Facebook Live polls are great, here’s how to make one


You’re a dog person, let’s face it, and It’s because you appreciate a pooch that you share a Facebook Live poll asking users to indicate their preference, between cats or dogs, with a heart or a like.

And why not? Facebook is for sharing. Live is the big push, and these polls are interactive, simple enough to produce for news organisations, and have been well received by the general public.

Like any social innovation, there were teething problems when media outlets first picked it up. Polls were lazy, gimmicky and irritatingly ever-present on newsfeeds.

Facebook identified a problem and they were banned. Matt Navarra, head of content for tech site The Next Web reacted:

After some reflection, Facebook disagreed (or bowed to public pressure) and reinstated the technique – with a caveat or two. They include this direction on their branding resources page.

facebook reaction rules


Before you think about making one, consider the guidelines of use outlined above. Make sure your video follows this simple criteria

  1. Don’t just make a poll. Reactions can’t be the ‘most prominent feature’ so add another layer. Stream something important for people to vote on, like a news conference, or report the news first and foremost, using voting to supplement what you’re doing.
  2. Don’t use simple visuals. Add a live video element, or work on what’s shown in the background. The rules aren’t written, but use the medium to its fullest.
  3. No associating reactions irresponsibly. An angry face for one candidate and a heart for another, during a debate? That’s not democracy.

Want to make one yourself?

You should. Here’s a quick guide on getting started – using OBS studio, and an open source tool for creating polls. There are a few caveats though.

  1. Streaming video is intensive. Your computer may suffer and, even with the video settings used in this guide, your machine may splutter a little.
  2. The tool used to make the polls is a shortcut. It’s quick and easy, but customization options are left wanting. The creative freedom to make some more impressive interactives will require a knowledge of the Facebook API and some developing skills.

But this will do. Here are the basic steps. If you want a TLDR click here.

Step 1: Download and prepare your tools.

We’ll be using the following in this guide:

  • OBS studio. Open Broadcast Software will send the video content you create on your desktop to your Facebook live stream and is the command center through which you’ll operate the controls. Download here.
  • Your image creating software of choice. Be it Photoshop, or open-source alternative GIMP, you’ll use this to create any background assets you may wish to include.
  • This online tool for creating Facebook polls. This is an unofficial generator, created by Hayden Ryan, and will connect to our live video.
  • Might also be worth opening Facebook, too. You’ll need to be broadcasting live from a page and not a personal profile.
Step 2: Make your assets

For this guide, let’s add some interactive elements to POTUS’ congressional address. We’ll broadcast the speech (a live replay stream, but could just as well be actually live), add some data visualisation, or statistics, on the side, and ask viewers to vote for their preferred spending priority below the video. A little like this:

mock up of live video

Using Photoshop/GIMP, design your background asset – considering the video player size and ensuring everything is nice and visible. Facebook recommends an aspect ratio of 16 x 9. Here’s one we made earlier. 

first asset: background image

You’ll also need the link to your video, which you can copy into OBS. The broadcast software will let you add multiple assets, so if you wanted to move images around during the stream, add them as different sources.

Step 3: Generate your video and your polls.

Now it’s time to create your video and get your streaming keys. Head over to your Facebook Page and visit ‘publishing tool’. Press the button to post a live video.

where to find live button

You’ll be presented with this window.

getting your stream key

You’ll need to input the Server URL and Stream Key into OBS, so take a note of these. It’s also advisable to take down the number underlined in red in the above image. This is the Video ID and is used to connect the poll to the video.

To make the poll, head to this link and complete the form, making sure to copy and paste the right ID into the first box.

The form is relatively customisation: you can select polls with two, three or six reactions. If you need four options, simply make two different polls of two. Set the background colour to white and OBS will convert to transparent.

polling form for live

When you’re finished tweaking, take a note of the poll ID, copying the address presented so you can add it into OBS.

getting your poll id

Step 4: Prepare OBS and tweak your video settings.

Head over to OBS and start arranging your workspace. The studio version of the software adds some handy tweaks, allowing you to copy transitions to make sure assets are lined up, and the ability to work on a scene privately whilst the broadcast is up and running.

You’ll need to be familiar with two different concepts.

Scenes are your workspaces, where your different video setups will be saved. Sources are your assets, and can be video links, feeds of web pages and still images from your desktop.

Add a new scene and name it as you wish, then click the plus by the source box to add your background image.

opening obs and adding image

adding browser source to obs

Follow the wizard and position the background to fill the video preview. Add your poll through the same steps, selected ‘Browser Source’ instead of image and adding the URL for the poll. Position your poll next to the voting instructions.

arranging scenes in obs

In this example, we’re using a live video feed. For live, use another ‘Browser Source’ and crop the window to fit the video. Fiddle around with the transformation until your scene is to your liking. If it’s not a live video, use ‘Media Source’ and select the local file.

adding the video to our live

If everything’s moving, it’s almost time to go. The final step is to make sure your video settings are right.

Hit ‘settings’ in OBS, head to stream, select ‘Facebook Live’ from the drop-down and add the stream key we saved earlier.

The video settings we use will be dependent on your own computing capacity, and how much your setup can handle. Use this guide from OBS, lower the bitrate and set the CPU usage to ‘ultrafast’ if your machine isn’t so punchy.

Step 5: Start streaming, enjoy democracy.

Once you’re happy with the settings and the look of your stream, hit start streaming and jump back to Facebook. The stream will load and you’re ready to go!

posting the video on facebook

1) Download OBS and load up the poll making tool.
2) Make your assets with photoshop etc.
3) Start a FB live on your FB page, through publishing tools.
4) Make your polls using the online generator, and save the link.
5) Set up OBS, adding the sources we’ve made
6) Get your video settings right, and hit stream.

You can now make a very simple Facebook Live voting interactive. Have a go and tweet @interhacktives with your attempts, we would love to see.

How to improve your social videos to tell compelling stories

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told investors of his ‘video first’ strategy, content creators are trying to find ways to optimise their video output and attract larger followings.

Social video has been around for many years but is now  considered the dominant vessel for consumption on social media. Last year, Facebook video uploads increased by 95% from the previous year and these numbers look set to rise again in 2017.

Here are a few tips on how you can improve the quality and watchability of your videos on Facebook.

