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NLTimes – our final starting point for a lifelong journey.

NLTimes – our final starting point for a lifelong journey.

Wineke's Journalistic Data Analysis Blog

The final step may be the hardest, but remember it takes many more steps to make a journey.

In the past two months, we have often talked about the role of the audience in modern journalism. It shouldn’t therefore come as a surprise that during our final fact checking project, we came to realize that it is up to the audience to decide if they want to use this medium or not. Our advice is to use it as a starting point, but to be aware that you need to look beyond the information presented to you there in order to get the full picture.

The Medium: NL Times 

Founded in 2013, NL times (http://www.nltimes.nl/) is a English-writing news medium based in the Netherlands, it focuses on Dutch news and writes short but snappy reports about different aspect of the country, including politics, business, sports, health, and weird news. With three international students…

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Visuals in journalism: when can you trust it?

I my previous blogs I emphasized the importance of visualizations in the field of journalism. I always thought that in this digital and fast pace world, visuals play a big role as they are eye candy for the readers. They usually captures our attention even before noticing the headline or the article itself. There are positive and negative sides of usage of visuals. From the positive side – it can help to illustrate big data, make it clear, stress a point and make the story richer. And most importantly, it can attract readers to pay attention to the story. Seems great, right? But there is always another side of the story. Of the negative note, as mentioned in previous blogs, visuals can have no purpose and meaning or mislead the readers providing incorrect or corrupted information. Especially used in framing when audience is pushed one way or another. Here comes an important issue, even if data is practical, useful and even appealing, when do we know if it is reliable?

In order to find out if the visual is reliable we need to verify it first. Trushar Barot and Malachy Brownie in Verification handbook identifies verification process which should be taken into consideration by a journalist:

1. Establish the author/originator of the image. This is a crucial and most important step in the verification process.Identification of the author of the image can be done by searching various data bases or using (both free and paid) internet platforms like google reverse image search or tineye. These kind of platforms can also help when it comes to reading articles and having doubts whether the image was taken from another even and used inappropriately. When it comes to videos, identifying source can be done by checking uploader’s information (e.g. youtube data viewer) and also searching for possible copies of the video material.

2. Corroborate the location, date and approximate time the image was taken. These key factors can guide weather the image is taken of particular issue. If you contact the creator or the image, you might take into account these questions: who are they? where are they? when did they get there? what can they see (and what does the photo or video show)? why are they there? What is more, some additional visuals can be asked to be presented in order to prove that the creator was at that particular place when event/happeneing took place. Images can be also checked by analysing metadata (also known as EXIF) as it provides technical details about the image (e.g. Flickr website does that automatically where EXIF data can’t be edited, it shows exact time and technical features of the camera and gear that was used). For the videos, most of sites can identify the time and place the material was uploaded at/from. Obviously, visual element (any kind) analysis can also help to identify whether the even is real or not (even if it’s tricky sometimes) when we take into account location and date/time of the material.

3. Confirm the visual is what it is labeled/suggested to be showing. As the point speaks for itself it is important to find out whether the image represents the issue you are reflecting to. Important key factors (mentioned in the second point) should be analysed beforehand. Afterwards, it is important to see the angle of the visuals, what kind of connotation it is giving the viewer – does it have positive or negative feeling, can it be manipulated, how objective is it (is it a captured moment that can be interpretative or it represents actual event without taking sides)?. As sometimes it can be manipulated and published later (or taken from another article or data base) in order to support the story.

4. Obtain permission from the author/originator to use the image or video. This point is important for journalist who not only confirm and verifies images but want to use it. Due to copyright laws – permission is needed in order to avoid possible trouble in the future.

Case 1: Incorrect visuals. When there is no match between a person and an image.

