Python for visualization versus D3

This is just a few thoughts as a starting point, I’m currently trying to get Python visualization and D3.js techniques into my head.

python code
some python code

I’m heading off with to a couple of hackdays in January with colleagues and students and fancied getting some skills prep under my belt.

I’ve been working through some of the chapters in both Python Data Vizualisation Cookbook and Interactive Data Visualization for the Web – and I’m really getting interested in how you can create maps from data (in my case from CSV files) in both D3.js and Python.

I’ve also had a go at building a map (to add data to) from geoJSON boundaries for local government and rendering them in Leaflet.js.

I’ve previously blogged about python driven news apps from a great tutorial you’ll find linked from that page.

I’d be interested to hear thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches.


Shirky on the end of the printed newspaper

Last Call — Medium

The death of newspapers is sad, but the threatened loss of journalistic talent is catastrophic. If that’s you, it’s time to learn something outside the production routine of your current job. It will be difficult and annoying, your employer won’t be much help, and it may not even work, but we’re nearing the next great contraction. If you want to get through it, doing almost anything will be better than doing almost nothing.

Just because you’re paranoid… data security for journalists

Given it’s now a year ago that the Edward Snowden, it seems quite apt that the Guardian is introducing a new option on its site for whistleblowers.

The site now gives details of how to find its securedrop page for anyone that feels they have something to share in secret. Their promo post gives more details….

This page is hosted on a separate server from the main Guardian site, includes no tracking cookies, and takes no logs. Like almost all other news organisations, regular Guardian webpages use tracking cookies to keep track of users’ login details and to serve advertising.

The page encourages user to use either the Tor Browser or TAILS (I was introduced to Tails recently thanks to Arjen Kamphuis in a Centre for Investigative Journalism session on Information Security), to make life difficult for snoopers.

It’s worth having a read around some of these issues if you are interested investigative reporting.

I’ll start adding lists of interesting reads and tools to this post over coming days.

(Note: Notice though, I said new option. Securedrop isn’t new – it was originally built by the late Aaron Swartz in 2012 as DeadDrop. And has been developed since then by Freedom of the Press Foundation, it was also installed and run as Strongbox by The New Yorker in 2013.)


Tools to make your journo dev life easier

When I first started building web pages – I had a copy of an editor (I can’t remember which) to write HTML before getting to grips with Dreamweaver. Later I got used to building pages in XHTML and CSS, until I started to get to grips wtih web CMS tools for complicated projects I got involved with.

A working knowledge of HTML and CSS has helped with my further development – hacking PHP for Drupal and WordPress installs, but lately I’ve started to go back to look at HTML sites, but powered by JS frameworks and libraries.

I’ve been switched on to a couple of workflow tools for scaffolding sites – Tarbell and Yeoman, both of which do a nice job of bootstrapping a basic site.

I’ve also been having a play with Rails to set up a site, using Vagrant and Virtualbox – as per this setup tutorial.

All have a learning curve, but like Virtualenv and Virtualenvwrapper for my Python set up, it means that I can hack away without worrying about getting things wrong (too much).

More on all of these later.






Computational journalism – news journalism, new ideas

Over the last couple of years, Richard Sambrook and Martin Chorley and I have been working on a new course – I’m proud to say it is all going ahead for September this year.

It will be mixing the best of Cardiff University’s schools of computing and journalism for a new course aimed at new skills for newsrooms.

It will include learning how to code in python, build web apps, understand the changing media industry and develop skills in datajouranlism and digital investigation.

You can read more below, but keep your ears open as we get nearer to the launch date.


What is “Computational Journalism”? | JOMEC @ Cardiff University

We’re delighted to announce that Cardiff University is launching a new Masters programme in Computational Journalism from September this year – jointly run by the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and the School of Computer Science and Informatics.  But what IS computational journalism?

Bookmarks for March 6th

These are my links for March 6th:

When X is the new why? Or Journalists really need to get their CPD sorted out

As you may have gathered, I’m really interested in curriculum design. Not in the “by the end of the session the learner will be able to” kind of way, but more about helping journalists get the skills they need to do the job.