Keep them short and sweet

Even though Mark Zuckerberg himself has expressed an interest in opening up Facebook to longform and episodic videos, he wants to focus on shorter-form content just to start. While you might be excited to produce an expensive Pulitzer-winning documentary, start small. The optimum length for social videos is between 30 – 90 seconds. Don’t worry too much if your video is slightly over. Use your own discretion to figure out what works for you.

Work without sound

Now, you don’t have to go full Buster Keaton when making a video for social, but make sure that your video still makes sense without audio and doesn’t become just a sequence of footage without context. Most viewers who come across your video will do so because it played automatically. If they’re interested enough, they might turn the sound on to find out more. Use captions to let viewers know what the video is about and use subtitles if subjects are talking so people can still ‘hear’ what is being said. The captions should be able to drive the story without breaking the flow of the video.  

Think about your first Impressions

For many people, your social presence will be your first port-of-call, so you want that first impression to stand out. Come up with something succinct that doesn’t give too much away to the viewer. You want them to stay with you to the end of the video but you also don’t want to bore them.

Avoid using still images/stock photos

When I first started making videos for social, I was told to avoid using still images. “If the story can be told with images then tell it with images.” In other words, video should only be used if the story can’t be told in any other way. If you absolutely must use an image for a video, then try to create the illusion of movement with zooms and pans. This is known as the ‘Ken Burns Effect’ and it’s a widely used technique. You will often see it in war documentaries to create the illusion of a battle, for example. You might also need to use photos or screenshots that others have taken to tell your story (we will get to that later on).

Be professional

This might sound obvious but treat your social video exactly the same as you would any news piece: as professional as possible. If your audio isn’t properly synced or you’ve captured all of your footage on your old Nokia then people will be turned off and go to the next item. You don’t need to invest in a lot of equipment to achieve this. All you need to do is take extra care. Make sure that your audio matches what’s being said on screen, remember to adjust focus, and keep your camera steady.

Ask for permission to use other people’s photos/videos

A common problem with social video is that it can be easily downloaded and uploaded on another channel without giving credit to the original author. This is known as ‘freebooting’ and it is heavily frowned upon. If you want to use footage that you’ve found from another source to help tell your story, try and contact the author and they may be happy to let you use it as long as you give them credit in the video. Some people might say no,  so you’ll need to find something similar elsewhere.

Avoid cliches

This. Just this.


3 ways journalists can deal with Donald Trump’s ‘alternative facts’

White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared on Fox News on Tuesday evening, comparing his “alternative facts” regarding Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd to reading different weather reports.

“The press was trying to make it seem like we were ignoring the facts when the facts are that sometimes… in the same way you can look at a weather report,” Spicer said. “One weather report comes out and says it’s going to be cloudy and the next one says there’s going to be light rain. No one lied to you.”

Spicer had told a press conference that the number of people who had attended and tuned into Trump’s was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period” — despite multiple side-by-side shots of Trump’s 2017 and Obama’s 2009 inauguration crowds indicating otherwise.

Spicer justified this claim by citing public transport rider statistics, which, he said, indicated that more people travelled on underground trains in Washington on Trump’s inauguration day than on Obama’s (WMATA, Washington’s public transport provider, later tweeted figures that proved him wrong).

Obviously, telling untruths to the public and reading differing weather reports are apples and oranges. Weather reports concern uncertain events in the future, whereas Spicer was reflecting on a past event for which there were photographs and viewership ratings.

With this in mind, here are three useful tips for journalists who wish to produce verified reports amid the proliferation of fake news.

1. Remember that not all data is gospel
The New York Times’ forecast on the night of the US elections.
The New York Times’ forecast on the night of the US elections. (Source: The New York Times)

A key reason the EU referendum and US election came as such a surprise was because journalists and pundits had, quite simply, misused data.

Forecasters, such as FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times Upshot and HuffPost Data, had put Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the US election between 70 to 99 percent — because many of them had relied too heavily on opinion polls, and forecasters had failed to explain fully the concept of margin of error.

In Spicer’s case, it seems obvious that WMATA data on rider statistics cannot be enough to prove that Trump had the largest crowd in the history of inauguration ceremonies, even if the numbers he stated were true.

What if more people had chosen to take the underground on Inauguration Day because half of the city had shut off its roads for the ceremony? And, even if those people had gone to Trump’s inauguration that day, where did the thousands more people photographed attending Obama’s inauguration come from?

2. If a news source says something fishy, find another one
Donald Trump signs executive orders surrounded by his nearest and dearest.
Donald Trump signs executive orders surrounded by his nearest and dearest. (Source: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann via Flickr)

Journalists are arbiters of truth, not political mouthpieces. Reporting claims by the White House, 10 Downing Street or any other powers-that-be is insufficient. If official sources won’t provide truthful quotes, journalists should feel free to punish them by ignoring the quotes and going elsewhere for the truth.

After Trump invited Sheri Dillon, a self-appointed federal tax lawyer to justify the then-president-elect’s plans to solve conflicts of interest over his business conglomerate, The New York Times invited government ethics experts to rebut Dillon’s remarks. The experts, which included former White House ethics lawyers and the current director of the Office of Government Ethics, found at least 15 flaws in her argument.

CNN also refused to air a White House press conference one day after Trump’s inauguration, revealing the cable network’s misgivings about broadcasting false statements to its viewers.

3. Call out untruths

On 2 January, veteran US journalist Dan Rather published a lengthy Facebook post calling for journalists to call out the Trump administration’s untruths as bald-faced lies. As the media industry blog Mediaite noted, major publications don’t tend to refer to inaccurate statements as lies, but rather as “unsubstantiated claims” or similarly euphemistic language.

Many major news outlets have also adhered to this line of thinking. Some have even gone as far as referencing Trump’s lies in their headlines, perhaps as a reflection of a 2016 study that estimated that 59 percent of URLs shared on Twitter had never been clicked.

On 21 January, The Huffington Post published a headline reading “Trump And His Press Secretary Flagrantly Lied On Their First Full Day In Office. That Matters.” A few days later, CNN published a column by Dean Obeidallah, a political satirist, titled “Dear team Trump, ‘alternative facts’ are lies.” The New York Times, on the same day, published a headline that referred to Trump’s statements as “lies”.

And, in perhaps the boldest headline of all, New York Magazine published a story back in December investigating Trump’s “War Against Facts”.