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Death of Nelson Mandela was a sensitive topic in 2013. A lot of news papers and internet portal wrote about this tragedy. Unfortunately, due to lack of knowledge or time or any other reason, some visuals were used incorrectly. Delfi – Lithuanian news portal wrote an article about RSA remembering the first year anniversary of N. Mandela’s death. The article was published in 2014. The image above illustration presents 3 different pictures. The left one and the top right one is, obviously, of an actor Morgan Freeman who was confused to Nelson Mandela due to appearance similarities. Only the right bottom one represent the actual person who goes along with the whole article. Interestingly enough, the left picture came out in 2013. It was a billboard printed in India where the same mistake of mixing these two people were made. Despite that, even in 2014 the same mistake was made. It is an ethical mistake. Of course, this is a raw example of using a wrong image, if you have doubts – try google image search, pictures of Morgan Freeman will pop out in a huge amount sequence. No doubt that there are more crucial examples, especially when it comes to important issues like war, politics, election, etc., image can be used for different purpose directing audience to the opposite way of the matter. And not only incorrect images can be used but also manipulated and edited ones, where specific angle is chosen in order to make a statement.

Case 2: Manipulation of an image. When the angle is chosen for you.


Original pictures
Published pictures

In 2003, Los Angeles Times published pictures of a soldier in Basra. Photographer Brian Walski manipulated two images (two top images), merging it into one (the one bellow) in order to create more dramatic effect. This kind of manipulation gives a completely different angle, where it opens doors for interpretation. As it touched important issues, it can extremely risky to publish images like this as it spreads on all the digital platforms so quickly. It’s an example which shows that we can never be too sure what we see, even if the picture seems real – it might be edited. These kind of publications can lead to crucial consequences and just think about examples when we are not aware that it has been manipulated.(Not to mention, the photographer was fired from his position)

In summary, this digital age brings variety of opportunities for journalist. Visuals are a great way to illustrate the story and make it appealing in so many levels, therefore, some basic rules should be taken into account. As mentioned in previous blogs – challenge everything, not only the text or data, but also visuals. As it serves as eye candy and we notice it first, we have to avoid first impressions, connotations and keep our eyes open. Especially if we stand on the journalism side where these kind of mistakes (if we look at both cases) – shouldn’t be made.

Sources:

Amnesty International launches video verification tool, website. Craig Silverman, 2014. Retrieved from here.

A journalist’s guide to verifying images. Jennifer Dorroh, 2011. Retrieved from here.

Native journalism and how to verify unaltered photography for free. April Nowicki, 2014. Retrieved from here.

Verification handbook. An ultimate guideline on digital age sourcing for emergency coverage. Edited by Craig Silverman. Pages: 35 – 69.

Facts in journalism: is it worth checking?

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When it comes to journalism, people might know that one of the main principle of being a journalist, is to deliver the truth. When we ask ourselves “what is truth?”, we usually can come across the answer – FACTS. Most likely, all of us ended up in this kind of situation where our argument (or solution) was “it is this way because it is a fact”. We are keen to stick with facts which can represent not only the argument or make a point, but also represent the TRUTH. Seems reasonable, right? While listening to Monique Hamers presentation, interesting and provoking thoughts came across our minds. What is a fact today – is not a fact tomorrow. Facts are not universal, especially when we take into account different cultures, context or situation. They are open for interpretation, they can be manipulated, changed and put into completely different story. Especially in journalism. Facts usually support the story, making it look more appealing and reliable. Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on them, always challenge the information that is presented in front of us. Journalist often use phrases like “often”, “in popular opinion”, “according to the research”, “increasing/decreasing amount of”, “significant increase in”, “according to research” and etc. Even it seems reliable and trustworthy, we can never be too sure if it is true or not. Especially when it comes to hot news, crisis or any important issues where mistakes in journalism should not occur. Imagine a report regarding war where journalists would provide wrong information, it could be a crucial mistake. That is why, fact-checking should be taken into consideration when shaping our story. If we follow the rule of delivering the truth to our audience, we must cleanse, purify and check the information before publishing it.

Not even mentioning, that journalist should follow journalism ethics and standards, there are different procedures to do fact-checking but here are few tips regarding this matter:

1. Gather all the facts. It might depend whether you are writing the story or reading and fact-checking it. Even so, mark/underline/highlight the facts in the story when you read it. Both facts that seem to good to be true and ones, that seem quite obvious – you can never be too sure. This way we determine what will be checked in the following steps.

