“Presents for all!” - my festive #jcarn post

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 9 December 2011

I’m hosting December’s “Carnival of journalism” on the Guardian Developer blog, so it would be a bit remiss not to join in myself. As neither a hack nor a hacker, I thought I'd take the liberty of answering both variations of the question...

What would be the best presents techies could give to journalists?

I’d nominate three things:

1) Stop making dreadful user interfaces for CMS software.
Karen McGrane describes CMS as “the software UX forgot”. When you are making admin tools, stop making forms that represent database structures, and instead treat your system’s users with the design respect you would give to end users.

2) Make open data work
We’ll getter better journalism, stories, scrutiny and oversight of our institutions if they have to release their data. The cost of releasing data will start to be a target for austerity cuts in the UK if we can’t prove the value. Please build something that does more than stick stuff on a map or turn a spreadsheet into HTML. We need a killer useful open data app that will make a difference to the public.

3) Read about business strategy a bit before criticising things that seem really obviously wrong to the tech community.
Just because an app doesn’t do all the super-powerful configurable things that you’d like it to do, or use the latest platform du jour, doesn’t mean it won’t find a market. If you like driving sports cars, you’ll find that a family saloon will still get you from A to B, it just won’t be your kind of drive. Nobody criticises car manufacturers for making variations between models aimed at different market sectors in the way that news orgs get criticised. Not every product is aimed at the vocal tech community.

What would be the best presents journalists could give to techies?

I’d nominate three things:

1) Add structure. And metadata. And structured metadata.
Wherever you’ve got the opportunity to add structure to stories, do it. Whether it is tagging, mark-up, links to original sources, however your CMS allows you to augment material with meaningful machine-readable data, do it. The future will thank you for it.

2) Join in comments or switch them off
If you invite people to a party round your house, and then ignore all your guests, it would be no surprise if they started bad-mouthing you. That’s what happens in your comment threads. If you are not going to actually engage in the conversation underneath your stories, don’t pretend you have an “engaged community”. Join in or switch them off.

3) Use Google a bit before writing stories that seem really obvious to the tech community.
I think the Bell Pottinger story, for example, has been fascinating, and it is great to see that it was the work of Tim Ireland that surfaced it. But, and it is a big but, a couple of simple Google searches for “online reputation management” or “wikipedia management” would surface that this is a common and well-known established practice. Google actually sell advertisements for this kind of service against those keywords. You look a bit silly when you present this as an amazing discovery.

Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks brings together notes from 16 talks, including those from Martin Rosenbaum, Stephen Grey, Alastair Dant, Scott Byrne-Fraser and Wendy Grossman. It looks at topics of interest to journalists and programers alike, including freedom of information, processing big data sets to tell stories, social activism hack camps, the future of interactive technologies, and using social media to cover your tracks - or uncover those of somebody else.
Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks for