Grasshopper stir fry: your first step to an edible insect future

Got an appetite for edible insects? This grasshopper stir fry serves four people and takes a mere 10 minutes to cook.

Recipe courtesy of Grub.

Ingredients

-60 Grub Grasshoppers

-150g pak Choi

-100g tenderstem broccoli

-75g green beans

-75g mangetout

-1 red onion, sliced

-2 cloves of garlic, diced

-2 fresh red chillies, thinly sliced

-1 small piece of ginger, grated

-8g sesame seeds (half black and half white if possible)

-1 teaspoon sesame oil

-1 teaspoon coconut oil

-coriander (to garnish)

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees before preparing the grasshoppers. To do this take off the wings and legs and place on a baking tray. They will need about eight minutes to turn golden brown, but check on them half way through as they can burn very quickly.
  2. Whilst the grasshoppers are roasting prepare all of your vegetables for the stir fry and add them to a hot wok with the coconut oil. Cook on a high heat for four minutes.
  3. Once the grasshoppers are roasted add to a bowl and mix with the sesame oil and seeds before adding to the wok with the vegetables. Toss all of the ingredients to ensure they are well mixed and serve. Garnish with freshly chopped chili and coriander and serve.

Recipe by Marcus Leach.

How to live tweet an event

Why live tweet?

Share: If you’re interested in an event you’re attending, the chances are that others who can’t make it or don’t already know about it will be interested too. Live tweet to give them an insight into the best bits of what’s being said.

Grow: You will gain followers, exposure and skills. You’ll catch people’s attention. And live tweeting is a great exercise for honing that key journalistic talent for filtering what’s most important, then broadcasting it to an audience.

Save time: Writing a report after the event, if you need to, is much easier once you’ve already distilled the best quotes. It can be little more than adding structure, conjunctions, full stops and some context.

What to live tweet?

When I’m listening to speakers and looking for quotes, I have the “so what?” test running in my head. When you hear a short, important phrase you think worthy of a quote, ask “so what?”. If there’s a clear answer why your followers should care about the quote, then go ahead and tweet it.

Direct quotes are best, in “ ” marks:

Paraphrase if you have to:

How to live tweet?

Before On the day of the event – or earlier if it’s hotly anticipated – tweet at regular intervals to let everyone know you’re going to be live-tweeting. Include details – when, from where, and what about, as well as a link to the event. Entice with pictures!

Check if there’s an event hashtag. Make sure you are following all the parties you’ll want to tag: the speakers, the chair, the venue and the organisers.

Gather your equipment. I prefer live tweeting from my iPhone because:

    1. SILENCE: Typing into a phone is silent; typing into a laptop isn’t. Depending on what kind of event you’re at, tapping away at a laptop keyboard can be disruptive and you may draw weird looks from irked audience members next to you. Obviously if it’s a tech conference, you’re absolutely fine, but at the above Frontline Club event on stateless peoples, the rapt audience did not appreciate tap-tap-tap in the corner.
    2. HABIT: Our minds are habituated to typing brief phrases into a phone keyboard, rather than the long sentences we usually write into laptops. Brief phrases suit live-tweeting.

Have your laptop open too – it’s useful for confirming the odd detail or searching Twitter for a tag you need while your tweet box is already open on your phone.

At the event Sit at the back or sides of the room. I find other audience members tend to get irritated by my flipping between phone and laptop, and this in turn distracts me. Live-tweeting takes focus – distractions aren’t welcome!

Don’t worry if you start tweeting a quote, but then the speaker comes up with a far more interesting one you’d rather tweet. Delete your draft so far and go for it.

You will miss quotes – that’s part of the nature of tweeting live. You’re giving your audience the most salient points, not a blow-by-blow documentation of the event.

You’ll find as you type quotes in that most come up over 140 characters. You’ll need to crop sentences all the time. Paraphrase succinctly, using just a very short quoted phrase if that helps. If only one tag will fit in the tweet, I usually put the speaker.

Tag anyone relevant to a specific quote; for instance, when Gonzalo Vargas Llosa mentioned the UNHCR, I tagged them in the tweet. It’s a great way to get your live tweets more exposure.

If you notice typos or misquotes after you’ve published a tweet, I copy the tweet, paste in a new one, delete the original one and republish the correct tweet. Don’t worry about the tweets being out of time sequence. After Remember a concluding tweet so your followers know it’s over. You also might want to post any follow-up links.

New followers, likes and retweets will continue for hours and usually the next couple of days after the event.

Repeat at your next event!

How to create a timeline using Timeline JS

Want to know how to create a timeline like this for your website?

Timeline JS is a useful, easy and open-source tool that enables you to build visually rich, interactive personal timelines.

If you are a beginner, you can create a timeline using a Google spreadsheet.

1. STEP ONE – SPREADSHEET

Get the template sheet from here – you will need a Gmail account. Once you have your Google spreadsheet, click on2at the top left. From here, you can start editing your timeline.

num 1
Credit: Debora Aru

2. STEP TWO – ENTER DATE

NB: Don’t change the column headers, don’t remove any columns, and don’t leave any blank rows in your spreadsheet – just edit the content.

In the first four columns A-D are the dates of your timeline entry.  Enter the year and/or month and/or day and/or even the time of a particular event. For BC dates, you need to use a negative year, such as -600. 

3
Credits: Debora Aru

Columns E-H are optional. You have the option to add end dates. Spans of time will display in the bottom portion of the timeline.

Column represents a “display date” over any slide of your timeline. It can be helpful so that TimelineJS knows how to display the date.

4
Credits: Debora Aru

3. STEP THREE – CONTENT EDITING AND ADDING MEDIA

Columns Jcontain the headline and the body text of your timetable.

You can add your media in column L by entering the link to the media you want to display. TimelineJS supports several sources like Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Google Maps, DropBox, DocumentCloud, Wikipedia, SoundCloud, Storify, iframes, and videos from major video sites like YouTube or Vimeo. Read the complete list here.

In column M, you can credit the media’s original source, and in column N you can include a short caption.

To set the background of the slide to a specific colour,  enter a CSS hex color value, CSS named color, or the URL to an image in the Background column R.

4. STEP FOUR – PUBLISH YOUR TIMELINE

Once you have finished editing your spreadsheet, you are ready to publish it. Click on “File” at the top left of your Google spreadsheet and select “publish to the web“.

6
Credits: Timeline JS

Then click the blue “publish” button.

7
Credits: Timeline JS

In the pop-up window, make sure you are under the Link tab, then make sure that “Automatically republish when changes are made” is checked and that “Entire Document” is selected. Now, copy the URL that appears in the centre of the window.

8
Credits: Timeline JS

5. STEP FIVE – READY TO PUBLISH?

Paste spreadsheet URL into the box in the bottom of this page (make sure you’ve published the spreadsheet),  and check you’re happy with the width, height, language, font etc.

9
Credits: Timeline JS

Your code has now been generated. You just need to copy this embed code into your website.

10
Credits: Timeline JS

Easy, isn’t it?

 

My Excel tips for journalists

Me

 I created this (blog?) for myself so I can keep on top of Excel. I am going to add to it throughout the year when I learn new functions.

Excel might not look like the friendliest of Microsoft programmes but it is important for every journalist to understand.

I think of Excel or Google sheets (the equivalent of Excel on Google drive) as a giant calculator.

  1. Creating formulas

Each cell in Excel can contain a calculation or formula. When entering your formula, start by typing the = (equals) sign then the rest.

You can make simple calculations in Excel like addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. But you can also calculate averages, medians, and ratios.

If you put in a colon then it will highlight all numbers in between (ex: b2:b7)

To get a percentage then multiply by 100 or use the percentage symbol

Ratios is just the division of two cells. Use when talking about something being x times as big as y

In this example, in my data journalism class, we calculated the ratio of EU claimants by population.
how to do ratios

Averages (or mean) is just adding up all the numbers and dividing the result by how many numbers there are.

To calculate an average type =AVERAGE and then the numbers of the selected lists

For example =AVERAGE(A2:A7)

The same goes for calculating a median: =median(value1:value2)

handy formulas Example
=Average =Average(value1:value2)
=median =median(value1:value2)

 

  1. Applying the same formula to the same column and paste options

Move mouse over bottom right to right to copy function and apply it to equivalent rows/columns

Use $ to lock one cell while cycling through others

For the same exercise, we used the $ sign to lock the result of EU claimants per UK population

 

dollar sign

 

Paste is Excel has different functions:

  • paste special takes the final result of a formula and pastes it somewhere else
  • paste format: replicates the format of something else

Just right click on the cell you want to paste and select Paste Special.

paste functions

  1. Calculating a Percentage point change:

Percentage point change is the unit for the difference of two percentages i.e going from 40% to 44% is a 4 percentage point increase

To calculate a percentage point change in excel we divide the new by the old. This tell us what percentage the new number is of the old one.

Now we need to find out how our new figure compares to 100%. In order to find this out we need to ask ourselves what is 100% minus our new percentage.

In decimal terms, 100% is 1.0, so we type 1- in front of our previous calculation.

Note: Important to put the first bit in brackets so we ensure that it is calculated separately.

If we find a downward change then we will need to calculate the entire thing by (-1) to reflect that change

This is an example we did for my data class:

 

unemployed population rate
2010 50 100 50.00%
2015 55 100 55.00%
percentage point change 5.00%
percentage change 10%

 

To practice these Excel basic skills, try one of the Guardian’s (link to name) data sets! http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/interactive/2013/jan/14/all-our-datasets-index

 

Using Twitter Well: The Strange Case of J.K Rowling and Wings Over Scotland

Twitter, rather than existing as an amorphous abstract cloud of individual opinions, links and gifs, is closely bound up with existing communities and groups.

Scotland is notable for the skill of its political classes on Twitter. The leaders of the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives are all adept tweeters. They joke, snipe, tease and engage with their own followers and those of rival parties.

As Twitter is one of the major methods of public communication between Scottish journalists and politicians it is unsurprising that events on the site frequently make the news.

Last week provided quite a spectacular example.

On Sunday, the Scottish Rugby team lost a quarter final game of the Rugby World Cup against Australia.

It was a tight, emotional and highly charged defeat and many supporters took to Twitter to express their grief.

J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series quoted a tweet which said: ‘Don’t care. Scotland were magnificent!!! Magnificent!!!’

 Stuart Campbell, curator of the popular pro-independence blogging site wingsoverscotland.com replied:

And that’s when Scottish Twitter went into meltdown. Campbell’s comments were spread across the internet, Rowling responded, and Twitter opinion fell down firmly on the side of the author. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted her tacit support,  

Campbell refused to apologise for his comments and posted a list of prominent journalists who had also told other tweeters to ‘f*** off’.

From his perspective there was no story. What on earth was remarkable about one tweeter swearing at another? Did he have a point?

Users swear at each other all the time on Twitter, why should this particular incident be news-worthy?

The spat goes to the heart of the ‘social versus media’ nature of Twitter.

Often journalists forget that most people are not on Twitter to just read their tweeted stories but to interact with other users, watch videos and tell jokes.

Twitter is a functional social area, and thus it is unsurprising that most people expect people to behave as they would in ‘real-life’.

In ‘real-life’ exchanges between celebrities or other prominent people are reported on, it is part of the bread and butter of journalism.

Rowling is a world famous author and became a prominent ‘no’ campaigner in last year’s referendum.

Although his popularity is not quite as stratospheric, Campbell is a well-known figure in Scottish politics. Wings over Scotland is a very successful site, it has thousands of readers in Scotland and played a huge role in influencing Scottish political debate during the referendum.

 

Tweeters thought the winner of the Twitter spat was obvious…

The point should be obvious.

While it might indeed be un-newsworthy when users without the profile Rowling and Campbell enjoy are at each other’s’ throats when one of the biggest names in Scottish ‘new media’ swears at the country’s most famous author in an online tantrum after a national rugby game the news value is evident.

The story also falls within a long running narrative, that of the pernicious ‘cybernat’, the keyboard nationalist who hides behind a glowing screen accusing people of being ‘anti-Scottish’ and ‘quislings’.

De-toxifying the idea of nationalism has been a key part of the SNP’s strategy in the past few years.

Instinctively wary of flag-waving political enthusiasts the SNP have had to patiently put the case to Scotland and Britain that nationalism is not such a dangerous creed as many suppose.

They have had some success, support for the party and independence has never been higher, but, as it should be obvious, outbursts like Campbell’s do not help.

As Sturgeon tweeted, it ‘does our cause no good to hurl abuse.’

J.K Rowling reacts to Campbell’s comment

Campbell is, to some extent, a savvy media operator, but the lack of understanding that the ‘social’ side to Twitter is as important as the ‘media’ side and that our online personalities are crucial in how we might put across our political views and news to others is short-sighted and damaging.

Perhaps I am being naïve, maybe Campbell is completely aware and goes out of his way to cultivate his particular online persona described by STV’s digital correspondent Stephen Daisley as ‘…brash, aggressive, personal. Other blogs shoot from the hip; Wings shoots its targets in the hip.’

