Archive for February, 2011

Evolution of churn

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Interesting example of the evolution of a press release – discovered thanks to Malcolm Coles (@malcolmcoles) who noticed that one Daily Mail article did not look 97% similar though this is what the stats said.

Turns out that the article was 97% similar when first published but then evolved over the course of the next 24 hours into an article that – though still based on the release, was less similar and had more journalism added.

This is the text of the press release as published by OnePoll (dated 12-01-11 on the site):

It takes the average new mother one-and-a-half years to ‘feel like a woman again’ after childbirth, a study revealed yesterday (Tues). Experts found gruelling sleepless nights lead to a dip in confidence amid the loss of independence, worries over her post-baby figure and how she will be perceived by others.

Personal fitness, fashion and social life also take a back seat as a new mother comes to terms with caring for her new arrival. But finally after 18 months the confidence begins to return as baby weight falls off, they become more comfortable with the role of motherhood and settle back into work. The timescale was revealed in a study of 3,000 mums carried out by nursing wear fashion website www.abeautifulmummy.co.uk.

Yesterday managing director Claire Burns said: ”Mums have a different set of priorities after having a baby.

”With the new arrival comes a wealth of responsibility, endless sleepless nights, feeds every couple of hours and numerous nappy changes.

”It is no wonder new mums find it harder to take care of themselves as they come to terms with their new role – at the end of the day this new baby is the centre of their world.”

The study found a lack of routine amid the chaos of a new baby was a key factor in draining a mum’s confidence along with extreme tiredness and hours spent feeding. Additionally, it emerged more than two thirds of new mums admitted feeling ‘saggy’, ‘fat’ and ‘unattractive’ in the months after giving birth.

Six out of ten claimed their confidence took a real knock when they realised their old clothes didn’t fit.

And a quarter said they felt they were competing with others mums – and celebrities – to lose weight quickly after birth.

Six out of ten said their self-assurance disappeared due to hormone-driven emotions.
Unsurprisingly, 64 per cent claimed a lack of routine in the early months meant they struggled to make it through the day.

During this time, 68 per cent of mums said they felt like ‘a feeding machine’, while 63 per cent admitted ‘letting themselves go’ by failing to take care of their hair, make-up or clothes.

The report also showed a large percentage of mums had no time for themselves once the baby was born, and 32 per cent said breastfeeding limited what they could wear. And 39 per cent felt unattractive in every outfit they put on. The poll shows a third of mums were terrified about returning to work, while 66 per cent feared they wouldn’t have the confidence to excel in their role.

Nine out of ten mums said work no longer seemed as important after they gave birth, and 79 per cent didn’t want to leave their baby to go back. It also emerged most mums need at least ten months to feel ‘part of the gang’ again when returning to work after maternity leave. Many said they even felt they had to try harder to re-establish themselves at work.

Claire Burns added: ”It’s really hard for women to feel sexy, chic and stylish after just having given birth.

”Your body isn’t what it was – you’re too small for maternity clothes and too big for your normal wardrobe.

”This just makes mums feel incredibly unattractive and uncomfortable in their own skin – and can be one of the reasons why mums don’t want to socialise in the days and months after having a baby.”


This is the – very similar – article as first published on the Mail site at 13:14, 11-01-11 (before it was on OnePoll.com), byline ‘Daily Mail Reporter’, with stats of 96% cut, 97% pasted on churnalism.com:

It’s natural for women to feel overwhelmed by  the pressures and responsibility of a newborn. But a new survey has revealed it takes the average mother one-and-a-half years to ‘feel like a woman again’ after childbirth. Experts found gruelling sleepless nights lead to a dip in confidence amid the loss of independence, worries over her post-baby figure and how she will be perceived by others.

Personal fitness, fashion and social life also take a back seat as a new mother comes to terms with caring for her new arrival. But finally after 18 months the confidence begins to return as baby weight falls off, they become more comfortable with the role of motherhood and settle back into work. The timescale was revealed in a study of 3,000 mothers carried out by nursing wear fashion website www.abeautifulmummy.co.uk.

Yesterday managing director Claire Burns said: ‘Mums have a different set of priorities after having a baby.

‘With the new arrival comes a wealth of responsibility, endless sleepless nights, feeds every couple of hours and numerous nappy changes.

‘It is no wonder new mums find it harder to take care of themselves as they come to terms with their new role – at the end of the day this new baby is the centre of their world.’