Of course, there has been wide debate among major news outlets regarding this new journalistic policy. Earlier this year, Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker advocated against referring to Trump’s statements as “lies”, noting:

To refrain from labeling leaders’ statements as lies is to support an unrelenting but not omniscient press, one that trusts readers’ judgments rather than presenting judgments to them. If we routinely make these kinds of judgments, readers would start to see our inevitably selective use of a moral censure as partisanship… We must be seen to be objective to continue to earn our readers’ trust.

A screenshot of New York Magazine's headline, "Donald Trump's War Against Facts".
A screenshot of New York Magazine’s headline, “Donald Trump’s War Against Facts”.

Ultimately, it’s up to individual journalists — and subeditors — what language they should use to frame statements that just aren’t true. But whatever you choose to do, it’s increasingly important to call out fake news and hoaxes, and to implement rigorous verification practices to do so. To quote Rather:

A lie, is a lie, is a lie. Journalism, as I was taught it, is a process of getting as close to some valid version of the truth as is humanly possible. And one of my definitions of news is information that the powerful don’t want you to know.

In other words, it’s time to call a spade a spade.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr under Creative Commons licence (original image adapted)

How to scrape tweets using R for journalists

What’s a pirate’s favourite programming language and statistical computing environment? Why, it’s R, of course. Jokes aside, R is the language of choice for data miners, scrapers and visualisers – as well as journalists looking to manipulate datasets that Excel just can’t handle.  

R can be used to create stunning and modern interactives, plot cats instead of points in weird feline data visualizations, and it can help journalists scrape data from Twitter.

Twitter data has the potential to inspire important stories. Blogger David Robinson analysed the tweets of President Donald Trump to find that tactful posts sent from an Iphone were composed by his staff, and those angrier messages from Android were typed by Trump himself.

Journalists need a tool to filter tweets and to find trends among them, R helps by grabbing that data and making it usable.

In this guide we’ll be getting set up with Rstudio on Windows, an open-source program for working with R, and we will learn  the basics of twitter scraping. This is a basic how-to, with little assumed knowledge, so should hopefully translate for OSX users too, with a few tweaks. Let’s get started:

Note: If you want this guide distilled into 24 words, head to the TLDR at the bottom of the page and just follow the links to download what you need. If you have the patience, read ahead for more detailed instruction.

Step 1: Prep, downloads and installing R

You’ll firstly need to gather your tools. Head here and download the latest R package, currently R-3.3.2, and install it to your computer. You’ll also need to download Rstudio, the software we’ll be working within.

Your final download: save this script to your computer. R can use scripts (basically text files) to save commands and save you having to type them out every time.

Once you’ve followed the installation wizard, open up Rstudio to be greeted by this nice blank canvas.

Step 2: Open R and load your script

You want your screen to be divided into four sections. On the screenshot above, you can see the console panel on the left: which shows the code that you run, like a timeline of what you’ve done so far. You also have the Environment panel, with your list of elements, databases and variables (currently empty), on the right and, in the bottom right, a simple file manager.

Now, press the folder button under ‘edit’ in the main menu. Alternatively, press Ctrl-O.

Navigate to where you saved the script we downloaded earlier, and open it up in Rstudio. The program will now show  a panel for scripts in the top left.

Your script is loaded, and everything you need to migrate tweets from the internet to a spreadsheet are in the top right of your screen.

Before we start scraping, let’s make sure Twitter lets us in when we knock.

Step 3: Getting your Twitter access.

To do this, we’ll need access codes from Twitter. You’ll need to head to: apps.twitter.com and create your own application (A Twitter application in this sense is just a way of connecting to the API. Hit the ‘create new app’ button and fill in the form. This is purely for personal access to your own twitter credentials, so fill in the fields with your info.

After that’s completed, head to the ‘Keys and Access Tokens’ tab in the menu of your new app, and copy the four codes you find into R.

These are the Consumer Key and the Secret Consumer Key, and the Access Token and Secret Access Token.

Once these four strings of text and numbers have been copied into the R script you downloaded, you’re good to go and can follow each stage of the script until you have the data you need.

Step 4: Running and merging data

There are three stages to the actual process of grabbing data from Twitter. These are:

  1. Loading the packages you need.
  2. Running the code to access Twitter.
  3. Searching tweets and saving them to file.

The first time you attempt this process, however, you’ll need to install the packages you plan to use. On the script you downloaded this is flagged as step 0 and by highlighting this and pressing Ctrl-R, you’ll install everything needed for twitter scraping.


You only need to do this the first time you attempt a twitter scrape, and can jump to step 1 in all subsequent attempts.

Mini-Step 1: Load your packages.

Those shiny new packages you added to your R setup now need to be loaded so that you can use commands associated with them. Run this:


Mini-Step 2: Access Twitter.

With your own personal codes copied into the script, you can run the following few lines. (Don’t forget to save your script so you won’t need to repeat the copy/paste process next time around. Your codes will remain the same unless you generate new ones:)

consumerKey = "INSERT KEY HERE"
consumerSecret = "INSERT SECRET KEY HERE"
accessToken = "INSERT TOKEN HERE"

setup_twitter_oauth(consumer_key = consumerKey, consumer_secret = consumerSecret,
access_token = accessToken, access_secret = accessSecret)

Mini-Step 3: Searching and scraping (the fun part)

The script we’re using gives you the options to search for three different things (parts 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3). You’re able to search for the last 3200 tweets of any individual account. You can search for the last 3200 tweets to use a hashtag of your choosing. Finally, you can search for the last 3200 tweets directed to a certain user aka tweets ‘@ed’ to someone else.

In each instance, add your chosen phrasing to the lines that contain the search terms, and follow it through, updating the variable names as you go.

To best demonstrate this, here are some examples:

To create a list of Barack Obama’s tweets sent whilst he had the POTUS handle. Use this:

obamatweets<- userTimeline("potus44", n = 3200)
obamatweets_df <- tbl_df(map_df(obamatweets, as.data.frame))
write.csv(obamatweets_df, "obamatweets.csv")

The function, “userTimeline”, adds the tweets of a user of your choice to the database. In this instance, the handle is POTUS44 and is written between the speech marks, and the first word on the line is the name of the value where the tweets will go.

The next line sends them to a database, and the final line writes that database to file.