To his followers ‘Wings’ is a one man army against the unthinking unionist establishment media, fighting a lonely battle against misrepresentation and one of the few genuine voices in Scotland who tells the truth as it is.

But all people see if they have never come into contact with him or his site before is one man swearing at the woman who wrote Harry Potter.

It is not a good look.

It is easy ammunition for his opponents, further embeds ideas of ‘cybernattery’, scares off those floating voters and makes the media space in Scotland a more aggressive and threatening place.

In short it’s a tactical disaster for the pro-independence movement. Perhaps more importantly than any of these reasons though, is that is just downright unpleasant.

Some Tweeters did not see what all the fuss was about

If the internet is an extension of our social space why should it be acceptable to behave differently online than how we might interact were we face-to-face?

I would be interested to know, would Campbell still tell Rowling to ‘f*** off’ if she was standing next to him watching the rugby in the stadium?

Decency, politeness and respect are important in the public space. Indeed, it is the only way debate and honest disagreement can fruitfully take place.

Twitter is a powerful tool for journalists. Used well it enables you to find previously unreachable readers from all across the world, build committed and engaged communities and nurture a network of contacts and friends.

But used poorly it can damage the public arena by toxifying public debate, increasing feelings of intimidation and reducing disagreement and debate to aggression and insults.

Last Sunday Rowling said that all ‘Wings’ contributed to Scottish political discussion was ‘bile.’

If he does not stop soon, that’s all anyone else will be able to see too.

 

J.K Rowling, photo by Daniel Ogren [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cath Levett: The Guardian Head of Graphics

Credit: The Guardian

Visualising your story is a key aspect of a lot of data journalism. While there are stories that don’t require a visualisation, be it a simple or complex, many more do and getting that right is key for readers and journalists.

I caught up with Cath Levett, Head of Graphics and Interactives at the Guardian Media Group, to find out about their approach to data visualisations, the future, and what they think is important.

Cath Levett Credit: Cath Levett via Twitter
Cath Levett Credit: Cath Levett via Twitter

The Guardian has a reputation for some of the most visually impressive graphics and data representations out there, with this in mind I asked Cath:

What do you do on a daily basis what are the processes behind how the Guardian go about building their graphics?

“My job has moved very quickly from being a person who does design work physically to being somebody who has ideas and focus on the best way to tell a story. In that way it’s quite nebulus, its all about how we approach things.

“While retaining similar elements the process we go through to create a visualisation will differ every time. We always sit down in a project group, there will be a developer, a designer, another senior editor and a journalist in attendance at least.

“What we try and work out is what is the story and what are we are to tell. Then we sketch out a plan and start designing.”

Cath summed up the process as “being about playing around and aggressive collaboration. If one person tries to do it the result is chaos and nothing gets done.”

What tools do you use to build the Guardian’s visualisation?

“We start with pens and paper and whiteboards. We sketch, sketch over each others work and come up with an idea. Then will use Adobe illustrator or photoshop to render it.

Only at the point we have a good plan do we start building the graphic. We use a variety of tools to do that; D3 is one of the most common tools we use but we also use CSS, JQuery and Javascript libraries for example. We use pretty much anything with Javascript.

“We also use more simple tools depending on the project but a lot of our stuff comes from D3 now.”

What makes good visual journalism?

“Anything can be good visual journalism, be it a rich interactive with photos, an immersive snow fall or could just a simple bar chart that tells the story in one second. It all depends on the story and what you are trying to tell.”

“You should not get confused by saying that a great visualisation is a brilliant technical project, it really is about the right approach for each story. It is all about the reader and better informing them and enhancing journalism

“Things go wrong when they don’t collaborate or aren’t sure what’s going on. Often this is for the right reasons as they’ve come to a project late. Setting aside egos is the key to visualisations really. Recently one of our data team did this huge investigation which took weeks and we decided that the best way to use it was just written into the story rather than a big visualisation. That attitude is really key.”

How do you communicate accuracy of data and statistical variance while still making sure graphics look good?

“Well it is very difficult to communicate these things, it doesn’t really come across my desk if I’m honest.

“But I think it is about who you are aiming to inform. You would have the hurricane paths if you were writing for an economic paper but its different in journalism. It certainly isn’t about dumbing down, instead it is about showing what is key and answering our readers questions.

“We take a lot of pride in our data at the Guardian, we always use the correct data, if it is in any way flawed we won’t touch it and will only go ahead with visuals when have the correct data. This is really important to us, visualisation is as much about good data as great presentation. Otherwise you aren’t telling readers the truth.

“An example of this how we scale data, we don’t. We always just show how it is, that’s the data. You can’t exaggerate to make it exciting because that is just a lie.”

How do you strike a balance between print and online?

“It is difficult, it is fun but it’s definitely a challenge. A good example is that we’ve been building some fantastic interactives for the election, and now the print edition has caught up with the need to do election pull-outs and specials but if we were going to do them separately it’d be very labour intensive.

“Thankfully now we’re working more and more in D3 we can crowbar the visualisations off and put it into print relatively easily, with only minor changes. We do have to condense things much more as we are obviously digita first and online there is much more space, but this is just distilling down and editing out.”

Speak of the election, how did you set out to approach it and visualise it?

“Our priority was to set out for the clearest possible narrative for readers in all out visualisation. We asked our selves what we are we going need to show them. This could be making sure they have access to the day-by-day polling data or what the policies from the different parties are.

“To this end we had focus groups in and came up with seven or eight key interactives. Probably the best is the Guardian Poll Projection.

“Although it’s a model it is our model and we are very clear about the hierarchy so that solved a lot of problems for us. We put it in D3 again, like a lot of election interactives, which makes it very editable and can be run from a Google spreadsheet polling wise. It is a really good example of how great visualisations are about bringing different peoples expertise together.”

Credit: The Guardian
Credit: The Guardian

Where going what are the main challenges going forward for data visualisations?

“It is all about making sure put the reader into the story and asking where they fit into the story. Journalism is all about telling the story and that is what we need to keep in mind.

“For example for the World Health Organisation Obesity Index data you could visualise it simply as a map, or you could make it a data set where the reader is involved and they input their data and see what they are in the world. It could be are you fatter than a Samoan or skinner than Ethiopian.

“Or take the Tour de France where you could measure your cycling speed against Chris Froome. This sort of stuff is difficult but its about addressing our key challenge, making sure the readers get the best experience from our visualisations.”

“Our other main challenge is staying abreast of technological change which is still moving very quickly indeed.

Is the future mobile then?

“Yes, it is where 60 per cent of our traffic comes from – more at the weekend.

“We have a mobile first approach, if the visualisations don’t work there then they don’t work. Everything is designed for each mobile breakpoint, portrait and landscape on mobile, small and big tablets. We try and cover all the angles.