The study found a lack of routine amid the chaos of a new baby was a key factor in draining a mother’s confidence along with extreme tiredness and hours spent feeding. Additionally, it emerged more than two thirds of new mums admitted feeling ‘saggy’, ‘fat’ and ‘unattractive’ in the months after giving birth.

Six out of ten claimed their confidence took a real knock when they realised their old clothes didn’t fit.

And a quarter said they felt they were competing with others mums – and celebrities – to lose weight quickly after birth.

Six out of ten said their self-assurance disappeared due to hormone-driven emotions.
Unsurprisingly, 64 per cent claimed a lack of routine in the early months meant they struggled to make it through the day.

During this time, 68 per cent of mums said they felt like ‘a feeding machine’, while 63 per cent admitted ‘letting themselves go’ by failing to take care of their hair, make-up or clothes.

The report also showed a large percentage of mums had no time for themselves once the baby was born, 32 per cent said breastfeeding limited what they could wear. And 39 per cent felt unattractive in every outfit they put on. The poll shows a third of mums were terrified about returning to work, while 66 per cent feared they wouldn’t have the confidence to excel in their role.

Nine out of ten mums said work no longer seemed as important after they gave birth, and 79 per cent didn’t want to leave their baby to go back. It also emerged most mums need at least ten months to feel ‘part of the gang’ again when returning to work after maternity leave. Many said they even felt they had to try harder to re-establish themselves at work.

Claire Burns added: ‘It’s really hard for women to feel sexy, chic and stylish after just having given birth.

‘Your body isn’t what it was – you’re too small for maternity clothes and too big for your normal wardrobe.

‘This just makes mums feel incredibly unattractive and uncomfortable in their own skin – and can be one of the reasons why mums don’t want to socialise in the days and months after having a baby.’

But this is the article as last updated at 13.30, 12-01-11, byline Fiona MacRae

As the dirty nappies pile up and a good night’s sleep seems a distant memory, it is easy for a new mother to think life will never be the same again. But it will happen – even if it does take an average of 18 months, according to a poll of thousands of ­British women.

That’s 547 days, for any parents desperately counting down the time on their calendar, before new ­mothers are able to ‘feel like a woman again’. During that one and a half year period, however, sleepless nights, loss of independence and weight worries all contribute to a crisis of confidence.

More than two thirds of those questioned admitted to feeling ‘saggy’, ‘fat’ and ‘unattractive’ in the months after giving birth.

Six out of ten claimed their confidence took a real knock when they realised their old clothes didn’t fit.

And a quarter of the 3,000 women said they felt they were competing with other mothers – including celebrities – to lose weight quickly after birth.

Unsurprisingly, 64 per cent of those polled for fashion website A Beautiful Mummy claimed a lack of routine in the early months meant they struggled to make it through the day.

Around a third blamed breastfeeding for limiting what they could wear and 39 per cent felt unattractive in every outfit they put on.

Others struggled to adjust to the loss of ‘me time’, with 63 per cent saying they let themselves go by failing to take care of their hair, make-up or clothes.

Siobhan Freegard, of the Netmums parenting advice website, said that while 18 months might be the average figure, many women will take longer.

‘New mothers go through phases,’ she said. ‘The first is the dressing-gown phase. Then you get to the phase where you have managed clean hair. Clean hair and make-up is another phase.

‘As your child gets to between two and a half and three, you suddenly find you are able to co-ordinate clothes, make-up and earrings. Earrings and fresh lipstick is a sign you have come out the other side. But this doesn’t mean you are not happy during that time,’ she stressed. ‘It just means you have different priorities.’

Child birth: Women take 547 days to get their confidence back – and often feel saggy, fat and unattractive

The change in priorities also meant that nine in ten new mothers polled said work no longer seemed as important after they gave birth, and 79 per cent didn’t want to leave their baby to go back. Many also feared they would no longer excel in their job. For those who did take the plunge, it tended to take at least ten months to feel part of the gang again when returning to work after maternity leave.

Claire Burns, managing director of A Beautiful Mummy, said: ‘Mums have a different set of responsibilities after having a baby.

‘With the new arrival comes a wealth of responsibility, endless sleepless nights, feeds every couple of hours and numerous nappy changes.

‘It is no wonder that new mums find it harder to take care of themselves as they come to terms with their new role – at the end of the day this new baby is the centre of their world.’

Mrs Burns added: ‘It’s really hard for women to feel sexy, chic and stylish after just having given birth.

‘Your body isn’t what it was – you’re too small for maternity clothes and too big for your normal wardrobe.

‘This just makes mums feel incredibly unattractive and uncomfortable in their own skin – and can be one of the reasons why mums don’t want to socialise in the days and months after having a baby.’

