Currently viewing the tag: "Webinar"

By RHIANNA JACKSON-KELSO
Special to the RJRC

April 9, 2018

Data journalists are rethinking how they present data-driven stories as it becomes clear that readers won’t spend time clicking through interactive visualizations, says Roberto Rocha, a CBC data journalist and educator specializing in data-driven reporting.

Rocha, who has worked on stories ranging from a Montreal street history map to a ranking of psychedelic drugs, says data journalists must accept that readers have a limited amount of patience for sorting through data.

“Readers are lazy,” Rocha said during a Mar. 27 webinar hosted by Geothink, a Canadian geospatial open data research partnership funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. “They don’t want to work to get information. Basically, they just want to scroll.”

Rocha said the early tendency of data journalists to throw every scrap of data at readers and hope that they would explore the material has proven ineffective. Most readers simply won’t spend hours, or even a few minutes, exploring interactive websites overloaded with datasets, said Rocha, who characterized the practice as “an abdication of the journalist’s role.”

More recently, he said, data journalists have been returning to the basics, which include filtering information, uncovering the main story, and telling that story in an engaging way: “There’s a major shift that’s happening in data journalism that started a few years ago where [the way data journalists perceive themselves] has shifted from simply organizing data … to more of an active storyteller role.”

This new, more user-friendly approach is evident, Rocha said, in the New York Times’ March 19 use of an animated graph to visualize rates at which white and black men who grew up in rich families remain affluent or fall into poverty. Another example, a timeline visualizing 311 calls New Yorkers made relating to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy from the fall of 2012 to now, uses scrolling to drive home the long-reaching effects of hurricane recovery.

“Interactivity is not a panacea for engagement,” says Rocha, noting that if readers must search for information, they are more likely to lose interest in the story.

Analytics have played an important role in reshaping the story-telling approach used for data journalism projects. Rocha said data gathered by the New York Times to measure reader engagement with its interactive visualizations – which are costly and time consuming to produce – revealed an engagement rate of just 15 per cent.

In response to these findings, the Times refined its approach to minimize the work required of readers and place more responsibility on the shoulders of the journalists. The new direction was summarized in a set of three “rules for visual storytelling” in a talk given by Archie Tse, deputy graphics editor for the Times:

  1. If you make the reader click or do anything other than scroll, something spectacular has to happen.
  2. If you make a tooltip or rollover, assume no one will ever see it. If content is important for readers to see, don’t hide it.
  3. When deciding whether to make something interactive, remember that getting it to work on all platforms is expensive.

Although efforts by data journalists to more effective in their story-telling approaches, panelist April Lindgren pointed out that many journalists still need to learn the basics of data-driven journalism.

“The capacity of local new organizations to mine … data for stories is really lagging behind the growing availability of data sources,” said Lindgren, the academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre,. Most local journalists lack the skills required to collect data and pull stories from it, she said, and recent graduates who do possess these skills often find themselves overwhelmed with the workload once they are installed in local newsrooms.

Lindgren said more collaboration between newsrooms might be one solution to this problem and pointed to a recent project by fellow presenter Zane Schwartz to illustrate her point. Schwartz, an investigative journalist for National Post and Macleans, spent his section of the webinar discussing the political donations database he compiled using more than six million records gathered from every province and territory. Though Schwartz noted only a handful of people had downloaded the full dataset, Lindgren says the production and sharing of such databases could be one way to address the problems faced by local news organizations that lack the staff, skills, and time to explore data-driven journalism.

“Local journalists could go [into these databases], take the data, and make it relevant to their local audiences and do that work for the people who live in their communities,” says Lindgren. “I’m hoping … that more local journalists will see what [Schwartz] has done and recognize what a gift it is in terms of a story in hand.”

She pointed to collaborative data journalism models launched in the United Kingdom as possible models for Canada. The BBC’s Shared Data Unit, part of its broader Local News Partnerships Program, pairs experienced BBC data journalists with reporters from the local news industry to educate them about working with and reporting on data. Similarly, The Bureau Local, launched in March 2017 by the not-for-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, aims to work with British local media to use datasets to write local stories.

Recreating these types of initiatives in Canada, says Lindgren, could be critical to improving the state of Canadian local journalism. And the data suggests these improvements are necessary—findings from the Local News Research Project, which Lindgren co-founded, show that 244 local news outlets of all types have closed in 181 Canadian communities since 2008.

By MADDIE BINNING
Special to the RJRC

Freelance journalists starting out in the business should be wary of working for exposure instead of money, experts said in a recent Ryerson Journalism Research Centre webinar.

The discussion, featuring Lauren McKeon, author and digital editor of The Walrus, vice president of the Canadian Freelance Union Ethan Clarke and Daily Xtra associate editor Eternity Martis, centred on how to navigate a freelance career in journalism and make tough decisions like determining what pay is too low and how to negotiate contracts. The conversation was directed by Ryerson School of Journalism professor Lisa Taylor and broadcast to an audience of mostly journalism students.

“A lot of folks talk about the quality of journalism these days and ask about why it’s not as good as years in the past, and a lot of it has to do with the rate of pay,” Clarke said. “Quality work takes time.”

Free work privileges the people who can afford to work under those conditions, he said, adding that it is important for journalists to do their best to combat this problem in the media industry. Although it can be difficult to resist, Clarke suggested writers should not only avoiding unpaid work but also rates of pay that are too low.

“(Journalism) takes real skill and unfortunately, through dynamics on the internet, that’s been cheapened,” Clarke said, noting that the internet has produced many self-proclaimed journalists. “We’ve really got to fight to bring back that respect and the value of paying for good journalism.”

McKeon urged journalists to wage the battle for better remuneration by talking to each other about pay and bad actors in the publishing industry.

“It’s up to us to start breaking the silence on how much we do get paid, what publications we maybe have challenges with,” she said. “It’s really uncomfortable to talk about how much you get paid and all that sort of stuff, but it’s important that we better the industry.”

That said, the question of what is acceptable pay for freelancers is often a personal choice that writers need to determine for themselves, McKeon said. In her own freelance work, she said she accepted low pay early on in her career to work for publications she believed in.

“Everyone has to weigh how much they want to do the story and how much they want to work with an organization, what it means to them, what type of journalism they want to do, what’s important to them,” McKeon said. “It’s all about gauging what kind of journalism you want to do and what type of career you want to build.”

Martis emphasized that freelancers “will not be fed by exposure.” She suggested that freelance journalists set up a budget that includes how many stories they’re going to write each day and what kind of stories those will be. After completing her Master of Journalism degree at Ryerson, Martis said she did a variety of freelance work, including shorter pieces for publications like Complex magazine and content for non-journalistic groups like the YWCA. She continues to freelance while working at the Daily Xtra.

She said that sometimes making money as a freelancer means doing a variety of work.

“It all really comes down to knowing the publications you want to write for,” Martis said, “but it also comes down to choosing places that maybe you’re not so interested in, if that’s what you need to do to pay the bills.”

Clarke said that if journalists are struggling with pay, contracts or any other of the difficult aspects of freelancing, it’s essential to remember that working as an individual doesn’t leave you alone.

“Stop thinking of yourself as an individual, you’re part of a group,” Clarke said. “There are other workers all around you, find ways to unite with them.”

The Canadian Freelance Union offers services that include support for journalists who are having difficulty getting paid, contract advice, health plans and other insurance options, press cards and more. Find these and other resources on the CFU website.