2. Find sources. It is said that most media organisations have a rule that all facts should be verified by at least two reliable sources. Following this thought it is better if we find more than one source to confirm the specific fact. Keeping in mind that some researches are being conducted only to promote certain product and service, it is important to check few alternative sources. Some sources are easier to find that others, therefore, considering the journalist who wrote and article as a source is also an option where later on (s)he can be asked where did information come from.

3. Investigate and contact. When we gather our sources, the following step is to investigate it. It can be done either by reading and analysing researches or by contacting journalists, who wrote it, experts who are aware of specific matter, police if we deal with crime, etc. Contacting people, agencies and places that can provide and confirm information. Sometimes, visual material can serve as a source if it captures event or happening.

4.Check the context. When we have our facts straight, it is important to see if it fits the whole story. Sometimes facts are true but when they are put in another context, they can be manipulated in order to deliver a completely different message. Facts and context have to match and it is doable if we verify information in the first place.

5. Look at the whole picture. When we verify the information and analyse the context within we can judge whether the story is reliable or not. Useful and suitable for the audience or made in order to manipulate and mislead. Actions that can be taken here depends on the journalist individually, if they want to help to correct mistakes, inform about misleading information, or even keep silent.

Case: BBC article.

Young men of 25 die every day – in crashed cars, on battlefields, in cancer wards.

At the end of November Tom Fordyce, who is a chief sports writer in BBC Sport, wrote and article “Phillip Hughes: Why does a death in sport hit us so hard?“. The article was based on the death of the cricketer Philip Hughes. The quote above is an opening statement of this article which is not highly important to the rest of the context. After reading this most of us, especially young men, could really take this thought into consideration. At first sign it sound scary – dying at this age. That is a powerful statement here, but is it a fact? Thankfully it is not true. Fullfact.org is a website that runs fact-checking. They proved that this statement is incorrect, dying young is proved to be really rare. This is just an example when some statements can direct us to the wrong way. If we take into account bigger issues (such as war), consequences can be crucial. Therefore, this case only illustrates that information needs to be verified and that articles can contain false statement, like the one in front of you.

In summary, if you wonder what is the answer for the question “when is it worth checking the information?”, the answer is quite simple – always. As mentioned before, we have to challenge everything. In this world, where information is reachable by hand at any time of the day, it is easy to get lost and take wrong information for granted. We have to be aware that so called facts can be manipulated. We can also come across the truth, but when do you know if a fact is real? What is a fact today, might not be a fact tomorrow. Therefore, we, as journalists, have to check it, as we can never be too careful.

Sources:

Why a young sportman’s death is a rare tragedy. Full fact organisation. Retrieved from here.

Journalism – Facts & Directory. Retrieved from here.

Phillip Hughes: Why does a death in sport hit us so hard? Tom Fordyce, 2014. BBC. Retrieved from here.

Principles of Journalism. Pew Research Journalism Project. Retrieved from here.

Reynolds Center for Business Journalism creates accuracy checklist for journalists. Craig Silverman, 2012. Retrieved from here.

The Challenges and Dilemma: Fact Checking in Journalism and Research. Majid Rafizadeh, 2014. Retrieved from here.

The Fact Checker’s Bible. A Guide to Getting It Right. Sarah Harrison Smith, 2004. Retrieved from here.

The Importance of fact-checking for journalists. David Brewer, 2011. Retrieved from here.

Trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world. Craig Newmark, 2013. Retrieved from here.

Framing techniques: how does it work?