Based on the press release but not nearly so similar. Sort of doing journalism in public I guess.

The question for churnalism.com is how to represent this fairly in the stats. The easy thing is to keep updating the churn stats so they are correct for the article live on site. But it seems a shame to lose the original article, and not be able to see the evolution.

Thoughts?

Written by Martin Moore

February 25th, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Churnalism

Ladies and gentleman, please start your churn engines

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This post was first published on mediastandardstrust.org on Wednesday 23rd February

Today we (the Media Standards Trust) are launching churnalism.com, a free independent website that allows people to compare press releases with published news articles – to help identify ‘churnalism’.

It’s an idea we’ve been talking about for a good few years, but only finally got around to rolling our sleeves up last year. Ever since Nick Davies published Flat Earth News – detailing the vast quantities of press releases that make it into mainstream media – we’ve been wondering how to help distinguish churnalism from journalism.

Last spring we bit the bullet and asked Donovan Hide – a Liverpool based techno guru – to help us work out how to create it, building on the foundations of journalisted.com (which we also run). We’ve had to finance it from core funding (which we get from charitable foundations) since it’s pretty tricky to convince people to support this without seeing how it works. But now it’s up and running people will – we hope – see how useful it is and flock to our aid ;-)www.justgiving.com/mediastandardstrust

How does churnalism.com work out if articles are churn?

When you paste a press release into churnalism.com and hit ‘compare’ the churn engine compares it with over three million articles published in the national press in the last three years (refreshed every hour or so).

The engine looks for 15-character strings in the press release that are exactly the same as 15-character strings in articles. When it finds the same string the engine looks for more identical strings in the same article. If more than 20% of the article and the press release overlap, the engine suggests it may be churn.

This makes the process sound quite simple. It’s not. For those who would like a much more sophisticated explanation of how it works, we’ll be publishing a post by Donovan Hide tomorrow.

Finding press releases

Finding press releases to compare with news articles is not as easy as it sounds. Though there are some press release aggregators that publish lots of releases on the web (like PR Newswire), this only covers a small percentage of the total number sent out. Many press releases are only published on the website of the organisation they are sent from. Many more are not published on the web at all but emailed directly to specific journalists.

This is why we’ve taken a mixed approach – part automated collection, part crowd sourcing. For the automated part, we scrape press releases from a bunch of organisations that send out lots – the government, big retailers like Tesco and M&S, and some police forces. We compare these automatically with all the articles published on national newspaper websites, and on the BBC and Sky.

For the crowdsourcing part, we allow people to paste in press releases and compare them. If they look like churn then you can save the press release (with the web link if it has one) so you can share it (e.g. via Facebook and Twitter) and so that other people can see it when they come to the site.

We’ll also be tweeting good churn from @churnalert, and building up a bank of good examples.

Wishlist

We have (quite a big) wishlist of other stuff we’d like to do with churnalism.com but don’t yet have the time or the money:

  • More press releases collected automatically We’ll be scraping more press releases from the web as we find them. If you know of any good places to find them please let us know
  • More news articles to compare With more resources we’d be able to provide comparisons of the local press as well as the national, by extending the reach of journalisted.com. Then we could cover specialist and trade press. Then international…. (OK, we’ll need to draw the line somewhere)
  • Exposing probable churn by cross correlating news articles If we cross correlated news articles using the same methodology we would identify clusters of articles that overlap with one another. This could indicate that these articles may be based on press release. We could then appeal for help to find the release
  • Linking churnalism.com with journalisted.com Now churnalism.com is up and running we can work out how best to link it to journalisted.com. We could, for example, indicate when a journalist’s article looks like it might be churn, and link directly from the article on journalisted.com to the press release on which it might be based
  • The Daily Churn Once there are enough people using churnalism, and exposing good churn reasonably quickly, then we’ll be able publish a ‘Daily Churn’, highlighting newspapers and articles that day that appear to be churn.

Tell us what you’d add to this wishlist by emailing team@churnalism.com.

Written by Martin Moore

February 23rd, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Data journalism – shorthand for coping with information abundance

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The term ‘data journalism’ is misleading. It gives the impression of journalists as statisticians, crouched over computer databases doing SQL queries and writing code. This may be one aspect of data journalism but only a tiny one. And it is certainly not why data journalism is the future of news.

Data journalism is shorthand for being able to cope with information abundance. It is not just about numbers. Neither is it about being a mathmo or a techie. It means being able to combine three things: individual human intelligence, networked intelligence, and computing power.