20110502-NodeXL-Twitter-data journalism graph
20110502-NodeXL-Twitter-data journalism graph (Photo credit: Marc_Smith)

I got a status update from my colleague Emma Gilliam earlier today, sharing a post about how hand-wringing journalists should go back to school. As I read this I was thinking how wise these words were as I’ve changed my modules to include these skills over the last few years and regularly chat with colleagues – inside and outside my department – about how to get the next generation of journalists up to speed with these ideas.

But then it struck me, this isn’t just about the skills – it is also about attitude and that’s one thing you can’t teach. And it isn’t just about age, journalists old and young don’t always get why they need to learn new skills for the job – even as the newsroom shifts and changes around them.

Journalism in the UK doesn’t have much in the way of continuous professional development – but then we aren’t a profession. Nurses, as an example, have a prep folder which they need to keep up to date and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing training and development.

In all my time in newsrooms – and I worked in quite a few – I went on one course. And it was crap. It was subbing on paper, when my job (which I could already do) was subbing on a computer. So, then I decided to do it for myself.

And then it struck me why that post is wrong, it’s not about going back to school (although that is one great way of doing it if the skills you want are on offer).

It’s easy to moan about how much better things were (we are all guilty of that at one time or another) but the key thing for me is about taking control.

So that’s why I spent my Sunday afternoon (while cooking lunch) having a go at building a web app which pulls in data from a CSV spreadsheet and spits out web pages. (hat tip to the brilliant Chrys Wu for the link to the tutorial by Ben Welsh.) I regularly do this kind of thing and am fascinated by the tools and ideas we can use to investigate, communicate and share.

In lieu of any form of proper CPD – we need to build a proper network of practice. Find out the best people to follow on Twitter, what blogs there are to learn from and who to go buy a coffee for. (I’ll update this post later to add some links in here)

And as to what to learn first – it’s the attitude. Take control of your own career or you might not have one for long.

You could learn how to geolocate tweets to see what people are talking about near you, develop your FOIA requests to get data sets and then Excel the crap out of them. You could learn to scrape, build an infographic or develop your long form writing to best effect (and you could even use an immersive platform to do it). Find a group (google or in real life) and have a chat with someone who is further along than you are.

Just one thing, remember the people. To me datajournalism = people + data not just a fancy infographic with some cool numbers on it.

And if you remember the folk at the centre of the data, the interview and at the other end of the distribution channel you’ll get a stronger idea of what is going on by joining in the community you are working with/through/for.

Feel the fear and do it anyway? Nah, just take responsibility for your own CPD and start buildilng your networks and skills.

Crowdfunding journalism

Journalism crowdfunding site
Journalism crowdfunding site

I’ve been reading a lot about the potential futures for the media, and journalism particularly, over the last few months.

There’s been quite a lot of talk about personal brand journalism (have a read of this piece by Michael Wolff to find out more about that) and this week I’m delighted to hear that Sarah Hartley and colleagues Matt McAlister and Dan Catt have launched their new project.

Essentially it is a crowdfunded journalism community – something I’ve been interested in since Dave Cohn launched in 2007 (it is still going but now under American Public Media and the Public Insight Network).

I’ll be watching this one with interest.

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Why are we still having this argument about free web content?

Some wise words from David Higgerson about the free vs paywall debate. 


When a hyperlocal site can have a bigger audience than a century-old newspaper, do you still think it’s wrong to ‘give away’ content for free? | David Higgerson

The arrival of the internet didn’t lead to people expecting their local news for free. That ship sailed in the 1980s when free newspapers were born. The internet simply made it possible for people to pick and choose the content they consume, rather than receiving everything we thought they wanted. If we’d not bothered putting it online, they simply would have gone elsewhere, or managed without.

Bookmarks for October 9th through June 19th

These are my links for October 9th through June 19th:

E-learning, Web 2.0, stuff