In 1998 an interesting research was conducted on the topic Framing the News. Among variety of interesting facts regarding journalism, authors identified four main elements on how journalists present the news. Those elements were: 1) topic – what story topics were put on the first page, 2) trigger – what triggered to cover this specific story and who was responsible for this event or issue to emerge, 3) frame – what narrative type or approach was used while composing a story, finally, 4) underlying message – identifying any underlying social and folkloric messages presented in the story (obviously and not). It is clear, that framing plays a big role when it comes to shapingthe story. It influences audience in terms of understand and evaluating the issue, choosing the positive or negative attitude towards that matter. Therefore, it is a powerful tool. Probably the first thought that comes into our heads now – how do we actually define framing? Is it the approach journalists choose for their story? Or is it type of narrative they lead? It is said, that framing theory suggests that how something is presented (the “frame”) influences the choices people make. Framing can lead to audience to accept one meaning or side of the story over another. Framing often consist of these elements: choosing the approach or even side towards the presented story following the the title (it represents the whole story). Writing style, visual materials and quotes play a big role as well. Finally, source and chosen information (some information might not be presented in order to direct reader) has a crucial influence here. Fairhurst and Sarr described following framing techniques that can help journalists to become familiar with the use of this tool:

* Metaphor. To give an idea or issue a new meaning by comparing it to something else.
* Stories (like myths and legends). To frame a subject by anecdote in a striking and memorable way.
* Traditions (like rites, rituals and ceremonies). To pattern, define an organization at regular time increments to confirm and reproduce organizational values.
* Slogans, jargon and catchphrases. To frame a subject in a memorable, known fashion.
* Artifacts. To illuminate corporate values through physical remaining (in case language is not capable to do it) .
* Contrast. To describe a subject in terms of what it is not.
* Spin. To talk about a concept while giving it a positive or negative connotation.

These points can give some inspiration how to frame. Framing techniques can help to distinguish important information from unimportant. This way journalists can help to achieve better understanding for audience and lead to a certain path of interpretation. It is noticeable that these techniques can be modified and adjusted to different story. There should be a specific approach or even side taken into account as framing directs the story or engages the audience one way or another. Keeping in my mind the power of social media these days, new techniques can be added to the list regarding this matter. I guess there is no limit for emerging techniques which are not yet written down. Personally, I think visual material plays a big role when it comes to framing as, firstly, the reader notices it as soon as the page is presented in front of him/her. Secondly, it gives a specific connotation of the issue just before reading the text which can influence how the reader will perceive the content.

Case of 9/11 magazine covers

media-framing-101

The following case is a good example of how 3 elements: title, picture and additional headers of the magazine, can influence and direct audience to follow either the positive or the negative side of the matter. Taking into account, that 9/11 accident is a sensitive topic to most of people, these two magazines – People and Newsweek create two different feelings towards it. While visualising both covers of these magazines we can sense what kind of connotation it brings even before reading the main title and other headers of it. People magazine’s cover uses a fragile looking Caucasian girl, where she hold a picture of her family member (we can assume that even before reading the title). It immediately creates a compassion feeling towards her. On the other hand, Newsweek magazine’s cover gives as an opposite feeling towards the boy. He looks tough, maybe even aggressive. It is important to highlight the background as the girl is standing in a quite neutral surrounding and the boy can be identified standing in the street. These two covers obviously create positive and negative connotations and the following titles – confirms it. “The Children of 9/11” and “The Chilrean of Bin Laden” supports the visual material as it makes the influence stronger. I hardly believe people would get a negative effect looking at the girl and reading the title or vice-versus with the second cover. Following sentences or headers supports the main title. Newsweek cover even adds deeper level of negativity towards this matter with headlines like “The Mutating Extremist Threat” or “New Tools to Fight Terror” as it emphasizes and stresses the importance of terrorism, reminding it to the audience (People magazine has different approach of a sensitive girl with phrases like “triumphed over tragedy” where the main point goes to recovery over the tragedy). These two covers are highly different and it can even create discussions regarding people used on the covers (e.g. racism question). Try to imagine how it will look if they would have switched these two youngsters… We can already sense, it probably wouldn’t work as those two visuals fits the titles perfectly. We can agree that both covers are quite memorable and hard to forget.