To create a list of tweets containing a certain hashtag, use this: 

yeswecan <- searchTwitter("#yeswecan exclude:retweets", n=3200)
yeswecan_df <- tbl_df(map_df(yeswecan, as.data.frame))
write.csv(yeswecan_df, "yeswecan.csv")

To create a list of tweets sent to a user, use this:

tweetstoobama <- searchTwitter("@potus44 exclude:retweets", n=3200)
tweetstoobama_df <- tbl_df(map_df(tweetstoobama, as.data.frame))
write.csv(futureexwife_df, "tweetstoobama.csv")
Step 5: Your finished sheet and where to go next

Head to the the folder where you saved your CSV file and open her up. Congratulations, you have successfully scraped your desired tweets. What you do next is up to you.

One idea is to count the instances where a word appears. Download this sheet containing a template for totalling some key words, and check out David Robinson’s guide to running a sentiment analysis on your newly collated data.

  1. Download R, Rstudio and this script.
  2. Get your Twitter access by creating an app here.
  3. Open Rstudio and load the script
  4. Follow the instructions

If you try this out for yourself, make sure to let us know. Tweet @Interhacktives (or me, @ryanleewatts) with whatever you find, we would love to see. Happy scraping!

7 ways to make your Twitter bio stand out as a journalist

It’s only 150 characters, but it’s the first thing people will see when they come to your profile, and it’s a great way to pop up in people’s searches. Here’s how to make it as good as it can be:

  1.      Keep your audience in mind

Yes, your mates are on Twitter. But potential employers, networkers, and new followers are too. You need to impress by being professional. The real trick is doing this without lapsing into the tone of a corporate droid. Keep it polished, but let your personality shine through.

  1.       Mention your interests

Everyone is interested in something. If nothing comes to mind, look at your recent tweets. What have you been tweeting about? Politics? Feminism? Moths? No matter how broad or how niche, be sure to include something to indicate that you are a human being. For inspiration, look at LinkedIn’s list of causes you might care about. What makes you different to every other tweeter?

  1.       Hashtag them

When mentioning your interests, include the hashtag in your bio. For example, if you’re a keen birdwatcher, say it with a hashtag: #twitcher. When users search the hashtag, your profile will pop up at the top of the page.

  1.       Use Twitter handles

State who you work for/which university you go to, using their handle, e.g. @cityjournalism. This gives your audience the chance to get to know your organisation, just by clicking on your bio.

  1.       Include contact details

People can only direct message you if you follow them back, so it’s worth including your email address as a fallback. It makes you seem approachable.

  1.       Include your website

It goes without saying, but linking to your website in your bio will automatically get you more hits. Do this in Twitter’s specific ‘website’ box – this appears when you edit your profile.

  1.       Keep your picture smart

Your picture should be of you, preferably a clear photograph without any other people. Selfies are fine, but it’s better to have a smile than a Kylie Jenner pout, if you want to seem friendly.

What WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption means for journalism and how to use app

The last time I checked, WhatsApp was not one of the most popular social media apps among journalists.

It was trailing Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, and Line by far.


Many a journalist have written off this chat app with a disputed 800 million monthly active users after efforts to broadcast through it proved to be a herculean task— adding phone numbers to chat groups and broadcast lists.

Yes, pushing out information through hard-to-make and limited WhatsApp broadcast lists is neither efficient nor economical but this world’s most popular messaging application is still useful in journalism.

It unleashes its power when you reverse the newsroom-audience information flow— from broadcasting to newsgathering.


What’s more, WhatsApp’s latest addition of end-to-end encryption (above) has made it safe for internal newsroom communication— including managers’ top-secret chats, planning, story assignment to reporters and content filing, including scoops.

“When you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton said in their announcement of the new privacy features.

Unlike Telegram where users have to start a secret chat to enable encryption, WhatsApp’s new security feature, Signal Protocol designed by Open Whisper Systems,  is enabled by default in the app’s latest version.


“Once the session is established, clients do not need to rebuild a new session with each other until the existing session state is lost through an external event such as an app reinstall or device change,” Koum and Acton said.

However, there are concerns that the encryption fails in chats between Android and iPhone phones. It should also be noted that the Big Brother may be able to snoop on encrypted messages if the security  of your gadget is compromised.


So, how can you effectively use WhatsApp for internal newsroom communication, content-generation and newsgathering?

The app that was acquired by Facebook at $16 billion (£10.6 billion) in 2014 uses standard cellular mobile numbers to send information— photos, texts, audio, videos and user location — over the internet, across platforms.

Its web feature, WhatsApp Web, which is installed by scanning a QR reader, makes it easier to type and download information onto a computer for processing.


Once this system is set up, WhatsApp is not only fast in breaking news but also more reliable in receiving and verifying eyewitness media and User Generated Content (UGC).

To begin, it is advisable to set up a WhatsApp group for your reporters and correspondents, with editors as admins who issue instructions and plan day-to-day business

As the newsgatherers post content on the platform, editors have to monitor updates, download, process, package and publish the information.

El Taller del Bit

The app’s chat function allows conversations between the senders and receivers, including clarifications and requests for more information in real time.

Kenya’s Daily Nation has successfully used WhatsApp to receive breaking stories from its reporters and correspondents around the world in the last two years.

It runs a closed group where newsgatherers, online subs and editors are ever conversing— gathering and publishing information as part of the newspaper’s digital strategy.


The BBC has expanded beyond closed newsroom groups and now uses WhatsApp to receive eyewitness media and general UGC, according to Journalism.co.uk.

Its Have Your Say programme has been particularly successful at this— breaking the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash, covering Nepal earthquake, India and South Africa elections.

The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian, reports Journalism.co.ukhave also run successful crowd-sourcing projects using WhatsApp.


While Facebook, Twitter, Line, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat and Viber are equally reliable in delivering UGC, verification of content delivered via WhatsApp is quicker, courtesy of country phone codes.

For instance, if a user claims to be a resident of Garissa in Kenya where Al-Shabaab killed 148 students last year and their phone number’s country code reads +27, you have every reason to be skeptical because +27 is the country code for South Africa. Kenya’s is +254.

Mark you, it is not impossible for people to download content from the internet and pass it as their own on this ‘dark end’ of the internet.

Syed Ikhwan_edited

As such, content delivered via WhatsApp should treated with the scepticism all UGC deserves and passed through the normal verification process.