“Even now we are designing for the Apple Watch and other wearables which will be a new breakpoint, but to make sure we stay on top we have to keep ahead of the curve.”

That revelation seems the perfect point to stop on and Cath has to go back up to cover the election. I leave with the importance of mobile and keeping readers needs are your key goal firmly stuck in my head, better equipment to visualise my data in the future.

How to write a data story with bad data

The General Election is the most important media event of the year. Its a chance to earn your stripes as a journalist and get some page leads in your portfolio.

This was the thought I had last week when I was on work experience with the Times’ Redbox supplement. If you’ve heard of Redbox, you’re probably also aware of their strong emphasis on data driven journalism. Redbox receives exclusive polling data from Yougov to keep them ahead of the curve.

I wanted to prove that I could write strong data stories. I had already been working on a feature about young candidates in the election, and thought it could work as a data story. Only problem is, the data on parliamentary candidates themselves is inconsistent as hell.

I used a website called Your Next MP, which had a spreadsheet of every candidate running in the election this year.

The data was pretty bad. There were huge chunks of information missing, no guarantee on the accuracy of the data and another journalist mentioned “crowdsourcing” when the website came up in conversation.

What should you do in this position? Do you give up after days of research and interviewing? Do you try and find a different angle that doesn’t need data?

It might not look exactly how you thought it would from the beginning, but a bad or incomplete dataset doesn’t have to mean the story is dead. there’s lots of ways you can tell a strong, accurate data story that don’t involve perfect data.

 

Clean it

My battle with the data
My battle with the data

First thing’s first, you can’t do anything with a messy dataset. You should clean what information you do have so you at least know the extent of the problem. To view how much data you have to talk about, right-click on the column you’re looking at (in my case this was “birth date”), select “filter” and select the values you want to keep. Although this is not a definitive list it gave me an large cross-section of young candidates to research and talk about further in my story.

You might find that the data your left with is incomplete but it still paints an interesting picture and backs up what you already know. Equally, you could find that you simply do not have enough information to make your story data-centric. Either way you need to know. Make a note of the change with each stage of the cleaning process so you know how inconsistent your data actually is. Then you can make an informed decision on how important a role the stats will be able to play. You can find out more on how to clean data from this handy guide, or in this video.

 

Cite your sources.

Crowd-sourcing site Your Next MP
Crowd-sourcing site Your Next MP

You should be doing this anyway, but it’s even more important if you’re worried about the accuracy of your data. Take yournextmp.com as an example. I was fully prepared to analyse information on incumbents on this site for a data story on same-sex marriage. That is until I spoke to Roger Smith at the Press Association:

“The information is gathered through crowdsourcing, which makes it really rather unreliable. There may well be quite a few last-minute withdrawals and so the data’s accuracy can’t be guaranteed.”

This looks like a death sentence for your feature, but it’s actually something you can work with. As long as you know and acknowledge that the dataset you have doesn’t tell the whole story, you still have the basis for an insightful piece that is enhanced by data.

 

 

Don’t analyse too deeply

Atrapitis

Do not be tempted to over-alter the dataset to find an angle . The chances are that anything you do to the set beyond just cleaning will create further inaccuracies. Abandon any grand ideas you had of merging with polling data or finding average ages. It’s not going to work. Here’s an example of a dataset I had to work with which had the same issues.

Remember that the data will not tell the whole story, but you can look at it and analyse it to get some interesting statistics to illustrate your bigger point.

 

 

 

Avoid misleading visualisations

Here's one I made earlier...
Here’s one I made earlier…

For the same reason that you shouldn’t be analysing the data too deeply, you shouldn’t be putting the information you do have into a graph. Graphs and maps assume that the data is gospel. If you can’t guarantee that then any visualisation is misleading and uninformative.

 

Focus on people, places and personalities

using candidate data to make contacts
using candidate data to make contacts

Your data is not going to be the hook of a ground-breaking discovery, but it’s actually very rare for data to make front page news. Instead, you should be using your data as a starting point to explore different areas, people and trends. Say your story is about candidates under 20 running in the election, and you can only find 8 people who fit the bill, even though you know there’s more. Use the number of candidates you have found as a contact list rather than the story, and before you know it you have some interesting insights into the political careers of teenagers.

 

So there you have it. Use this guide any time you have a dataset you feel very uncomfortable using as the basis of a story, or even if you’re new to data journalism and don’t know what to analyse. You don’t have to be a statistician to create great data stories.

 

I didn’t get on to the Telegraph grad scheme, but you might

This time a few months ago, I was spening hours anxiously opening up incognito windows to get through the Telegraph‘s paywall and reading lots of old newspapers, in my efforts to give myself a decent chance of getting on to the Telegraph‘s graduate training scheme.

I made it through to the final round – a daunting day-long assessment at the Buckingham Palace Road offices.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the call – but at least the process has given me lots of valuable experience of the interview, which will hopefully give others a better shot at getting the job. Here’s how it went.

Stage 1: The application

The Telegraph’s application is probably the lengthiest one that you’ll do. Others generally ask for a CV, cover letter and some clippings – The Telegraph asks “if you could ask any person one question, what would it be and why?”

Cilla Black it ain’t.

There’s also a video element to the initial application. Rather than giving another written answer, you have to film a short video of yourself answering the question – my question was to explain a recent piece of journalism that I liked, and explain why. Don’t worry about this – I filmed mine in selfie mode in my bedroom while wearing my pyjamas. Like the rest of the application, it’s all about what you say and how intelligently you can back it up.

Don’t worry if you submit your application shortly before the deadline, as I did – for the 2015 intake, the deadline was extended and applications re-opened after they finished the first time. I finally submitted my application around an hour before the deadline on the final day of the extension. I got an interview, so I’m presuming they don’t care too much about that.

There’s a few tricky questions in there that you might not be used to if you’ve been applying for lots of grad schemes. The online application includes fields like “what would you do to improve The Telegraph‘s editorial offering?”, and “what are the three main resources you use to keep up with the news?”, and “name a journalist you look up to, and explain why”.

They’re unusual, and require a little more thought than the typical application. The important thing to do is: be honest. 

The people who work there are much cleverer than you, and they’ll be able to tell if you’re just making stuff up to sound more impressive. My suggestion for improving the editorial offering was to “make the paper smaller”, and I said Tintin was the journalist I looked up to most. I was worried that they’d see me as a bit of dick, but I thought it was better to be honest and say things that I would be able to convincingly back up in an interview – rather than saying what I thought they’d want to hear.