We live in an age of information abundance – both static and dynamic. By static data I mean things like annual reports, historical crime data, censuses (censi?). This is information that is collected – often by public bodies – categorized, and published. By dynamic data I mean real time information, flowing in through micro-blogs, social networks, live cameras.

Static data, which used to lie relatively dormant in archives and libraries is increasingly being made public (on places like data.gov.uk and data.gov). On data.gov.uk there are already 5,600 data sets. In January most of the UK’s local councils (293 out of 326 at the last count) published all their spending records over £500.

Dynamic data comes at us in a torrent. 25 billion tweets were sent in 2010. 100 million new twitter accounts were created in 2010. 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. There were 600 million people on Facebook by the end of 2010 (data from royal.pingdom). If you want, you can watch live CCTV cameras on the streets of London.

Data journalism is about coping with both of these. It’s about:

  • being able to work out what is happening in Tahrir square in real time from tweets, video footage, and social networks – while at the same time contextualising that with diplomatic news from Cairo and Washington (see services like Storyful and Sulia)
  • being able to upload, add metadata and analyse thousands of pages of legal documents (e.g. via Document Cloud)
  • being able to map crime data (e.g. see Oakland Crimespotters)
  • being able to harness the intelligence of the ‘crowd’ to unearth stories from mountains of detailed data; as the Guardian did with MPs expenses, getting 170,000 read and checked in just over three days (and, separately, to identify all the Doctor Who baddies)
  • knowing how to use metadata – in publishing, searching and using information (heard of hNews? Or RDFa? Or Open Calais?)
  • building the tools that enable people to see the relevance of public information to them (as the New York Times did with its series on toxic waters)

A data journalist should have the news sense of a traditional journalist, a broad and deep social media presence, and be tech-savvy enough to be able to do pivot tables in Excel and know how to use tools like Google Refine. The ability to code and do database queries would be an added bonus, but is not a pre-requisite.

This is where Stieg Larsson and his ‘The Girl with/who..’ series comes in. Larsson got data journalism. He understood how rare it is for a journalist with news sense and story-telling skills to be a tech wiz as well. So he didn’t try to combine everything in one character. He created two: Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander. Together they can source the data, analyse the data, and tell the story.

Compare Salander with Wikileaks. Wikileaks spent four years publishing leaked data without much public profile. Then it started to turn its data into stories (the edited footage of the US Apache helicopter attack in Iraq) and to partner with existing news organisations and journalists (particularly Nick Davies and David Leigh at the Guardian) and it became one of the most well known organisations on the planet (the leak of the Afghan warlogs, the Iraq warlogs and the diplomatic cables helped of course).

Data needs journalism. This is where the rather misleading phrase ‘data journalism’ is also quite helpful. There is a myth that all we need to do to make the world a better place is to make everything open and transparent. Openness will help, but it only gets us halfway there. Without people and organisations able and willing to take the open data, clean it, structure it, add metadata to it, create tools to analyse it, analyse it, and tell stories from it, then the data might as well go back in the archive.

Further reading:

Start with Jonathan Stray’s excellent reading list on his blog

The Guardian’s Datablog is one of the pioneers in this area, particularly notable are the way it dealt with MPs expenses, how it maps things like Swine Flu, and how it handled the Wikileaks warlogs data

Propublica has published a series of guides on collecting data

Conrad Quilty Harper has a good run down of open data and its uses (good and bad) at The Telegraph

And for some very inventive uses of data see David McCandless’ Information is Beautiful (including a meta-prediction based on 4,000 horoscopes)

See panel discussion about data journalism at The Book Club, Shoreditch, with Mark Stephens and Ben Leapman, 9-2-11

Written by Martin Moore

February 9th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

US local news experiments leagues ahead of UK

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This article was first posted at PBS MediaShift Ideas Lab on Tuesday 1st February

It is easy to overestimate the similarities between the US and the UK. As Oscar Wilde wrote back in 1887, ”We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

But one of the unfortunate recent similarities has been the parallel crisis in local news, especially at newspapers. In both countries existing local news providers have been the hardest hit by the structural changes in news provision and consumption, each having relied so heavily on classified and recruitment advertising.

Yet the reactions of the two countries have been very different, particularly in the last couple of years. Comparing these different reactions helps illuminate why the US is starting to see a future for local news in the digital era while the UK is still mired in the soup of its analog past.