The success of WhatsApp in delivering UGC is solely dependent on the popularity of the app in the targeted region.

It can work wonders in a country such as  India that has over 65 million active users but may not be as successful in the United States where WhatsApp is still struggling to get users’ attention.

Photo credits: — Harry Misiko, El Taller del Bit, iphonedigital, Microsiervos and Syed Ikhwan | Creative Commons.

How to use Snapchat as a journalist

As most digital journalists know, Snapchat is a vast and in some ways underutilised tool. Snapchat claims to have over 8 billion users per day – an eye watering number compared to the 2 billion they had only last May.

Snapchat has created the Discover channel on their app. These are the snapchats that show up automatically on everyone’s phones. The channel is only open to partners of snapchat, meaning you have to be invited by Snapchat to join.
Snapchat discover

Discover channel includes big names that are trying to tap into the young audience hooked on the app. The Daily Mail in particular has pioneered the way they use this medium by creating their own distinct voice.

Another big newspaper brand that has thrown their weight behind Snapchat is the Wall Street Journal. This was an exciting step for the social media app because the WSJ is the first broadsheet newspaper to look into the potential of Snapchat and reach a more serious readership.

Currently, the Wall Street Journal have 5 people dedicated to developing  Snapchat stories on a daily basis.

However, Snapchat discover is not an option for most newsrooms, firstly because it is extremely competitive to get a channel and secondly hiring up-to 5 new staff members is an expense that most newspapers cannot afford.

But if you want to brand yourself as an innovator in the newsroom you should consider suggesting how Snapchat stories might be used. Stories is the part of the app where anyone can create an account and use it. This could help reach a younger readership, something desperately needed by newspapers with an ever aging audience. If the newspaper creates a Snapchat account, each journalist can produce short Snapchats to support the stories they are writing.

Interhacktives has created a simple guide below on how to report on an event via Snapchat.


Your first snap is your headline, make it simple and clear what this Snapchat story will cover.


It’s a good idea to have a rough plan. For example, if you’re covering a football match, you might want to capture the atmosphere before, the walk to the stadium, the stadium and then subsequent news, eg goals, red cards, half time and full time.

Half time

Top tip

Keep the screen vertical – jumping from horizontal to vertical ruins the experience for your audience.



Be ready to change the angle of the story if a bigger story emerges. However, remember Snapchat works chronologically so once you have added an extra snap it will be on the timeline.

For example with the football example above, at the Birmingham City Vs QPR match I noticed on the journey to the stadium there was an unusually strong police presence.  The police were jumpy and insisted on escorting the away fans. This worked nicely into my story as I wanted to include the journey to the stadium. When the police became more violent, it was easier to flag it up because I had already mentioned it in my Snapchat story. 

So think about the chronology of your snaps, they are important.

Always conclude

Once one incident is over – in this case, the fight between the fans and police, be sure to explain that the incident is over and that you are returning to the initial main story. Also make sure you round off your overall snapchat story, try linking it to the website or newspaper the story will be published.

Snapchat is such a new platform that there is of course no wrong or right way, so share your tips on successes and failures of using Snapchat in the comments section.

Five things we learned from The Times’ Build The News

Build The News - Day 2

Unlike the past few years when Build the News focused on hacky concepts and newsroom tools, last weekend’s event went back to basics— telling a story.

University students, under the guidance of The Times’ journalists, coders, developers and data analysts, set out to build and tell their stories in the most effective ways possible.

Build The News - Day 2

Our City University team (above)’s story “Grub’s up: the future of food” story won, while Cardiff, with an investigative data piece on how government dictates citizens’ love life, was declared runner-up.

Build The News 2016

These are the lessons we learned from the two-day event at The Times’ News Building:

i. Story comes first: Before succumbing to the temptation of fancy tech and visualisations – what’s your story? What’s new and why does it matter?

Build The News 2016

Judges at the event (above) reminded participating student journalists to keep in mind the five Ws and one H questions while telling their stories. Who cares? Why? How?

Journalism, they emphasised, comes first. New technologies only enable us to do it better. Not the reverse.

Build The News 2016

Like other creative arts, build something first – a strong story – then use visualisations and other aesthetic devices to enhance reader experience. Don’t build a decoration— pointless, fancy visualisations.

For instance, in the winning project— Grub’s up: the future of food— we built a case as to why people should eat insects. Using data analysis and visualisations, we established that the world may not be able to feed the projected nine billion-plus mouths by 2050.

Build The News - Day 2

We also showed how insects are a viable source of protein and minerals because they emit less greenhouse gases compared to livestock, and are easy to farm.

ii. How you tell a story matters: It might be with text, video, audio or a chart, but just make sure the reader get the message easily.

Build The News - Day 2

As The Times News Editor Katie Gibbons advises in her post, “be innovative, but not for the sake of it — the simplest, cleanest way of getting your message to your audience is almost always the best”.

Thinking about the medium (print or online), nature of the story, demographic and psychological make-up of the target audience can help you arrive at the best way to tell it.

Build The News - Day 2

iii. Coding and DDJ are essential: Basic knowledge of coding and programming languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, R and Rubi, it became evident, may replace grammar interview tests for journalists in the near future.


During the competition, The Times developers and coders were at hand to help teams because many lacked experienced techies.

The event laid bare the need for journalists to get the hang of web design, content management systems, data scraping and coding.

Build The News - Day 2

In the same vein, the need for journalists to learn how to generate stories hidden in data became an open secret for success. Going forward, we should be able to scrape, analyse, visualise, generate and tell data stories.

iv. Collaborate with coders: Build the News, once again, confirmed the need for writers without technical knowledge to collaborate with developers, coders and programmers in data projects.

Build The News - Day 2

But as we said earlier, there is every need to watch and learn what the techies do, because they may not be there for you all the time. Many media houses in fact don’t hire them, and the onus is on reporters and editors to write code.

v. Innovate, innovate and experiment: While video, text and photos remain the most preferred storytelling methods, experimenting with new forms of journalism is key to going into the future.

Build The News - Day 2

Birmingham City students (above), whose project focused on The Investigatory Powers Bill (Snooper’s Charter), got a honourable mention at the event for their innovative use of bots and virtual reality.

Photos: Matt ‘TK’ Taylor

SEO tips

Content is uploaded on Internet every second, but unfortunately much of it goes unseen.