You will be quizzed on what you say in this initial application at the interview stage – so if you give your own ideas, it’ll be easier for you to talk about them with authority and clarity. Remember, they want to know what you can bring to the table, so come up with some original ideas that you believe in, rather than parroting what you’ve read in media blogs.

Try to show yourself as the likeable, normal human that you are, rather than some sort of perfect journalist superhero. It’ll help you get an interview.

Stage 2: The interview

Well done! Those 5 hours you spent doing the initial application paid off, and you’ve made it to the interview stage. Out of roughly 2000 applicants, around 40-50 people make it through to this stage, so congrats for making it this far.

You will be individually interviewed by two members of senior editorial staff, and three interviewees have their interviews in the same slot – so there’s an opportunity to have some nervous small-talk with other applicants before you go in (or play mind games if you’re a total bastard). You’re not interviewed with other people, don’t worry.

Each interview takes 50 minutes, which sounds absolutely terrifying – when it actually happens, the time flies by, and it actually works in your favour. With such a long interview, you have time to ‘umm’ and ‘ah’, and wander off topic a little bit.

Obviously, you shouldn’t be going off on 10-minute long tangents. But The Daily Mail‘s grad scheme interviews are only 20 minutes long – there’s a lot of pressure to be on point all the time, because there’s not enough room to hesitate.

With The Telegraph, there’s a little bit more wiggle room. Feel free to expand on points you make if you’re prepared and they look interested – there’s plenty of time, and they’ll gently move on to the next question if they think you’ve gone on enough.

Honestly – I enjoyed my interview. It’s more of a chat about you and your career than a scary interview, and they’re not trying to trip you up or grill you. There were a few difficult questions that I wasn’t prepared for, but after a few seconds of thinking I managed to answer. Just make sure you know the industry really well.

And, more superficially, remember to speak confidently and loudly. Try not to shout in their faces, but if you’re confident and assertive then that will help you, and it’ll be good practice for the next stage.

If you’ve been invited for an interview, beating over 1,900 people in the process, they clearly see something in you – so try to conquer your nerves and don’t be a wallflower.

And finally – dress smartly. The Telegraph is known as one of the more formal papers, so naturally a suit and a tie for guys is basically mandatory. For girls, go smart. Many of the girls at both my interview stages were in dresses and heels, and they weren’t out of place at all. Don’t worry about being too formal – it’s pretty hard to be overdressed at a Telegraph job interview.

And remember to bring some clippings with you – they probably won’t directly ask for them, but it helps if you can back up what you say with proof.

For the sake of length, here’s a few questions I got asked.

  • What’s a piece of work you’ve done that you’re especially proud of?
  • When have you faced difficulty in your career, and how did you overcome it?
  • What do you like about The Telegraph, and what could we improve on?
  • Which of our writers do you especially like, and why?

A lot of the conversation will come from what you wrote in your application. For example, I mostly wrote about digital aspects of journalism, so most of our conversation was about data journalism, coding and which websites I like. Again, be honest in your application because it’ll make this part much easier.

Stage 3: The assessment day

Double congratulations! This is the final round of the application process. There will be around 15 people at this stage, and you’re all working together for most of the day. Again, less than 1% of all applicants get through to this stage – so you’ve done very well to get here.

Bear in mind that even if you think you’re not qualified enough for the grad scheme, give it a go anyway. Three of the six people who got on this year were City University MA students, but another two were still undergraduates. If you’re confident that you’ve got good work experience and the ability to do it, then you can.

The assessment day seems like it would be really daunting, but honestly – I enjoyed it. If you want to be a journalist, you should like talking about the industry and debating with people, and that’s pretty much what this day is about. If I knew the day was going to be as good as it was, I wouldn’t have been nearly as nervous the night before.

Task 1: Debates

The day kicks off with a couple of debates, involving all of you – you’re sat round a big table, and the staff will give you a question to discuss amongst yourselves. The first of the two is moderated a little bit by the staff, and they may steer the conversation back to the question if you veer off, or pick people to speak if they haven’t said anything. The second is totally unmoderated and it’s up to you lot to speak freely.

The two topics that we got were fairly general, thought-provoking questions – one was ‘is social media degrading our personal relationships?’. They will be fairly open-ended questions, but you’ll have no idea what they are before you go. So don’t worry about preparing anything specific for them in advance – just make sure you’ve got your debating hat on.

Based on my feedback, this is a fairly important bit. I was told that I wasn’t quite forceful enough – I spoke up and contributed to the debate quite a lot, but they’re really looking for a lot of urgency. Don’t be afraid to fight your corner and disagree with people. Try to look engaged as well. This should come naturally to a lot of people, but in my feedback they mentioned that I was leaning back in my chair a lot and looking a bit too casual. That’s just the way I am, so if you are too then make sure you’re sitting forward and really looking like you’re getting stuck into it.

Obviously, don’t be a dick. Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone there who tried to shout down everyone, but there might be when you do it. If you’re being a dick, they probably won’t hire you – they have to work with you after all. But really do your best to speak up, be aggressive in your involvement and disagree with people. There’s a fine line between the two, and arguing like this may take you out of your comfort zone – but if you really throw yourself into it, show confidence in your opinion and generally guide the debate, you’ll do well.

Task 2: Presentations

Even if you’re totally comfortable with public speaking, this should be the most nerve-wracking part of the day. You’ll be speaking in front of all the other applicants, and around 7 Telegraph senior staff – so the pressure is on.

You’ll be asked to speak for five minutes on a topic given to you a week or so before the assessment day. Everyone has the same topic – mine was ‘what will The Telegraph be like in 2025′? They’re fairly open-ended, so you’ve got some room to be creative. Some people gave their presentation as if it was 2025, looking back on the last ten years. I chose to be fairly informal and just gave my thoughts on the sorts of things the paper will have to do to stay relevant in the next ten years. Everyone did well, and as long as you present with a good amount of confidence and have some interesting stuff to say, you’ll be fine. There’s plenty of advice on public speaking around the internet so I won’t bore you with it here.

Obviously there’s no guarantee that the question will be related to The Telegraph, but if it is, don’t be afraid to flatter the paper a little bit. I made a few criticisms of their digital operation during my presentation, but I get the feeling I’d do a bit better if I’d buttered them up a bit more.

Hopefully you’ll be one of the first – the presentations are only five minutes each, but when there’s 15 people there, you can be waiting a while for your turn, with the nerves getting worse every second. Try to relax, this is the easiest bit of the day, and you’ll speak better if you’re calm too.

Task 3: The written section

The first few parts of the written part of the assessment are fairly run of the mill.

First up, there’s a spelling test, of around 20 tricky words. There’s not much you can do to prepare for this, really. If you’re not too confident, cast your eye over some lists of commonly mispelled words and you should be fine.

