for hyerplocals
  • Some awareness raising from government people about what’s happening at a local level in terms of data
  • Business models for hyperlocal data
  • Best practice for working together to build data communities at a local level.
  • can (and should) government tell stories with data

…but I know loads of people are doing some or all of these things already so if nothing else,  it may just serve as a chance to get together and share this stuff with a hyperlocal focus.

At this stage I’d love to know if you’d be interested. What would you like to see? What format should it take? Who would you like to see speak or be in the room?

Initially I was thinking about a day or two at the end of August (maybe beginning of September but don’t want to clash with this event in Cardiff). But it could be later if people thought that was better. It would be in Preston.

Let me know in the comments below what, who and when to get the ball rolling.

Credit: Sofa picture Creative commons by net_efekt via Flickr

Reflecting on the Leeds #Datadive

Last Friday night,  I found myself in a sun filled loft workshop in Leeds. All the people in the room seemed to be in one corner, but that’s where the (free) bar was.  Tables are set out in rows. Solid wood and rubber topped refugees from the re-fit of Birmingham library. They are already filled with laptops.

This loft space belongs to the ODI’s node in Leeds The laptops belong to data scientists but the people are a mix of the data savvy,  local and national charities. All here for the first, it’s hoped of many, DataDives.

The event was organised by DatakindUK, a chapter of the US group Datakind who “create teams of pro bono data scientists” to work with organisations to solve problems. Local charities are invited to pitch requests for help. If selected they provide data which ,in the run up to the event is cleaned up by data heroes, ready to be pitched at the start of the weekend.  Local organisations also pitched in data. Leeds City Council and their DataMill, for example, had offered up data to use.

So, after beer and chat, the three charities pitched their problems.

IMG_4625

  • Volition, representing a large network of mental health organisations in Leeds, had a common problem. Lots of information about the organisations and their work (literally a database of the stuff) but wanted to link it with data about mental health issues in Leeds.
  • Voluntary action Leeds had stacks of interviews with young people, exploring the issue of being a NEET (not in employment, education or training). They wanted a way to sift the text to look for common themes and also wondered if there was a way of detecting unknown Neets in existing demographic data.
  • The Young Foundation (who also co-sponsored the event) have recently set up a new project in Leeds gathering information around financial exclusion. The project, part of a broader range of projects Leeds are running, looks at the growth of loans, payday lenders etc. They wanted to surface data around the issue.

The rest of the evening was a kind of slow-speed-date where the volunteers in the room pitched themselves and their skills and where wooed by the charities. Eventually splitting into teams to get to work on the Saturday and Sunday.

Datakind

Datakind are an interesting organisation and new one on me.  They are clearly very much at the altruistic end of the hackathon/datalab movement. Their founder is Jake Porway who used to work for the R&D lab at The New York Times (it seems you’re never far away from journalism!). He told Wired that he wanted more from the data boom that was happening around him: “the things that people would do with it seemed so frivolous — they would build apps to help them park their car or find a local bar. I just thought, ‘This is crazy, we need to do something more.'”

That more isn’t just the pro-bono aspect – free data scientists.  The Datakind people in the room are also there to pass on skills to the organisations.

It was great to see the charities getting excited about the possibilities of everything from simple tools like Wordle to more complex text analysis software and maps.

Sunday afternoon and it was time to show and tell.

The end results where a real mix of the complex – synthetic personality types for identifying the financially excluded – to simple infographics. But there was real impact in the data on the people in the room perhaps best exemplified by the debate and discussion that was generated by an extra mapping project that sprang up during the weekend.

They simply took the datasets each group were finding/generating and mapped them. Technically, not that much of a challenge (except for a tricky issue with local government boundaries) but the insights where immediate.

IMG_4655

Where is the value.

When I spoke to representatives of the charities, there was a general feeling that data was important. They all recognise that the third-sector is fast becoming data-driven. But beyond the process of writing reports or bids, the real value of data was still to be explored and understood. It just feels important.

The complexities of the third-sector ecosystem don’t help when it comes to raising awareness of events like this though. Even when free help, and experience is on hand.