You might be asking: “what’s the problem?” But the solution is quite simple; everything relies on the SEO (Social Engine Optimization) and social strategy.

SEO is the visibility of content in search engines. The higher an article is ranked within a search result list, the more visits it’s likely to have.

By making your content SEO and social friendly, it will increase the accessibility to your site and boost your content to your readers.

And this goes hand in hand with SMO (Social Media Optimization), which relies on optimizing a site and its content for social. Why is SMO important you might be asking? It’s all about headlines. What works for a search engine, doesn’t works for a social media platform.

While good SEO is subjective, here we offer our tips to make SEO friendly content:

1.Everything is about audience

Target your audience and think of the content that they would read. Try to ask yourself: “what do I want to read?”


Brainstorm possible keywords and make sure you include them in the headline and in the body of the article.

Keywords and phrases in your web content make it possible for people to find your article via search engines and help connect searchers to your site.

Think about how you would search for an article and use those keywords.

3.Keep the web connected with internal links

Consider adding links to your article. Linking internally is a good way to promote your other work. While, adding external links to related sites helps the search engines understand your niche, and increases the trust and quality of your site.

For some inspiration on internal and external links, take a look at this Islington Now article. In this case, the internal link is related to an article about Jeremy Corbyn. The externals links are connected to Archway market and Camden Passage websites.

4.What else works better than a catchy headline?

The headline has to act like a magnet. Haunting headlines help to get reader’s attention and improve clickability.

For example, if you are writing an article on places to go to celebrate Father’s Day, you could write: “Places to go for this Father’s Day.”

Although you are using the keyword “Father’s Day”, your readers would not be much attracted by the headline.

What about opening with a question? Remember that Internet and social media platforms are about engaging and creating communications.

And what if you add a number and solution by saying: “take a look at our 5 ideas.” By doing this, you are proving your audience that you know how to keep them happy. Also, your readers will feel more predisposed to read your piece, as they will expect an easy and organised reading.

You could end by saying “like no other”. By using ‘like’ you are not only demonstrating the credibility of your article, but also you are bringing in emotions, by saying that it’s going to be an endearing day.

Your final heading could be: “Looking for places to go for this Father’s Day? Stop worrying and take a look at our 5 ideas to have a day like any other.”

For more inspiration on headlines that work well on social media platforms take a look at Quartz.

 5. /remember-to-shape-your-HTML/

The HTML title is the information that creates a website.

Although HTML codes don’t have to match with the heading of the article, is recommended to do so. Google prioritizes the words displayed in the HTML title and your article can benefit from it.

It’s not needed to create a sentence for your HTML code. Our recommendation is, again, to use keywords and list them in a clear and structured way.

For instance if you are writing an article on places to go to celebrate Father’s Day, the HTML could be something like: “5- best-places-to-go-for-fathers-day-for-a-day-like-no-other.html”

6.Visual, visual and visual

Videos and photos are a must.

Think of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat or Vimeo. They all reward pictures and videos.

Or, you have ever seen an article without an image or video?

 7. Not without my hashtag

Less is more when it comes to hashtags, so keep it simple and don’t overuse them. Use between one to three hashtags on your posts to positively impact your SMO. This will help you to engage more easily with your readers.

A useful tip is to use them wisely. For instance, keywords used in the headline and body of the article could be also used as hashtags, because these words are more likely to be searched.

8. Is anyone out there?

Think of online communities that might be interested in your article and try to engage with them. By doing this, you will not only have the opportunity of gaining new readers and increasing your online community, but also improving your SMO.

For example if you are writing an article on the benefits of being vegetarian, you could look for vegetarian groups on Facebook and Twitter and send them your story.


What are you waiting for? Start brainstorming and follow our guide. Within days, your followers would have doubled!     


What to keep in mind with Facebook video

Facebook can be a very valuable tool for traffic for many websites, and mastering an online presence on the social platform is often the difference between life and death of a publication.

Recently, Facebook’s algorithm has been modified to promote visual content, such as pictures and videos, over plain text posts.

Data published last November seems to be showing they are on the right track, with close to 8 billion video views per day.

While Youtube remains the uncontested leader in raw video content, it would be a grave mistake to ignore the rapid growth in Facebook videos.

Here are the interhacktives top tips to keep in mind when doing your Facebook video.

Grab their attention

You are fighting against the ever-shortening attention span of the viewer. If you don’t grab your audience in the very first seconds of your video, they simply go elsewhere.

Most of the time viewers will be scrolling through their feed and your video will automatically start playing when they go over it, that leaves you with about three seconds to convince them to stop and stare.

In this video by The Guardian, the viewer is instantly intrigued by this atypical question and answer. It stays no longer than three seconds and does its job well.

Keep it compact

This is in the same vein as our previous tip. The longer the video, the less likely he/she will finish it. Try to aim for something close to a minute or two, any more and you risk boring the viewer.

This video by the BBC has 10 million views at the time of publishing of this article, and it is only 50 seconds long.

Don’t forget visual stimuli

A trap publications might fall into is to treat a Facebook video like a segment in a broadcasting channel. You should not be simply staring at the camera and talking, other channels are better suited for this type of content Facebook videos are not.

If your video makes sense and the viewer can understand what it is about even with the sound turned off, then you are on the right track.

This video by NowThis has no natural sound, yet you can understand what the story and who the major players are just by reading the text. This technique is called a Nut Graf over B-Roll, where you simply take the nut graf of the story and put it over some video sequence.


Adapt your content

Not everything should be made for online video, but a bit of time and effort can turn even dry content into something that can work.

In this video, CNBC only had shots of Mark Cuban talking, but with the clever use of editing and adding text they managed to turn dry content into something you could watch on Facebook.




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!

My Excel tips for journalists


 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


The Wild West of Social Media: 7 Takeaways

Pioneers from the frontiers of social media newsgathering and user-generated content (UGC) shared their wisdom at News:rewired’s ‘in focus’ event last week.

Below are my seven takeaways from “The Wild West of Social Media” panel event, featuring Aine Kerr, managing editor of StoryfulSam Dubberley, co-founder of Eyewitness Media HubGavin Rees, director, Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and Beth Colson, head of international video news production, Associated Press.

I also live-blogged the event here.