The second part is the news quiz – this is important. Obviously, if you want to be a journalist, you need to know about what’s going on in the world. I did pretty badly on this, and if really ruined my chances – so if you think they’re not going to reject you just because you got a few news questions wrong, think again.

Make sure you’ve got your finger on the pulse of pop culture, and try to read the paper every day for a couple of weeks before. There were a couple on small, ‘also in the news’ stories, so keep an eye on them. Names are also important – I was asked to name the male and female leads of 50 Shades of Grey, as well as the Ukrainian PM. Get revising before, because it’s important.

The third part is a newswriting test – you’re given a short AP story, and you need to condense it into a 25-word news story intro, and a 14-character headline. The short headline was pretty tricky, but if you’ve got any formal training in journalism, you should be OK on this one. If you don’t, get practicing your story introductions by rewriting raw AP stories – try to tell the whole story in a sentence, you’ll get better with practice.

The fourth part is a simple subbing test – you’re given a short passage of copy filled with formatting, spelling and grammar errors, and you have to identify and correct the problems. If you’ve made it this far in the process then you’ve probably got a good eye for that stuff anyway – but read it very closely, because there’s a few tiny errors that you won’t spot.

The fifth part is the trickiest. You’re given a sheet that looks a bit like an itinerary – it details two days’ development of a fictional breaking news story (mine was a UK ebola outbreak). You play the role of a news editor deciding how to cover it, and how to manage your team of reporters.

It might start off by saying: ‘9:00AM – reports of a ebola case at a London hospital’, and goes on to include updates on the story, including odd ones like ’12:00AM – someone phones the newsdesk offering to sell an exclusive photo of the patient – do you buy it?’

It’s quite tricky, but it’s a good chance to show off your creativity – try to mention multimedia coverage, and interesting ways to use the reporters at your disposal, beyond the usual ‘send someone to stand outside the hospital’.

It’s a big task and you only have around 50 minutes to do it. The time got away from me, but there’s four pages’ worth of coverage planning to fill – morning, afternoon, evening and the next day. So make sure you manage your time well and really make the most of your limited space. This is another task that’s hard to prepare for, as it’s basically a creativity and organisational exercise – just make sure you know a lot about the industry and innovative developments in journalism beforehand, and you should have plenty of good stuff to write.

That’s it!

Finally, the day is over. There’s a pub called The Victoria right over the road from the office, so I would suggest you go there and talk it over.

Hopefully you’ve done well, if not, you’ve gained some really valuable experience for future assessments. It’s a good way to get your foot in the door at the paper, as well. And even if you fail, the feedback you’ll get afterwards is really insightful.

If you’re successful, you’ll be starting a 2-year training course in the following September.

Just don’t mention it to me, I’m still pretty bitter.

What’s on Reddit’s front page?

Reddit is an online super-community with hundreds of millions of users, and has become in recent years an arbiter of what’s cool and what’s not on the web. If something makes it to the front page of reddit, where it is most visible, it will inevitably receive millions of views.

Reddit stats

The way the site works is users post content – pictures, article links, conversation starters etc – and the success of that content is determined by whether the reddit community likes it (upvotes) or talks about it (comments) or just clicks on it.

Submissions are made to the relevant subreddit – a subject specific community – and should they prove popular, can rise to the front page. This is the reddit mainstream. And I scraped it.

Digg vs Reddit via Quantcast
Digg vs Reddit via Quantcast

Three times a day, for two weeks, in March and April of this year, I scraped the data from front page of r/all to see what is popular on reddit, and what that means.

Reddit is growing. It’s the 58th most visited site on the net (up 6 places from last quarter), and the 21st most popular in the US. Since it defeated Digg at the turn of the decade, reddit has established itself as really the only aggregate site in town – and with that comes power.

If reddit helps shape the internet conversation, what does the data say about reddit?

reddittop25 This is the top 25 subreddits over that fortnight of scrapeage – the front page of subs, if you will.

Perhaps predictably, r/funny is at the top. It appeared the most on the front page, received the most upvotes, and the second most comments because, naturally, it has the most subscribers (over 6 million).

Other predictably popular subs include memes (#2), cute animal pics (#4) and video games (#5).

Interestingly, a few of the more stereotypically reddit subs barely made the front page, or didn’t even at all. The site is known for its militant atheism, and yet that subreddit only made it to #25. While the site’s marijuana predilection could only reach #26 – no place with the best of the best.

Only two of the top-25 are substantially NSFW (Not Safe For Work). The sub r/WTF – wherein people post strange and disturbing things – is about a third NSFW whereas r/gonewild, the site’s most popular porn sub, is exclusively not for the workplace (unless you work from home).

The rankings largely stay the same when using comments instead of upvotes as the key parameter, except there is a notable rise of interaction-led subs like r/askreddit and r/IAmA. Askreddit, in particular, skyrockets to the top of the front page despite only appearing 9 times over the two weeks to r/funny’s 226.

As for the average scores and comments for front-page posts, r/pics and r/askreddit are respectively the top dogs. Where r/funny rules in front page appearances and accumulated points, it doesn’t even reach the top 10 in either category. That suggests that reddit’s biggest sub is more quantity than quality.

There is an obvious outlier amongst these broad and mainstream subs and that is r/leagueoflegends.

It’s a community dedicated to an exceedingly popular 2012 PC game. With almost 500,000 subscribers, it is the 41st largest subreddit but its community activity exceeds even that.

Stats for r/leagueoflegends
Stats for r/leagueoflegends

One of the moderators of r/league of legends, arya, said: “This subreddit is the largest unofficial community for LoL. We get between 500-1000 new subscribers per day I’d estimate. Big events do show an influx of new users and higher activities. I remember during Worlds when the stream shut down due to technical errors, the thread about it reached the top of r/all within minutes.

KingKrapp, another mod, said: “From what we’ve experienced, a lot of our users only come here and don’t really interact with the rest of reddit. We’re a very specific community compared to other big subs.”

It’s the success of niche-y subs like r/leagueoflegends that prompted reddit to introduce trending subreddits at the top of the front page in April.

Umbrae, mod for trendingsubreddits, said: “The thinking behind trending was essentially that there’s a lot of diversity to reddit, but that many of the visitors to the homepage don’t see or understand that. This gives a good hint to the breadth of reddit, while at the same time giving deeply engaged folks a new source of interesting communities.”

The initiative has so far been a success, with Umbrae reporting: “A lot of smaller subs have definitely gotten exposure.”

 

alluvial2

 

Only 20% of top subreddits are not and have never been default to new subscribers. Default subreddits have more subscribers (naturally) and more interaction, but they consequently have less community.

