Martin Belam, Nicola Hughes talk digital divides and working with developers at Hacks/Hackers Canterbury
A new Hacks/Hackers Chapter was successfully launched 2nd July in Canterbury, UK: @HacksHackersCTB. This first event gathered an impressive crowd of 40, with a good balance of both hacks and hackers engaging in discussions about data driven journalism. We, the organisers Tom Foster Tom Foster and Lizzie Hodgson, were very encouraged by both the standard of debate and the positive feedback from attendees. Sign up now to be notified of future Hacks/Hackers Canterbury events.
Our first speaker Martin Belam of Emblem Digital and currybet.net, formerly Lead UX/IA for the Guardian, kindly transcribed his presentation in essay form on his blog here. Martin also took notes from our second speaker Nicola Hughes’ presentation of the top tips from her experiences as a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellow learning how to program in the Guardian’s newsroom.
Finally, Nicola also wrote up her presentation in a post found on her blog.
What follows is
Martin Belam — ‘New Digital Divides‘
The impending roll-out of 4G technology in the UK next year has provided a good opportunity to reflect on the impact of previous nation-wide disruptions to technology over the last 10 years. The aim of this presentation was to examine how these ‘digital divides’ might be replicated or aggravated by the introduction of 4G to the UK. Martin began by identifying the top two disruptions from the last decade:
- the adoption of digital TV
- the sustained statistic that 17% of UK adults have never been online.
The adoption of digital TV proved to be an insignificant source of panic, but the latter is likely to be exacerbated by the introduction of a further digital divide: 4G. In addition, Martin predicted a further four digital divides to emerge:
Finances and Upgrades
The uptake of 4G will be subject to the large upgrade cycles associated with smartphone contracts in the UK — typically these can be anywhere between 18 and 24 months. This in combination with the inevitably prohibitive cost for early adopters means that it would not be surprising if widespread adoption took between 3 and 4 years to trickle down.
Top 3G coverage in the UK is currently held by the telco network — Three. A quick look on Martin’s blog post will show you the limitations of ‘good coverage’. In addition, investment in 3G roll-out has been frozen in anticipation of 4G rollout — this means that any new devices will have to be able to use a range of bandwidths to cater for those times when use of 4G, 3G and even 2G technologies will need to be relied upon.
The likely geographically uneven roll-out of 4G will inevitably give unfair advantage to some regional publishers over others. The greater problem however would be disruptive innovation originating from outside the traditional set of media companies. At a time when innovation & startups are booming, it is not a step too far to imagine that even more radical divides will grow out of the possibilities that 4G offers.
Us and Them
Martin’s final divide was that caused by the audience — quite simply that advanced devices using advanced networks would create a significant gap between professionally produced content, and that produced by the audience:
“The old bundle model of the newspaper was a string of niche interests covered in a generalist way. Enthusiastic followers of any hobby, passion or industry vertical, are able to produce content with a higher level of expertise than the humble desk journalist, and they will be able to do it in an increasingly mobile fashion.”
Things to bear in mind when planning for 4G
- Responsive design
- Defensive design
- More emphasis is needed, when designing an app or service, on how it behave when there is no signal or the API upon which is relies is absent.
- Journalist-centered design
Finally, Martin highlighted the need to retain focus on harnessing 4G to design tools to allow journalists to do their job with greater efficiency. If journalists working for a news org must publish remotely in a certain way, then this must be an intuitive and quick authoring experience.
Nicola Hughes — ‘Data Driven Journalism: Tips of the Trade for those with no Training‘
Formerly a digital media producer at CNN and the BBC, and a contributor at ScraperWiki, Nicola won a prestigious new Knight-Mozilla Fellowship earlier this year and was placed in the Guardian’s newsroom as a self-described “journocoder” [a.k.a. data journalist.] Her given mandate was “to learn to code and make news in the open.”
- becoming intimately familiar with the daily ebb and flow of the newsroom they’re working in — because without understanding real context, needs and uses innovation ends up happening in a vacuum.
- working in the open in the spirit of Mozilla and the open-source community. That means blogging regularly about what they’re working on (respecting the sanctity of investigations in-process, naturally), what they’re learning, and the things they’re building. It means being active and engaged in communities outside their host newsroom as an advocate for open innovation.
- releasing the code they create into the larger open-source and journalism communities. The goal is to not only benefit their host newsrooms but to make tools that benefit all of journalism and beyond.
Nicola is a journalist first and foremost, and a programmer second — her emphasis is on learning to code to allow her to find data and tell better stories. This makes her a particularly interesting and relevant individual to follow for those, like many of the Hacks/Hackers Canterbury community, that are new to coding and the huge potential that it offers to journalism. She describes herself variously as a “human experiment” and a “living, breathing, learning, iterating, startup,” which goes some way to illustrate he commitment to openness.
Her blog DataMinerUK, documents this extraordinary journey into data journalism, from novice to formidable coder, and I would encourage you all to read it.Tags: Canterbury