When I asked people about how they found themselves at the event, it revealed a complex web of umbrella groups, agencies and initiatives – understanding that would need a datadive in itself!  The organisers where similarly challenged; pulling the event together had proved a slower and more complicated process compared to their London datadives.

Good people. Good work.

After the ODI summit last year, I found myself reflecting on the difficult line there is between the power to do good and the power to do business that data provides and after the event I found myself chatting  through similar issues with Paul Connell, one of the founders of the ODI Leeds node. He was pragmatic about the challenges; balancing the urge to do good with the urge to create the new Uber. A tension that often makes hack events tricky spaces.  So, with my research hat on,  its tempting to start try and unpick the motivations of activities like this beyond the desire to give those people involved “the warm fuzzies” as Datakind put it on their homepage.

But the vibe at the Leeds Datadive event really did make it feel impervious to scepticism.  The results, rough round the edges as they were, felt ‘useful’.

As an example: One of the teams, analysing data around NEETS, looked at sanctions imposed on young jobseekers (the stop in benefits that’s imposed if you don’t tow the line with your employment service).  Sanctions vary, but you can get 4 weeks ‘ban’ for missing an appointment.  Mapping the data seemed to make a compelling point – the most sanctions were applied to people who live furthest away from the job centres. That peaked a fair bit of interest from journos in my feed (even on a Sunday morning).

Whether further analysis proves that or, more likely, reveals the finer detail, is moot. In a short space of time, simple but no less surprising truths about the experiences of people in Leeds were revealed.

DatakindUK hope this is going to be the first of many events outside of London and I’d make a point of tracking them down next time.

How can you spot a digital native? Check their little finger.

Apropos of nothing really, I got into an interesting chat with some of the third-year journalism students about how our use of social media would evolve. I wondered aloud about how the physical way we access information might change us.

fingersandthumbs
Writing blisters Vs Phone rub .

 

I pointed to my middle finger as an example. I have, albeit smaller than it used to be, writing blister. The result of  pressing too hard on my pen through years of school. At it’s peak it was an ink-stained blog on the end of my finger.  Checking with colleagues, they all had the same. Different fingers, but the same rough patch.  How likely, I wondered, was it to have a writing blister today?

According to my students, and I asked the same question of the prospective students I spoke to today, not very. But what they do have is a rough patch of skin on the inside edge of their little finger. It’s caused by resting your phone on your finger when using it. Others reported flatter finger ends or callouses on the ends of their fingers and thumbs. But the rough little finger was the most common.

It got me thinking about shibboleths.  The ways we can distinguish between natives and those new to a culture and it’s landscape.  It’s been interesting to watch people quietly check their little finger and check whether they carry the mark.

Light the flaming torches and stand back: Are you a good leader of your social media mob?

I’m pulling together my yearly online journalism ethics lecture. It’s the fifth-ish lecture on this module (some previous ones online) and the fast-moving nature of this stuff means I’m really starting from scratch but I always go back to previous ones to see where my thinking was.

A prevailing theme for me has been how the ethical standard is set and who sets it. The online landscape clearly stretches moral and ethical concerns and the question for me has always been about how much of that we take on board, how much we take on the norms of the web, and how much is a more fundamental journalism ethic that we should stand by.

In questioning that in my lectures over the years, what I’ve noticed is that the tone of online journalism has changed. It’s divesting itself of some of the tradition and reveling in the norms of the medium. Ethics is on the move and the volume has gone up.

So this year my general starting point for the lecture is that outrage is the new journalism.

Outrage is nothing new for online journalism (and it’s not a new observation). Take comment sections on news sites. They are great examples of outrage creation – baiting readers with a story you know is going to get comments regardless of the tone of the comments.

Take this example from the Daily Express about the apparent calls to move a grave because of it’s proximity to a Muslim grave. Skip to the comments and revel in the outrage. By a strict reading of any rendering of a professional journalism ethic, it seems pretty hard to defend.

The argument about who is responsible for the comments on a site is well-worn. Comment systems work within resources and the law.  Despite efforts by some publications to curb offensive behavior, the idea that the publication or the journalist take any responsibility for eliciting these comments in the first place seems moot. Even if they are providing the target, the damage is done by those who pull the trigger – the people who comment.

