On @Heinz's lecture for GADI 2012

Posted on Thu 03 May 2012 in university

Last week I went to university in order to listen to Heinz’s1 lecture about Realtime Journalism as part of GADI2. I happened to come across his blog a while back and after reading that he’ll be lecturing I couldn’t resist checking out that particular session of GADI although I don’t take that course this year. It might have been beneficial to attend more courses which I do take…

About Realtime Journalism

The term Realtime Journalism is used for two different combinations of synchronous actions.

  • Sync of coverage with event
    This is the part that we are all very familiar with due to its roots in live coverage of events through more traditional media like TV.
  • Sync of event with queries
    This part however is where the fun for students of Computer Science and nerds in general is. Due to the availability of open data as well as an abundance of APIs with different proprietary data providers it’s now possible to show an incredible amount of data corresponding with different newsworthy events easily. Reporting on an earthquake? Show maps that are color-coded with the amount of damage that occurred. Reporting on a convention? Monitor the twitter hashtag to see what visitors are thinking. The possibilities are manifold, considering the essential tool that ushahidi - more on that later - might become.

While we are used to the first part, a sync of queries with events in order to display related data in realtime is huge opportunity to improve reports and stories without the need to stretch the length of a story. I’m confident that while not every audience is ready for this kind of information bombardment the trend will be going towards displaying more relevant data without the need to look it up yourself. Critical analysis of gathered information may become harder due to the increasing amount of sources which may not yet have reached the credibility they should have while others may be mistaken from time to time.

Technology

I admit that I wasn’t only there to listen to the lecture but to get to know a few new toys on the web which might not be in the center of attention yet. To say the least, I wasn’t disappointed.

  • I had already forgotten about PubSubHubbub, which is a neat extension to the RSS protocol in order to serve new posts even faster to subscriber via the usage of hubs between the publisher and the user. In essence it uses Push instead of clients having to poll for new items. I read up on that while checking out RSS publishing for my old blog.
  • Storify is a service that may use different sources like Facebook feeds, Twitter feeds and much more to create interactive, realtime updating stories. Though it sounds interesting, a short demo during the presentation immediately showed me that it’s not my type of thing.
  • Facebook has its own livestreaming service called “facebook live talks”. No chance I’ll be using that, thank you very much.
  • Ushahidi could be the reporting tool of the future. It’s open source, it’s a service and it’s data and visualizations thereof are incredible if the demonstration’s level of awesomeness can be recreated in real world usage.
  • Google Hangouts provide means of realtime video conversations with multiple partners via a browser plugin. I’m not on plus, I don’t have any reason apart from curiosity to go there and plenty of other things to do. So I haven’t tested hangouts. According to Heinz it’s based on the HTML5 capability “Websockets” which are intended for realtime communication on a software level, modernizing the static web. Admittedly, thanks to a large part to AJAX, it’s not that static anymore, but still…

Final Thoughts

From all I heard I came to following conclusions:
There is a big emphasis on what I’d call DIY information. It’s all about enhancing and enriching your own findings and reports with related information and where applicable open data.
You can’t ignore social media anymore, not after what happened in Egypt 2011. Let’s end this post with a quote from the lecture.

Connectivity and interactivity have definite results: The observer becomes an actor. The image of the classic neutral journalist is no longer crystal clear.3


  1. Heinz Wittenbrink, who’s teaching social media and online journalism at the FH Joanneum, covering local events for the benefit of the Internet on Twitter, blogging and probably participating in an incredible amount of other projects that I don’t know of. 

  2. English: Effects of information technology on society
    German: Gesellschaftliche Auswirkungen der Informationstechnologie 

  3. Original: “Verbundenheit und Interaktivität wirkt sich aus: Der Beobachter wird ebenfalls zum Akteur. Das klassische Bild vom objektiven Journalisten ist nicht mehr ganz so klar.”