1 Journalism is the same discipline, just with changing tools.

“A post, an image, a video is only just a piece of information on a platform, until you do traditional journalism. You still must apply who, what, when, where, how, why?”, said Aine Kerr.

2 “With UGC comes responsibility”.

Storyful’s mantra reminds us that sources should not be treated any differently just because they are uploaders, rather than callers.

3 Set and respect user engagement policies, to ensure your duty of care to UGC sources.

Take the conversation off the platform into direct messaging, email, or a phone call. Tell the user how you want to use their content, and make sure they understand. Ideally, give them a link so they can quickly read up how you are intending to use their content. AP’s head of international video news production Beth Colson said AP has developed their ‘legalese’ documentation into formats that can fit in a DM, making them clear and accessible.

4 “Eyewitness” typically means “traumatised”.

“If someone has seen a key moment in a story, chances are they’ve seen something traumatic”, says Beth Colson. “Think before you contact them, and remind them about their safety.” In the recent Oregon shooting, AP producers were told to wait until the police said the gunman was no longer on the loose before contacting eyewitnesses.

5 Vicarious trauma for journalists who watch UGC is a growing problem in newsrooms.

Trauma is experienced most strongly when there is no warning before the traumatic UGC is viewed; beware autoplay features on video players.

6 Combat vicarious trauma with better newsroom practices.

Trauma is a dose-related problem; at a low-volume, humans are surprisingly resilient. Workflow steps can prevent traumatic content being viewed without warning, and rostering staff between hard news and soft news lightens the dose. Green counters trauma; have green computer wallpaper and a pot plant on your desk. Share your concerns with your colleagues; distress hampers our ability to process complex information, and “unspoken distress in newsrooms can impact the way journalists collaborate with each other”, said Rees.

7 News organisations can legitimately refuse to distribute “newsworthy” traumatic content.

“Because”, said Rees, “content such as an ISIS video is like a press release from a company trying to sell its product. Journalists aren’t expected to send out every press release companies give them.”

Video: How to use regex to scrape HTML pages

Regex how to

Ever wanted to scrape something with OutWit Hub but the data you want is tied up in ugly HTML tags that change with each new piece of information?

Regular expressions – known as regex – are often an easy way of getting around them. These are sequences of symbols and characters which express a pattern to be searched for in a piece of text.

This video will show you how to use regex sequences to scrape with OutWit Hub. It covers two individual examples for you to run through.

These will give you the basic components which you can then build on to use your own regex to help you scrape.

6 tools to help you get started with programming

So you want to get started with coding, but don’t know where to start.

It can feel like a daunting project, possibly because many of us have the idea of coding being some kind of dark art, with lots of complicated syntax to get right.

Thankfully, the internet is here to help. And here’s the first secret: It’s not all about the details. One of the biggest advantage of the tools below is that they’ll help you wrap your head around the big picture, and understand how computational thinking works.

Make it a game!

A codeacademy lesson in action

Codecademy takes you through the basics of coding languages from HTML to Python painlessly, by gamifying it.

Solve puzzles, earn badges. Get stuck? Ask for a hint!

A badge earned from Codeacademy

If this seems too technical for you, the tools on Code.org and Scratch have an even more gamified approach.

Yes, it’s technically for kids, but heck, it works for adults too.

Play the Frozen game while learning to code

Anyone who doesn’t get excited about coding after helping Anna and Elsa make a winter wonderland is just crazy.

Hit the books

Looking for a more traditional approach to learning? Books that earlier would’ve cost you a fortune are now largely available free online. Why not try Learn Python The Hard Way (which sounds horribly intimidating, but really it’s more like Learn Python By Coding Python…) and you’ll soon be a master scraper.

Do your own thing

Finished your Codecademy course and don’t know where to go next? Every developer says the same thing: The best way to learn programming is to start on your own project.

But if you’re stuck for ideas, here’s a list of 125 project ideas.

And remember: Google is your friend

Make Google, StackOverflow and Github your very best friends.

And remember: whenever you run into an error message that makes you want to ragequit and throw your laptop out the window, just try googling the error first.

Google search "d3.append() not working"

Odds are dozens have already asked and solved that very problem on StackOverflow.

What other issues have you run into when teaching yourself to code? Tweet us @Interhacktives and let us know!

The best places to get your data

data journalism infographic scraping Guardian

Best places to get your data

For many beginners getting into data and what are the best places to get your data , the first stumbling block is actually accessing the information you want. Before you’ve started to tell the story, and before you can even get your teeth into the visualisations, you fall at the first hurdle.

Fear not. We’ve collected some of our favourite sources of reliable and informative data, giving you some starters if you’re struggling to figure out where to find your story.

Office of National Statistics

Government releases are always a good source of up-to-date information and the ONS  is one of the best places to get your data on population changes, demography or unemployment.

The ONS is also good for getting files on the counties, constituencies and wards, giving you the information on shape and size of the areas – handy when it comes to mapping data.

The USA has a similar model with Data.gov, giving people access to their data. One warning, however: governments may not release information that makes them look bad. If you want to make sure you’re getting the full story about an institution, never just consult one source on it.


Data.police.uk is a hub of data on crime and policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. You can access CSVs on street-level information and explore the site’s API for data about individual police forces and neighbourhood teams.

This is a very handy site to see how the police are performing on a local basis. You can compare crimes by location and time, enabling you to find any correlations or patterns there are out there.
The Metropolitan Police also publishes their data on each crime in London on police.uk.


Nomis is a good source for official labour market statistics – you can get detailed data based on local areas, and can search summary statistics by local authority, ward or constituency.


Want to see the data that the NHS and local councils use to monitor performance and shape the services you use? Well MyNHS gives you this chance, it is one of the best places to get your data on the UK’s health service.


If you’re looking to compare the UK against other countries, or are looking to cover a more internationally-based story, Eurostat contains a variety of publications containing statistics on EU member states. This site has information on economic output, labour markets and demographics – to name just a couple.

World Bank and World Health Organisation

For a more global story, the World Bank and World Health Organisation release data on global finances and public health and safety. Such organisations and institutions have a multitude of datasets ready for you to trawl through in an attempt to find global trends and the effect of certain events.

Freedom of Information

The old faithful. If you can’t find the data anywhere, attempt to access it yourself. Utilise the Freedom of Information Act, which gives you the right to access recorded information held by public sector organisations. Ensure the information’s not already out there, and then send your request off to the relevant institution.