This form of outrage creation is also now common in social media. A casual tweet or post –  ‘you won’t believe what this person just said’ – and a viral hit and loads of links later most walk away. But not everyone.

Increasingly I’m seeing a different form of outrage creation. It’s not the fire-and-forget of an article and it’s comments, it’s sustained, crowd-sourced, journalist as brand-outrage. It’s I’m outraged and I want you to share that outrage . Literally share it. Retweet, hashtag and join me in confronting the source of my outrage.

We can tell ourselves that this is simply engaging with an audience. This is the power of social media to right wrongs. It may be. But by another name it’s an angry mob. It may be hashtag shaped pitchforks and flaming torch apps but it’s a mob and it’s your influence (often affiliation with a recognisable journalism brand) and audience (a healthy follower count) that they gather round.

In the social media world its easy to see follower counts as a gauge of popularity. Like audience figures or circulation counts. It’s easy to forget that they are individuals with the capacity to reach out and touch. Perhaps that’s why it can take journalists by surprise when they turn on you.  Still, it can be deceptivly easy to distance yourself from the activities of your audience – they aren’t friends, You don’t follow them; a useful degree of separation.

So when someone posts something vile on social media or trolls another user using a link to your work or a hashtag you’ve promoted, its easy to fall back on the same rhetoric that’s used for commenting on web sites. You might make the ammunition but you don’t fire the gun.

What’s the difference? Is someone who goes on to troll a target of your outrage any less of a responsibility than a commenter on your website? Remember this is ethics not law.

I would argue that whilst the comments on a website help create and feed a mob (with all the issues that can create for a site) what you post on social media means you create and lead a mob.

Social media mobs have done some great things but ethically, are you doing the right thing by and with yours?

Notes:

 – I know by citing the Daily Express I’m not doing myself any favours. It’s easy to write them, and the commentors, off as some kind of nutjob fringe. Sadly they are journalism. For the sake of this post the visibility and tone served a purpose. I’m sure that journalists from sites with more active moderation (and more generally agreeable politics) would testify to no less offensive and distressing material appearing on their virtual doorstep. 

 – I tried really hard not to push the gun/arms metaphor here but forced to I’d have to say that I don’t think journalists on social media are like gun or ammunition manufacturers, even though the logic of distance against blame makes for some very similar ethical positions. For what it’s worth I think a lot of journalistic use of social media is more like the activities of the National Rifle Association. 

When is data journalism not data journalism?

When it’s data driven journalism….

I’m doing lit-review at the moment (this might sound academic but it essentially consists of me yellow-highlighter-penning-the-feck out of papers and journal articles) and I came across a little loop in defining data journalism that got me thinking, thanks to Wikipedia.

Look at wikipedia’s definition for data journalism and you before you begin you’re told:

Not to be confused with Data driven journalism

Look at data driven journalism and you’re told:

Not to be confused with  Data journalism

Oh and don’t even think about confusing either of them for database journalism.

Reading the definitions there’s a hint of why. Data driven journalism is one process of the broader practice of  Data journalism. Data journalism reaches outside of journalism to encompass data science and designers.

Does that mean that I can say that if I come from the school of thought that wants to play down (or distance myself) from the idea that data journalism is about output – visualization – that I do data driven journalism? Does the difference speak to philosophical/professional position?

Just get on with it?

In one sense I don’t have a problem with the distinction – it makes a kind of sense. I’m also sure many others won’t, dismissing it with the weary sigh that prefixes  ‘what does it matter what we call it, lets just do it’. 

As an observation, I have to say it’s stuff like this that really needs nailing down if data journalism (or whatever you call it) wants to be left alone just to get on with it.

One of the research papers I’ve read (it’s a great paper btw) suggests, is that “at least part of what is considered as forming the contemporary trend of data journalism mainly operates in the realm of discourse”.  In other words the idea of data journalism is not fixed.