At the beginning of May, r/mildlyinteresting became a default sub. Its popularity, according to mod RedSquaree, is because “all the content is original, and chances are that nobody has seen anything posted here before. It also doesn’t aim to be amazing content, so expectations are low and people are happy.”

mildly interesting stats
Stats from r/mildlyinteresting

Of its new status, RedSquaree said: “Our growth was very steady until the recent increase as a result of being a default. [It has led to] more removals and a deteriorating comments section.”

It seems that a sizeable sub comes at the expense of a close community. Karmanaut, mod of r/IAmA, said: “Unfortunately, there isn’t a very strong r/IAma community. I think one of the main reasons behind this is that there is no core of submitters, because there are very few people with multiple submissions. Unlike most other subreddits, all of r/IAmA is original content and has to be done by the original person. And each person has a limited involvement. In its infancy, there was a smaller group of individuals who were very involved in the subreddit but since growing to its larger size, those individuals are no longer necessary to recruit AMA subjects.”

So those are the communities, but what do the actual posts say?

Wordcloud

These are the most frequently used words in that two-week period. You can see where the interests of the site lie – there’s an inordinate number of mentions of Oculus, the VR company Facebook bought, compared to the MH370 drama.

Here’s the most popular post of that entire period. It may have only ended up at 4,003 karma but this post received more than 56,000 upvotes.

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 14.40.56

Conclusion

Perhaps it is what it always was, or what it was always going to be, but reddit is largely a chill place. People go on the front page for a joke, a pretty picture, to learn a weird fact, or take part in an amusing straw poll. It’s a nice place to hang out, it isn’t challenging. Its major contribution to the internet conversation is jokes, memes and silly things that will crop up on Buzzfeed a few hours later.

With trendingsubreddits, the site is attempting to change that in a way. Not so much the pleasant interactions, but the homogenized output. Perhaps by promoting the nichier subs, the front page will change.

Because, just as Katy Perry is not an accurate reflection of modern music, neither is r/funny representative of reddit and its many weird and wonderful subs.

Simon Rogers interview: ‘Who cares if I’m still a journalist?’

A veritable giant of data journalism, Simon Rogers launched the Guardian’s Datablog in 2011 before moving over to Twitter where he now manages the site’s vast quantities of data. We asked him about the perils of data journalism’s popularity and where it’s all headed.

Twitter has an unbelievable amount of data – what do you with it all?

It’s a lot of data — around 500 m Tweets a day. What we try to do is tell stories with it, much of which entails making it smaller and more manageable, to filter out the noise that we don’t need. People Tweet how they think and how they behave — the data can show you amazing patterns in the way we respond as humans to events as they happen. When a story breaks somewhere, or a goal is scored or a song is performed, you can discern these ripples across Twitter. It’s getting those ripples out of the data that is the challenge.

What’s the day-to-day like as data editor at Twitter?

It is such a mix and each day brings its own surprises and challenges. At one end of the spectrum I use free tools such as Datawrapper or CartoDB to make maps and charts that respond to breaking news stories or events, such as this one on the spread of Beyonce’s new album or the discussion around events in the Ukraine or the conversation around #Sochi2014. At the other end of the spectrum, I get to work with the data scientists on Twitter’s visual insights team to produce things like this interactive guide to the State of the Union speech or this photogrid of the Oscars, which is essentially a treemap with pictures. Right now we’re thinking ahead to things like the World Cup and the US Midterm Elections to answer the question: how can we use Twitter data to help tell the stories that matter?

Simon rogers twitter

Are you still a journalist?

I’ve wanted to be a journalist since the age of eight and it’s completely in my DNA. Over that time the idea of what was or wasn’t a journalist has completely changed. When I started the Datablog at the Guardian, people asked if data journalism was really journalism at all to which my response was: who cares? My feeling is that you just get on with it and let someone else worry about the definitions. My job is to tell stories and make information more accessible to people. I take Adrian Holovaty’s approach to this:

1. Who cares?

2. I hope my competitors waste their time arguing about this as long as possible.

What do you think about the Guardian’s Datablog since you left?

The Datablog was my baby and always will be special to me but I have to let it go and not interfere, so that’s what I’m going to do.

 guardian datablog

What drove you to found Datablog?

We had a lot of data that’s we’d collected to help the graphics team and we also saw there was a growing group of open data enthusiasts out there who were hungry for the raw information. So that’s how it started: as a way to get the data out there to the world and make is accessible.

Have you found there any difference in the attitudes towards or ideas about data journalism in the US and UK?

The differences in data journalism mirror the differences in reporting I would say. It’s a huge generalisation but I would say US data journalism tends to be about long investigations while a lot of the British reporting is aimed at shorter pieces answering questions. But there are exceptions on both sides. They come from different places: US data journalism is based in the investigative reporting of giants such as Philip Meyer; modern British data journalism was born out the of the open data movement and had at least as much to owe to a desire to free up public information as to big investigations.

Is data journalism ‘having a moment’ or are we in the midst of a very real paradigm shift?

It’s becoming mainstream and, just as in other areas of reporting, it is developing different strands and approaches. Partly because there are just so many stories in data now — and to get those stories journalists need skills and approaches they didn’t use before.

Facts are Sacred

Some have said that data journalism is intellectually elitist, perhaps even already out of touch. How would you respond?

I think we are really at an interesting stage. The last few months have seen a lot of reporting resources put into data journalism, certainly in the US. I think what’s happening is that it is developing different strains — in the same way as you have features and news reporting in traditional journalism. You have the ‘curious questions’ type of data journalism which focuses on asking about oddities; then there is the open data type of data journalism which is all about freeing up information. I’m not convinced that we have as a group got the balance correct between showing off how clever we are and making the data accessible and open. That last part is what I’m interested in. I don’t need to see anyone showing off.

Journalists are no longer just writers, they are designers. How important are pictures, diagrams and infographics?

I speak as someone who has just worked on this range of infographic books for children. We have visual minds and telling a story effectively with images will always have a greater impact than words on a page. Some of the most detailed journalistic work I have ever done has resulted in images and graphics as opposed to long articles.

Have you seen any recent data journalism that has particularly caught your eye? And what is it that you look for in a good article/webpage?

I love the work of the WNYC data journalism team, and La Nacion’s commitment to spreading data journalism and openness in South America is amazing and really powerful.

I love maps but there are just so many of them these days. Is data journalism becoming over-saturated?

