Publishing data – Black Box of Journalism Unpacked

Media organisations are opening up their APIs and data to the public, developers, journalists and audience at large, which should help produce new stories, data visualizations, mash-ups and other forms of digital storytelling.

The Washington Post has launched an API portal for developers who can now build apps using data from the newspaper, reports Eweek.com.

 “Powered by the Post”, the portal hosting the media organisation’s open API’s, makes its APIs publicly available for the first time, including data processed and published by the Washington Post. Data includes presidential speeches, White House visits, campaign finance data and more, reports Eweek.com.

The Washington Post will complement this initiative with hosting Election Hackaton in October, on the occasion of the 2012 presidential election, giving an opportunity to developers to build apps on the spot that use data from The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Sunlight Labs and other sources of APIs, reports Eweek.com.

Visualizations like Guardian’s

If you wish to produce visualizations like Guardian’s, then pay attention to the Miso Project, Guardian’s initiative to offer its own open code for data visualizations to all journalists. The code is published in sequels, in the form of so-called software libraries.

Making the Guardian’s code public will help journalists to tell stories in a visual way, said the head of interactivity at the Guardian, Alastair Dant, for Journalism.co.uk . He also stated that although there is freely available data, there are not many tools for its processing – hence the Miso Project to help fill the gap.  

Dant hopes that media organisations, both large, and small, local ones, will use the open code as what the programming of the code entails can be done by one person, reports Journalism.co.uk.

“The Guardian is committed to Open Journalism and the Miso libraries are part of a process of building a truly open interactive journalism, where we not only make raw data available to the public but also open up the ‘full stack’ – from data processing tools & scripts to the visualization tools used to create the final output.”, says Alex Graul, an Interactive Developer at guardian.co.uk on the Guardian’s Developer Blog.

More about Miso Project can be found on the Guardian’s Blog. The project was started owing to the funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in cooperation with a U.S. open technology company Bocoup.

Opening the Black Box

The previous two examples are not the only ones of media organisations opening up their code and data, collected and processed with much effort, so that new and exciting stories and forms of digital storytelling can emerge. The resources are open not only to other media, but also to the public, which presents a great leap from the traditional media paradigm of journalists as gate-keepers to journalists as sense-makers.

In the traditional media world, journalists were practicing independence and distance from users, and users were expected to exercise unconditional trust in media content. What went on within media organisations in terms of content production was a black box for the audience, while they were only the recipients of this process’ outcome.

However, journalism practice has experienced a profound change in the digital era, and the examples of the proverbial black box opening up are many: from the original documents published along with the stories to corroborate evidence, users providing instant feedback to the journalistic work and feeding information into the news production process, to the above explained data sets and tools being offered freely for further use. Unconditional trust is being replaced with the transparency of journalistic work and the ability of users to scrutinize it.

One of the key forces shaping journalism today is technological innovation and we are, in fact, witnessing the history of digital media unfolding, with technological means influencing journalistic and social practice and offering new modes of communication in the public sphere. 

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