One reading of that is that its a developing field and in that there is bound to be an element of evolution (in the Darwinian sense). Look at the wikipedia page for Computer assisted reporting:

It has been suggested that this article be merged with Data driven journalism. (Discuss) Proposed since October 2011.

You could argue that conceptually (in the minds of those just doing it) this has already happened. The CAR page, like many others on Wikipedia, will serve as much as an archive for the term, reflecting that, at one point, it was considered coherent enough of a thing to warrant it’s own page.  USeful for me as an academic but redundant going forward.

But you could also read it as making it up as we go along – that’s not very precision is it.

 

Ebola Zombie image hoax: A useful reminder of the value of reverse image search

Update: This is an insanely popular post on my blog in terms of people searching for ebola zombie. Even if the picture wasn’t the thing that made you search for Ebola Zombie, I think I can say with some certainty that any report you’ve read of ebola zombies is false.  

I was casting an eye over my twitter feed today when I saw this from @TheMichaelMoran:

It links to an article with the headline “Ebola Victim Rises From The Dead In Africa, Fear Of Zombie Apocalypse”. It’s all kinds of wrong and, trust me, you don’t need to click through.  In fact if you happen to know the person who wrote it, for all kinds of reasons, they really should get (at the very least) a shouting at.

It’s staggering how powerful these linkbait engines are with shit like this. The social amplification alone on this means that I’m pretty sure that, want to or not, you’ll get a sense of this in your feeds at some point.

Of course, it’s been spotted by a number of people including, I discovered after a quick search,  Gawker who featured it in their Anrtiviral feature last week.

But…and I really must stop thinking about it because it’s very, very depressing…it serves as a useful exercise in image checking. which I’m sticking-up here as reference for students for two reasons.

The first, and it’s a bit of side issue, is to note the filename. In this case it’s third-ebola-victim-africa.jpg .  Yes.You can SEO your images!

The second is, as much as anything else of the usefulness of reverse image searching:

So the image:

third-ebola-victim-africa

 

Is actually a mashup of this, from (world war z)

and this mask, from make artist Jordu Schell at http://www.schellstudio.com/

And the easy way to find out…

Or

  • Go to https://images.google.com/
  • Click the little camera icon
  • Use the URL: http://www.celebtricity.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/third-ebola-victim-africa.jpg

You have to work a little harder with Google’s reverse image search. But it gets you there and it often has a little tidbit of something to start a trail when TinEye has no results.

Elite Media trolls, banter and journalism

The Guardian’s James Ball has an interesting , and suitably search-bait-headlined, comment on internet trolls that’s worth a read.  The last par is the kicker:

The transformative promise of the internet was that it would shift control of the media agenda away from an elite group of editors to the public as a whole. At the moment, we risk merely shifting from the agenda of elite editors to that of elite trolls. Surely we can do better than that.

If you want a definition of trolls then James has that covered too –

tiny groups of – let’s just say it – arseholes are swarming our cultural coverage

I agree that the idea that internet would move power from the media elite is being challenged. But I’m not sure that power is being shifted. I worry more that the media is shifting itself into the same space as the troll elite (in some cases taking on its behavior or, as James suggests, at the very least feeding it).

Social media is now the ‘audience’ as far as journalists day-to-day experiences are concerned. I think that’s why some struggle with trolls, especially the idea of ignoring them. They confuse trolls with the audience because in terms of a journalists perspective through social media, they are there audience.  It’s a vicious circle. Attention is attention.

I also look at my social media feeds and I see a lot of media, trolling media. I see journalists on some media sites taking swipes at other journos. I see articles that reference or can be traced back to ‘banter’ (I believe this is what we have to call it these days) on social media. Of course, the swipes are more often than not good natured and this is nothing new.   Hell, the Daily Mail is the biggest troll the BBC has ever had!  But the insular nature of the debate – fleet street/media gossip –  isn’t confined to the columnists  or the editorial section anymore. The elites/cliques and communities are more visible and vocal. In the same way that journalists might see social media as the audience do social media see that as journalism?