There are a lot of maps around but it’s just one visual tool. Maybe we don’t ask enough questions about which type of visualisation is most powerful and important to complement a story or feature and a map is often easiest. But also that reflects the lack of decent tools for us to use. If I want to visualise a Twitter conversation off the shelf, that often means a map or a line chart because that is what I can do easily and quickly on my own. Part of my job is to think about new ways for us to do this in future.

Do you think data journalism runs the risk of looking at the big picture at the expense of the small one?

Not being able to see the wood for the trees? The best data journalism complements the big data picture with the individual stories and story telling that brings those numbers to life. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with amazing reporters who tell very human tales and the numbers just gain so much power from joining those two elements together.

Do you have any favourite data tools – scraping, cleaning, visualising?twitter data

My visual tools of the moment are: CartoDBDatawrapper, Illustrator and newly I love Raw (just discovered it).

Do you have any core principles when deciding how to express data?

I normally start off with some idea of what I’m trying to ask, otherwise the data is just too big to be manageable. Love that moment when you do the grunt work to clean up the data and it starts to tell you something meaningful.

Do you have any tips for aspiring data journalists?

The days when you could get a job in a newsroom just by knowing excel have probably gone or are going. Increasingly the data journalists who succeed will also be able to tell a story. The other piece of advice? Find something that needs doing in the newsroom — that no-one else wants to do — and be the very best in the world at doing it.

 

The 2014 budget highlighted data journalism’s mobile device woes

Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - Telegraph Chart
Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - George Osborne
Image: 38 Degrees

Data journalism is in vogue these days so what better time to draw up a graph than at budget time, when communicating lots of numbers efficiently is the top priority? The 2014 Budget saw some great data coverage across the board, but it also showed that one of data journalism’s biggest challenges was finding a format that works well on mobile devices. In this post I’ll take you through some of the stuff that worked really well on mobile and other stuff that didn’t translate from desktop.

Why is it important that data journalism works on mobile?

At the Digital Media Strategies 2014 conference earlier this month, Douglas McCabe of research firm Enders Analysis said that the time people spend on the internet on mobile devices will overtake the time they spend online on a desktop by next year.

If you have a blog, you only need to take a look at your analytics to see how much of your traffic comes from mobile devices. If you haven’t already done so, it will be a lot. It is, therefore, pretty important that your content works well on mobile and that carefully crafted visualisations, designed to make visitors invest some time on your site, don’t leave your readers putting down their phones in frustration.

Try viewing this on mobile if you want to experience what I mean.

2014 budget coverage – the Telegraph

I’m kicking off with the Telegraph‘s coverage because it was probably one of the best for working on mobile devices. (All the screenshots in this article were taken from my iPhone 5, so you would expect that it would be able to handle most things.)

Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - Telegraph Chart
The Telegraph’s data coverage of the 2014 budget with their chart-builder

 

Rather than attempt to embed their charts in the body of their article, the Telegraph programmed this chart viewer using their in-house chart building system and then linked to it from the body of their article. As you can see, it works really well. You can easily have the chart and the accompanying text side by side whilst being able to comfortably read both. It is also interactive and gives you the option of clicking onto the next chart.

This is all very well, but what if you don’t have the time, resources or inclination to build your own in-house chart system? 

The Guardian used Datawrapper to mixed effect on mobile

The Guardian’s data blog is a hotbed of interesting visualisations but for budget day they decided to keep it simple. They used what looks like customised versions of Datawrapper charts to display Osborne’s budget. Datawrapper is really responsive and should theoretically work really well on mobile. So on a day when a lot more people than normal are likely to be reading the data blog it makes sense to keep things simple rather than going for a more detailed graphic.

Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - Guardian Unclear Line Chart
Budget coverage on the Guardian’s data blog

In reality, though there was a slight problem. This is what one of the line charts looked like:

The line of the graph itself showed up fine but the axes didn’t show up on the portrait version of my phone because they were too wide to fit on. Looking at it from this view, the chart isn’t very informative.

This problem was solved when turning the phone to a landscape view and this may seem like a pedantic point to highlight. However, the Guardian were relying on people realising that they needed to tilt their phones when reading the article and could well have confused those who didn’t realise this was needed. Why alienate a part of your audience, however small, when it could be accessible to them all?

When the Guardian’s charts worked well, however, they were probably the most interesting in terms of the story that they were telling. This bar chart showing that since 2010, Osborne’s budgets haven’t been particularly harsh or eventful was something that hadn’t been visualised anywhere else.

Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - Guardian Good Bar
Bar chart from the Guardian’s data blog

The Daily Mail tried hard with a 3D pie chart

The Daily Mail obviously tried to take all this into account by playing it pretty safe with their data coverage. Although not extensive, it did extend to this non-interactive gem of a pie chart:

Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - Mail 3D Pie chart
The Mail commit a cardinal sin with a 3D pie chart

For the purposes of this article, the Mail‘s chart succeeded because it could be read well on mobile. However, in terms of being an effective visualisation it fails miserably, committing a cardinal sin of data journalism. 3D pie charts may look flashy but the very nature of that third dimension skews how big the segments look to the naked eye. In this case the national insurance segment is actually smaller than the ‘other’ segment’ but it would be difficult to tell this by looking at the graph.

Ampp3d’s 2014 budget coverage was designed for mobile

Data Coverage of the Budget 2014 - Ampp3d Bar 2
Ampp3d’s data coverage words really well on mobile

Ampp3d is a relatively new website set up by Trinity Mirror with the remit to create socially shareable data journalism. They run their site on Tumblr and as such it is really responsive to different formats. Ampp3d was basically set up to compare favourably in a piece such as the one I am writing. And, it does.

They, like the Guardian, used Datawrapper to communicate different aspects of the budget. However, because Tumblr is more responsive than the Guardian’s site, the charts’ axes were still visible when the phone was held in portrait mode. This meant that whichever way you looked at it, it was easy for a reader to read the bar chart and subsequently understand the story.

Visualisations will adapt to mobile but we have to adapt as well

None of the visualisations discussed in this post were terrible. There were no attempts at the type of elaborate map that is impossible to read on mobile.  Some were really good and most had only minor flaws. But when trying to persuade somebody to spend time on your site, those minor flaws can be the difference between them staying or bouncing.

Visualisation software will no doubt improve in the future and render many of these problems irrelevant. Until that happens, however, data journalists have to take the limitations of mobile into account, even if it means sacrificing an impressive Tableau for a simple table.

How to extract data from a PDF

We live in a world where PDF is king. Perhaps we could even go as far as to call it the tyranny of the PDF.

Developed in the early 90s as a way to share documents among computers running incompatible software, the Portable Document Format (PDF) offers a consistent appearance on all devices, ensuring content control and making it difficult for others to copy the information contained within.

Continue reading “How to extract data from a PDF”