US: Experimentation

Over the last five years the U.S. has seen – and continues to see – lots of experimentation in the provision of local news and information. This has been due to:

Severity and speed of the American crisis Between 2007 and 2009, U.S. newspaper advertising revenues fell 43 percent, according to the State of the News Media 2010. Some news groups went under. In the majority of cases, however, this did not lead papers to close. Instead, the papers themselves became much less substantial (i.e. costs were carved out of editorial resources). At the same time, those within and outside the news industry searched frantically for new ways of gathering, publishing and delivering news.

Provision of foundation grants for new ideas and start-ups Since 2006, J-Lab estimates that “more than $141 million in non-profit funding flowed into new media.” U.S. foundations – most notably the Knight Foundation – invested millions of dollars in experimentation. The Knight News Challenge, which funds this website, has given people a chance to compete for a share of a $5 million pot each year since 2006. The same foundation funded New Voices, an initiative that awarded “small grants to seed the launch of innovative community news venture.” Other foundations, such as the Sandler Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and Omidyar Network, also provided grants and start-up funds for projects as diverse as ProPublica, the Voice of San Diego, NewsTrust.net and Ushahidi.

Role of universities in hothousing and nourishing start-ups Many US universities have, for many years, published highly professional local newspapers and news outlets. This has broadened and deepened since the crisis in local news kicked in. Some college news outlets, like the University of Miami’s Grand Avenue News, have formed partnerships with commercial newspapers (in this case the Miami Herald). Some have developed news outlets and then sold them off to outside news companies (as with Montana University’s Dutton County Courier to the Choteau Acantha newspaper). Others have won awards for their investigative journalism (like ChicagoTalks.org from Chicago’s Columbia College). All these examples are taken from J-Lab’s excellent research on What Works. There are many more.

Investment in regional or national networks of digital sites As the traditional news players collapsed, some new media players have jumped in to fill the gap. AOL launched Patch, a national network of local sites like Montclair Patch, and Chicago Heights Patch. In 2010, the Vocus State of the Media report found there were 724 online news launches, all but 36 of them on Patch. Other companies like Main Street Connect are trying to provide a similar local news template and service, if on a smaller scale than Patch (e.g. see the Daily Greenwich).

Through this experimentation, the U.S. has learned lots about what works and what doesn’t. That is not to say it has “solved” the crisis in local news. That assumes there is a single solution, which there isn’t. But there are different ways to address the underlying problem – how people get the information they need to participate fully in democratic society – and the US has progressed along the road towards this.

UK: Conservatism

By comparison, there has been far less experimentation in the UK. There are important exceptions to this rule but, compared to the US, the conservatism of the UK is striking. The reasons for this include:

The continuing dominance of four big news groups Four news groups control between 60 to 70 percent of the local news market: Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Northcliffe (owned by DMGT) and Newsquest (owned by Gannett). They have not distinguished themselves by their experimentation. Of the four, Trinity Mirror has, after a slow start, shown the most interest in trying to adapt to the digital era. It is launching hyper-local sites and collaborating with existing bloggers and community news sites. Northcliffe has a network of hyper-local sites but they are very cookie-cutter (see Market Harborough People vs. Melton Mowbray People), and appear to have minimal investment. Johnston and Newsquest are crippled by debt and many wonder how long they can continue. Yet while they do they help to squelch the development of nascent local media ventures.

The lack of foundation funding The UK does not have a similar legacy of supporting public media. Perhaps because of the dominance of the publicly funded BBC, foundations have not, in the past, tended to give grants to local media provision. This is now changing gradually, but we have yet to see a foundation investing heavily in local media in the way the Knight Foundation has in the US.

Introverted universities Similarly, though most universities have a university newspaper (and sometimes more than one), most of these are for and about the university, rather than for the wider community. Nor have many journalism departments sought to incubate, or launch, actual news startups. There are exceptions, of course. Goldsmiths College in London launched eastlondonlines.co.uk, an independent news website serving Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon. But there is nothing on the scale or ambition of media ventures at US universities.

Negative government intervention In the US, the government has stayed away from direct intervention in local media, and US foundations have stepped in to partly fill the gap. In the UK not only have foundations not stepped in, but the government has, if anything, suppressed experimentation. It has done this partly by searching for ways to prop up the existing incumbents, and partly through its adherence to a top-down policy on local TV news.

Despite the conservatism of the incumbents, the lack of foundation funding, the lack of incubation at universities and the negative government intervention, there are British innovators, entrepreneurs and intrepid local startups (see here, here and here). But right now they are working against the grain in the UK, which is not as it should be.

Written by Martin Moore

February 4th, 2011 at 5:10 pm