So as I look through my feed and follow stories like gamergate etc. I  finding myself asking, How much of that elite trolling is being done by elite media?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that journalists create/welcome/deserve trolls. I know there is a difference between trolling and ‘banter’ and that ‘banter’ is a broad church that covers some pretty shitty behavior. Trolling is something that needs some serious and fundamental thought in newsrooms – its about feeling safe when you work.  But I think it might be a little too easy to see trolling/banter as an aberration or something necessarily separate.

I’m thinking about this a fair bit at the moment as I start the year’s teaching thinking about where social media fits into their journalism. James’ piece made me wonder that faced with a bunch of students who are active and established users of social media (where, take it from me,  the public ‘banter’ is pretty robust)  I should really be thinking about getting it the other way round: Where does journalism  fit into their social media? For many of them, that’s their experience of journalism as a consumer, it’s perhaps the first experience of many of the next generation of news consumers.

How we behave online as journalists just gets more complicated  the more we do it.  Interesting times.

 

 

 

 

Am I responsible for a shitty freelance market?

Yesterday I posted about using Medium as a platform for my second year students. In passing I mentioned that Contributoria also looked like a good bet. That led to a brief exchange with Sarah Hartley (editor at Contributoria) which also included Leeds Met uni lecturer Karl Hodge, about how the process of pitching to contributoria could be included in teaching.  That lead to this from freelancer @digitaldjeli (whose website on news from Africa and more  I can recommend btw.)

A fairly lengthy exchange followed which I found a bit frustrating and ill-tempered (I actually said ‘rude’ at the time). I’m sure digitaldjeli thought much the same of me.  But it was food for thought and I wanted to get down a couple of points down. (Yes, it’s my blog and I can ruminate if I want to)

Looking back, the conversation seemed to touch upon a few broad, interrelated points:

Journalism courses (encouraging students to pitch) skew the market  

I wasn’t sure who or what that original tweet was aimed at, so I asked digitaldjeli if it was the fact that it was students pitching:  

I’m not really sure that I like the distinction between students and journalists here.  I expect that mine are both. Or for that matter that all students are carefree with no responsibilities.  As to whether it’s courses like mine that are adding to the weight of the hammer I don’t know.

A brief look through of the figures suggests that there would be around 14-16,000 people studying journalism and information related degrees in the UK( a guesstimate based on figures from the OECD).  That’s not taking into consideration NCTJ type courses etc.  But let’s also factor into that the industry redundancies. Estimates put job losses in papers alone at the 8,000 mark (that was a few years ago). I’d say there were more journalists entering the market than students. But, being fair, across the industry as a whole,  that’s a lot of people that could be fighting to be heard in the freelance market.

All of which suggests a broader point I heard echoed in digitaldjeli’s tweets:

The freelance industry is a in a shitty state, please don’t make it worse

It’s easy to see how that point connects with the first – it can’t support the people already in the market so why flood it with more. In that respect I think it’s appropriate to question if offering the courses we do is unfair on everyone, including those students on a course who might expect to make a living; asking who is taking the risk. But taking the industry as a whole we aren’t great at being fair.

I can be generous and say it’s competitive. But the truth is that people will take whatever edge they can to get ahead; everything from dropping a name, leveraging a contact, citing past employers on bios or paying for a course.  Healthy competition is OK and the great thing about the web is that it means players like contributoria can explore ways to help broaden (and maybe flatten) the playing field. But plenty of people will exploit that. It’s as likely to be a dodgy internship as much as a training course that exploits or closes a door on broader opportunity.

I recognize that the compulsion to analyse the industry and its models to understand sustainability isn’t one that stops with the mainstream parts of the industry. Journalism education and training, in all its forms, is just as much part of that process and  it’s right that we should feel that pressure and be held to account.  The vast majority of people I know in the edu/training sphere care and worry very deeply about that.

I’m certainly not comfortable with the idea of us essentially ring fencing certain aspects of what is essentially an economy; barring one element to protect another. If we do that we have to get into the idea of what makes one lot a journalist and another not. (good luck with that but I really don’t care for the distinction). But maybe a shift in perspective doesn’t hurt.