Scrape it yourself

When all else fails, you can always find a site that serves the data you want and then scrape the data. If you don’t know how to use Python, Javascript or other code languages, here’s a short guide we’ve done to help you scrape data without code.

We’re always after new tips for places to find data – can you think of anything else? Tweet us @Interhacktives with your ideas.

6 sites that show why data is beta

New to data journalism and keen to learn but unsure about the kind of stories you could uncover with numbers? Well worry not because the Interhacktives have collected the examples of experts in action so you don’t have to.

Here’s a roundup in no particular order of the best news sites that use data journalism and data visualisation in the UK.


Guardian Datablog Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 13.46.07


Guardian Data Blog

Data journalism is by no means a new trend. The Guardian is cited as the first major publication to bring data journalism into digital era, with Simon Rogers launching the Datablog in 2009.

The blog covers everything from topics  currently on the news agenda to general interest.

This week saw a report on the record levels of opium harvested in Afghanistan and a visualisation about the lives and reigns of Game of Thrones Targaryen kings.

The Guardian’s Datablog is good for beginners as there tends to be a link to the source of their data on each article, enabling you to access the data and to use it for your own stories.

Amp3d graph - We're eating more chocolate than there is in the world, "Predicted world chocolate deficit"


This arm of the The Mirror is what its creator Martin Belam calls “socially shareable data journalism”, the successor to his Buzzfeed -esque site UsVSTh3m. Launched last Christmas, after only eight weeks of building, Ampp3d is the tabloid perspective of data journalism.

Stories this week included what makes the Downton Abbey’s perfect episode and the British city where people are most likely to have affairs.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that it’s a site specifically designed for viewing and sharing on a mobile device. As Belam writes on his blog,  80+ per cent of traffic at peak commuting times comes from mobile, which the project aims to capitalise on this attention.

i100 "The list" Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 14.30.30


i100 is The Independent’s venture into shareable data journalism. It takes stories from The Independent and transforms them into visual, interactive pieces of often data journalism. It also incorporates an upvote system to put the reader in charge of the site’s top stories.

The articles are easily shareable since social media integration is a core part of the reader’s experience.

To upvote an article, you have to log in with one of your social networks (currently Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linkedin, Instagram or Yahoo).

Bureau of Investigative Journalism homepage

Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Championing journalism of a philanthropic kind, the data journalism of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism differs from most of the other publications on this list.

Based at City University London, its focus is not on the visual presentation of data, but the producing of “indepth journalism” and investigations that aim to “educate the public about the abuses of power and the undermining of democratic processes as a result of failures by those in power”. As a result, there is little visualisation and mostly straight reporting.

For data journalists, though, its ‘Get the Data’ pieces are indispensable resources as they allow you to download the relevant Google spreadsheets that you could then turn into data visualisations.

FT Datawatch: the world's stateless people screenshot

The FT

The Financial Times’  Data blog is one of the leading international news sources for data journalism and one of the UK’s leading innovators in data visualisation. It creates pieces of interactive and data-driven journalism based on issues and stories around the world, which include everything from an interactive map showing Isis’ advances in Iraq to UK armed forces’ deaths since World War II.

It describes itself as a “collaborative effort” from journalists from inside the FT, occasionally accepting guest blogs.

Bloomberg screenshot of homepage


Bloomberg  has perhaps some of the most impressive-looking data visualisations out of all the news sources mentioned. The emphasis on the aesthetic is immediately apparent since a zoomed-in version of each visualisation functions to draw a reader in on the homepage as opposed to a traditional headline/photo set up.

Interactivity is the most defining feature of Bloomberg’s data journalism. Many of its pieces rely on the reader to actively click on parts of the visualisation in order to reveal specific data. For example, its World Cup Predictions and Results article requires the reader to select a game in order to see statistics and information about 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 save time with Alfred, the productivity app

With the information overload, multitude of potential distractions and multi-tasking struggles that working behind a computer can pose these days, productivity is everything.

For journalists in particular, every minute counts. Even if you lead a structured digital life with meticulous preparation going into organising your files, folders, bookmarks and tabs, a lot of time is wasted on mundane, repetitive tasks like opening new applications, looking for files or searching online.

Alfred Here’s where Alfred, the keyboard driven Mac application made by Andrew and Vero Pepperrell that streamlines productivity, comes in.

Instantly likeable thanks to the black Heisenberg-esque bowler hat icon that sits proudly on your toolbar once installed, if utilised fully Alfred can be one of the most powerful tools you can have on your Mac.

Described by Next Web as a “butler for your Mac”, you can call on Alfred by typing the keyboard shortcut ‘alt + space’ and using straightforward command lines to perform a range of simple tasks, saving you precious time.

Using Alfred you can search Google, Wikipedia, YouTube or Twitter directly, search any other website for a particular word or phrase (there are steps on how to set this up via journalism.co.uk here), use it as a calculator, launch an application by typing the first few characters or search the files and folders on your Mac – all without having to use your trackpad or mouse.

Here are some Alfred command lines to get you started (click on the video below to see Alfred in action):

  • ‘search’ (insert word or phrase) + return – searches Google
  • ‘amazon’ (insert word or phrase) + return – searches Amazon
  • ‘twitter’ (insert word or phrase) + return – searches Twitter
  • ‘open’ (insert file name here) + return – find and open a file on your Mac
  • ‘maps’ (insert place name) + return – search Google Maps directly
  • www.interhacktives.com’ – pasting any link and pressing return takes you directly to the website without you needing to click on your browser window
  • ‘define’ (insert word) + return – to get the definition of a word via the Mac’s dictionary
  • ‘spell’ (insert word) – to check a word’s spelling
  • 34*28 – multiplies the two numbers
  • ‘logout’
  • ‘sleep’
  • ‘restart’

While most features are available via Alfred’s free version, the Powerpack, priced at £17, allows users access to send emails, the ability to listen to music via a mini iTunes player and create their own workflows, or download and install workflows that others in the community have made.

Here are just a few workflows worth highlighting, including one that enables users to control their Spotify, while there are plenty more in the Alfred forums.

Hat-tip (so to speak) to one of last year’s interhacktives, Henry Kirby, for introducing me to Alfred App.

And for those PC users out there, Patrick Scott went on a mission to find an alternative on Windows and will vouch for Launchy.