In summary, we can understand that framing plays a big role in journalism. The question whether it is good or bad, necessary or redundant, every journalist should ask himself before shaping the story. Of course, due to framing, journalist can position a story covered with variety of connotations, sometimes it my be needed when audience is engaged to act for a better cause. Personally, I also believe framing is a wide topic to discuss, especially when it comes to its’ positive and negative effects. This topic can be discussed  more than in a one blog post, taking into account different elements of it such as motivation, effect, value of it, visuals and etc. But for now, we can try to work our way with these framing techniques which help to understand how it actually works, how to use this tool in shaping our story or trying to influence the audience if we feel it is necessary.

Sources:

Framing the News. The Triggers, Frames, and Messages in Newspaper Coverage. PEW Research Center’s Journalism Project Staff, 1998. Retrieved from here.

Frames, Framing and Reframing, 2013. Sanda Kaufman, Michael Elliott, Deborah Shmueli. Retrieved from here.

Framing, Agenda Settting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models, 2006. Dietram A. Schuefele & David Tweksbury. Journal of Communication, p. 9 – 20.

Framing theory. School of Journalism and Communication. Retrieved from here.

Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing and Priming, 2007. David H. Weaver. Journal of Communication, p. 142-147.

Visualised data: what makes it meaningful?

All data that has been gathered at some point of its’ existence has a purpose. A purpose – to be used and shared. Nowadays, it became trendy to visualise data and present it to the public as it brings appealing, but at the same time complex, information to a wide audience. We must admit that data presented inside a infographic is rather more attractive that plain and well-known (but usually found boring) tables with plain numbers. But it’s not only about the outside that matters – inside counts. In this case – the point of visualised data, the story behind it, the message it brings. Alberto Cairo, who is an expert in information graphics and visualisation, identifies four key components of visualisation. Visualisation has to be 1) functional, 2) beautiful, 3) insightful and, finally, 4) enlightening. Having these features in mind we can explore what makes your data visualisation – meaningful.

1) Collected data has a purpose.
It should not be all about nice pictures and pretty images, the visualisation of particular data should disclose an issue, educate or share new ideas (not visualising what is already know in the text). It needs to have a specific purpose. If visualised data holds a message, explains a topic or supports a story – it becomes valuable. It means – it is needed (this is also an important question to to start with – do we really need it?), without it – is there really a point to make it and share it? Some data is often visualised as additional element to the text and often is not needed. If we visualisations they need to say more instead of repeating the text.

2) Data without a context is useless.
Visualised data has to fit into a story or context. Just plain numbers provided in a nice image, can not disclose it all, therefore, context is needed which can richen information with additional information or explanation. Visualised data complements the narrative or go vice versa – bring up deeper understand about the topic through data. We can assume that text and data goes nicely together so why not to try that, where you can explain even more. And often data without clear context can lead to misleading understanding about specific issue and a journalistic does not really want that.

3) It needs to be understandable.
Misleading visualisations gets your audience annoyed, confused and data looses its’ purpose. If a reader can not easily read provided data it makes the whole visualisation process – useless. Well done visualised data should be easy to read, reader should find cues (e.g. additional text, colours, headers, arrows, etc.) which would indicate: how to follow it, where to start, how to read, what’s important, what does it show? Additional guidance helps reader to get around. This kind of data is functional, it enables a reader to use it, gain information. If is understandable it is also – useful, it means a reader can extract information at any time, therefore, it serves its’ purpose. It also depends on our audience, different types of readers are eager to use different kind of data, therefore, it is important to set some guidances when visualising it as we keep our audience in mind (different topics, spheres, age groups, social statuses, etc.).

4) FUN.
Finally visualised data needs to be beautiful and fun (e.g. interactive data). Appealing data might catch reader’s attention and this way educate him or her on specific topic. Fun visualisations might lead audience to spend more quality time on it, taking deeper analysis of it and this way reaching the goal of being meaningful. Of course, making visualisations appealing should not take over the main purpose and functionality of it but it can help to improve and boost the effect.

Case 1: Language communities of Twitter. World map.