Expectation or responsibility

It seems that the last 10-15 years of the journalism industry are defined by the concept of expectation. An expectation by some that life will continue, untroubled as it always has. An expectation that the web will make things better. An expectation that there should be special treatment or exceptions made.  I’ve always seen a big part of my job as managing and informing expectation so that people can make informed choices.  But one result of the conversation has been to get me thinking about responsibility. Where does my responsibility for this begin and end?

There doesn’t seem like there is going to be much settling down in the media landscape any time soon and it’s certainly not going to get flatter (or fairer). Asking how we can be more responsible in cultivating that landscape seems a more positive one than finding ways to deal with a set of increasingly conflicting expectations.

The right Medium for student work

I’m in the process of finalizing my course/module  descriptions for this year. In one of my second year modules – the digital landscape –  we are asking the students to produce a piece of multimedia reporting (the other assignment is to work in groups to pitch a media related start-up idea).

I’m pondering the way I get them to ‘submit’ that work.  My gut feeling at the moment is to get them to submit to Medium.

What about a blog?

Across all the digital stuff we do, students are encouraged (or compelled depending on your point of view) to start a blog.  All do and some keep it up. So their own blog is one option. Put work on the blog and then give me the links.

But experience has shown me that often the students will only engage with their blog at the point at which they begin to work an an assignment. That raises two issues:

  1. They don’t really engage with blogging: Some might say that in a social media world blogging is less valuable. I disagree. But I’m also nervous of making it a requirement to blog as it, well takes us back to the main problem of why they are ‘using’ a blog.
  2. Some students will take the position that, because I have asked them to submit on the blog, I’m responsible for telling them how to use a blog.  I become defacto tech support. In principle that’s something I don’t mind but, in general Google faster than me for basic ‘how do I add a link questions’.

We also have a content management system within the department based on Escenic. It’s great and robust but, for a number of reasons, not public facing.  That makes it hard for them to promote their work on Social media. They can link out but not in. I know, I know but there are reasons OK!

In and off the media landscape.

For this module in particular I want the students to engage with working in the broader media landscape. So I’m trying  to balance giving free reign to publish on any platform against the demands for public interaction against practical demands.  Hmmm.

My current thinking is based around the following

  • Restricting choice: It sounds bad I think it would be useful to make a decision that will practically and technically  suit 99% and negotiate with the 1% that want to push the envelope.
  • Visibility of content: Picking a platform for their content which already has a strong(ish) content base will give them something to compare/aspire/compete with.

Bearing all of that in mind, Medium feels like the right choice. I’d very much like students to be doing more with their work.  I’d love them to pitch to sites like Contributoria – and if Contributoria had an open submission (not a criticism at all) then it would be a great alternative.

But as it stands medium seems to have a workable input system. Not too shy of multimedia and there is a ‘content network’ element which I think would be interesting for the students to explore. This is not an either/or situation. Students will still be expected to have blogs and there are other places in the course where design or ‘code’ are more suited. But I’d be interested in what others think.

 After-matter and notes: I should note that when I say submit we do have a process here by which I get students to submit the text of their articles so that we can run them through plagiarism detection software.

After tweeting a link to this post a few people added their thoughts:

Tom Rouse from  echoed my thinking:

Nick Petrie from the Deputy Head of News Development &  also liked the idea

adding that medium simplifies things for them. Daniel Bently from @circa did note the limitations of some of the embedding option, but liked the challenge

Siraj Datoo, Political reporter at BuzzFeed UK, was a bit uncomfortable with having student work online:

 I think there’s a valid point there. Often, for very good reasons, a piece of work may not reflect what a student is capable off. I think we could manage that and there is always the option to remove the work when it has been marked. Siraj also made a good point about the way medium uses social media (twitter in particular) to promote your work. I don’t mind that challenge. I think its good for students to consider the social media impact of their work. Alex Howard, columnist  , made a good point about taking a more fundamental approach:

I have some real sympathy for this approach but in the context of this module it’s outside the learning outcomes. But not for other parts of the course.  One reservation I do have is asking students to pay. That’s not a general issue – it’s what pays my mortgage. But this would be paying specifically to submit an assignment.  Still, Alex makes a good point when he notes…