This is a case of visualised data – map. Language communities of Twitter around the world. When we look at this colourful map, we can state – it is quite nice and appealing but what does it mean? What does it state, only the languages used or something more? Specific year? Factors? In which context we should read it? It is also seem quite complex and hard to get around. Therefore, it serves an example of a case which can be improved. Keeping a eye on those 4 points above we could start from 1) why was is made, what does it want us to disclose? 2) what is the context of this map? 3) where to start, any additional guidance how to read it (numbers, agendas, etc.)? 4) it is fun already to read, visual part could be lead to everyone’s taste depending on the point 3. Solving and answering these questions could improve the value of this visualisation as for now it does not bring a big meaning.

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Case 2: The Great War (1914-2014) (press here)

This interactive map is made to celebrate centenary of the great war. This visualisation shows historical information that might be known to some of us, but in a new – interactive way. It states the number of deaths during various wars. It starts with the introduction – what is a Great War, years of it and number of deaths. Deeper exploration is followed giving in comparison other wars and number of deaths per war. Every flower (example bellow) represents an event. What is great about this visualisation that different continents can be filtered. Furthermore, by pressing every flower, we get additional information about the war, its’ duration, participating countries, location and, most importantly, source of the data. This is a great example of an interactive tool which has a context, educates the audience and is made in a very easy to understand and appealing way. Of course, this could not serve as quick tool to access information on the spot but it serves perfectly to educate and remind audience about important matters.

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In summary,

We can see the visualisations needs to be more than attractive if we want to reach our audience. It is important to know what it states for and why it is made in the first place. Making it easy to read and get information from, we can provide data that can be read by anyone. And that is the reason to make it – that people could access it, understand it and, even, share it. This makes it meaningful.

Sources:

Data Visualization: Making Big Data Approachable and Valuable. Market Pulse. Retrieved from here.

Doing Journalism with Data: First Steps, Skills and Tools. Canvas Network course. Module 5

Essential Guide. Advance data visualization guide: How visualizing data can boost BI. TechTarget. Retrieved from here.

How can we make data more meaningful? Usman Haque, 2014. The Guardian. Retrieved from here.

Tell a meaningful story with data. Daniel Waisberg, 2014. The Rundown. Retrieved from here.

Balancing between words and data. Do’s and don’t’s

According to Simon Rogers, data journalists are ought to fulfil one of the most important roles of theirs – bring data to life. Data can serve as an argument within the story, making it trustworthy. What is more, processed data can explain the issue in a clear manner where words do not need to take place. Hence, it is important to find the balance between story itself and data. This can be pretty challenging as it depends on the case. Some people might be bored with reading a long article or get scared seeing statistical outputs, even so, every reader is different and there is not perfect article for everyone. Although, it is always a way to present a story in an appealing way where text does not bore you and numbers do not bite. Simon Rogers, data journalist and data editor at Twitter, once stated:

“Data journalism is not graphics and visualisations. It’s about telling the story in the best way possible.” – Simon Rogers

Taking into account this thought, we can assume, that there is no firm template in terms of proportions text versus data or how exactly use data in different cases. It’s all about the story and the best way to tell it. Do’s and don’t’s can serve as an example, when it comes to choosing what kind of output data journalist wants to produce.

Do’s

Data Journalism Handbook states that data is a growing value. It can be used to make deeper insights, present bigger picture and reach bigger audience. Therefore, if there is an opportunity to supplement the story with data  – take this chance. It will become presentable and trustworthy story. Although, it is wise to verify data, whether it is correct one or false. It can be done by using verification check-list (discussed in Verification Handbook) or using official and reliable resources. It is a great responsibility for data journalist to dig for accurate data, but what is more important – using it in an understandable manner. Internet sphere is rich with examples of misleading and unclear usage of data, therefore, it is important not only to gather it but adapt it for readers in a way, that it would be easily readable. For example, The Guardian published a visualized data on how much government spends by each department. It made it easy and fun to access information. In this case, visualized data, explained statistics better than the plain text. This was dune by choosing the appropriate tools. Different stories can ask for different visualizations – diagrams, charts or infographics, although visualization is not always needed. Sometimes simple numbers can be acceptable regarding the issue. Finally, we have to ask if this story requires supporting data. Some stories are better told in words. Hence, it’s journalist duty to weight whether to dig deeper and search for data or not. It is advised to use data but is important to challenge this thought by asking – does it add value to the story?

Public spending by government department

Don’t’s

When it comes to usage of data, there might be some threats regarding it. It is important not to overuse data. It is highly professional to support the story with data but overusing it might lead to confusion and boredom. Text full of additional data might distract from the whole story and context itself. There is another approach of overusing data – visualizing data which can be put in a sentence. As for example, the illustration bellow shows a graph which indicate two bars creating an illusion of a huge difference. It creates misconception as numbers do not differ significantly. This leads to misunderstanding and distortion of the situation.This matter is closely related to using incorrect or inappropriate data. This might come from using unreliable sources or out-dated data. What is more, inappropriate data refers to a situation where reader can understand how to read it or relate it to the text. If we provide completely raw material (e.g. statistical numbers) with endless lists of results, firstly, people might not bother to take a glance at it. Secondly, confusion might follow as it is too complicate to analyse it. Another tip is to avoid repetition. Some journalists keen to explain every element from provided data, especially, when having supported material. It is not necessary if visual tools are easily readable. If data journalist use hardly understandable data, there might be a question, if it should be used after all? Data which clearly does not add any additional value to the text is redundant. Finally don’t use data for the sense to use it as it adds no value to the text, data has to prove or state a point. In these kind of cases data can be unreliable and this might be misleading.

“Unfortunately, you can always find plenty of bad examples when it comes to displaying data in journalism. It’s often the case that the article is first written, and then a graphic is sought to accompany it. In that case, diagrams aren’t much more than ornamentation, which doesn’t fulfil their potential. The message is easily misunderstood, and – often enough – incorrect.” – Mirko Lorenz.

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In summary, handling data is challenging but it also bring opportunities to make our text richer and more reliable. Data can make a point, it can speak more than text, it can reach wider audience and tell a story in a completely new way. There are plenty of ways and advices to use data and this blog only touched the tip of the iceberg. This topic could be discussed in a wider perspective – how to gather data, how to validate it, what kind of tools journalist can use to visualize it. Hopefully, this simple “do’s and don’t’s” approach plants the seed which in the future perspective, can lead to more tips regarding this matter.

Sources:

Data Journalism at the Guardian: what is it and how do we do it? Simon Rogers, 2011. The Guardian. Retrieved from here.

Data Journalism Handbook. Edited by Jonathan Grey, Liliana Bounegru and Lucy Chambers, 2012. Retrieved from here.

Datawrapper: Making data-driven journalism fast and easy. Interview by Steffen Leiden, 2012. DW Akademie. Retrieved from here.

Doing Journalism with Data: First Steps, Skills and Tools. Canvas Network course.

Government spending by department, 2011-12: get the data. Simon Rogers, 2012. The Guardian. Retrieved from here.

Misleading Graphs: Real life examples. Practically cheating statistics handbook, 2010. Retrieved from here.

User-generated content: Is this the real life or is this just fantasy?

When it comes to user-generated content and social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter are one of the first websites that pop into our heads. Facebook as a social sphere contains around 1.35 billion active users per month, where Twitter brings an average of 50 millions Tweets per day. Therefore, it is not surprising that a huge amount of information floats inside out on daily basis. Information that can embrace personal posts, commercials, politics, news or any kind of topics we can imagine. Among variety of posts within social media, we can come across exciting & hot news reported by any of us or so called ‘accidental journalists’ – people, who happen to be in the right place and time with a phone in their hands. This kind of user-generated content can be considered a valuable source of information for journalists and news agencies. Hence, it is highly important to verify whether provided info is true or false, real or imaginary, in order to avoid confusion, falsehood or propaganda. False information can not only lead journalists or each and all of us to uncertainty but also create unwanted panic and fear. The following case will illustrate the importance of user-generated content as sources to collect data.

Ukraine situation: case of Russian soldier’s posts online

Early this year Ukraine crisis hit news. As things got intense with Russia and Crimean area, people from all around the world kept themselves on their toes. Social media pages became a sphere for discussions or publications of latest news regarding Ukraine issues (e.g. “Euromaidan in English” on Facebook, “Ukraine Reporter” on Twitter), or even support groups based on the web (“I support Ukraine“, “United we stand for Ukraine“). User-generated content on social media, became a tool to follow these hot events, therefore, providing users with unlimited stories, variety of approaches, both close to and far from reality.

Later this year, on 23th of July, a provoking post showed up online. It was posted on Vkontakte, whcih is a Russian website made according to prototype of Facebook. Russian soldier posted variety of pictures and posts indicating that Russian artillery unit is shelling Ukrainian positions from Russian area. The information was perceived as true one due to visual information (pictures), date it was published and geotag function, which indicated exact location from which it was posted online. After a few days, US confirmed attacks from this area.

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This case showed how highly important it is to validate information and then, put it in practice. As these posts of Russian soldier were sortly removed from Vkontakte, luckily, its’ prints were left on social media. Therefore, we can realize that bits and pieces found online can bring crucial changes. These findings can be a valuable information which can help to either inform people about present/upcoming event or even prevent it from happening. 

Is this valid? Steps to verify user-generated content

Verification plays a big role when it comes to sources. Taking into account the risk of providing misleading information, it is incredibly important to treat gathered data in a cautious manner. As technology provides power to control our content, it is always significant to challenge information on all occasions. According to researcher Claire Wardle, in addition to Craig Silverman and Rita Tsubaki provided verification list, there can be 4 steps to verify user-generated content:

Provenance. We answer the question whether provided data is an original piece of content.

It can be done by taking into account few steps. Firstly, we can find out if account is verified – Facebook introduces verification programs which shows if profile is verified by adding blue tick near profile picture. Additionally, another observations like post history, visual material, locations, friends and followers can help to verify authenticity of the post and content. 

Source. We identify who uploaded the content.

The main strategy is to figure out who is the uploader and try to reach him. When (and if) conversation takes place it is important to question cues that might help to identify is the person really created the content or no, e.g. location, time, surroundings, instruments that were used, other people involved, etc.

Date. We indicate the date content was created.

This step requires to confirm the exact date the content was created. It can be done by viewing information on social media pages. Even so, sometimes it is hard to distinguish the time content was created as it can be uploaded later than it was created (e.g. videos or pictures). Therefore, it is important to challenge all the elements that the content contains in order to find out the date.

Location. We indicate the place content was created or/and posted.

If the content is automatically geolocated – there is no difficulty to identify the location (like Facebook or Twitter geo tags). Although, location confirmation can face the same challenge as date verification. Advanced settings, different location of publishing can mislead. Hence, it is advised to take same actions as regarding date confirmation – analyse all possible cues.

These steps indicate how we can verify the content. Additional search on search engines like Google (searching if similar posts were uploaded, news reports from official trusted sources) and inner logic should lead to conclusions whether to trust or dismiss information.

In summary, as we can see from the case example of Russian soldier’s posts, it is essential to verify user-generated content we find on social networking sites. The key is to challenge gathered information, question any possible relations, analyse all kinds of cues within and outside the content, that can indicate whether it is true or false. We have to keep our eyes open to any kind of clues and only then, we can sense if we can trust the user-generated content or no. These findings can provide key information for journalists that might have significant difference in ongoing events.

Sources:

Verification handbook. An ultimate guideline on digital age sourcing for emergency coverage. Edited by Craig Silverman. Pages: 25 – 31, 97 – 103.

User-generated content. John Krumm, Nigel Davies, Chandra Narayanaswami. IEEE CS Pervasive computing journal, 2008. Pages: 10-11. Retrieved from here.

By the Numbers: 170 Amazing Facebook User & Demographic Statistics. Craig Smith, 2014. Retrieved from here.

#numbers. Twitter, 2011. Retrieved from here.

4 Ways to Squash Silly Facebook Rumours. Stacey Santos, Stikky Media. Retrieved from here.

Ukraine@war blog, 2014. Retrieved from here.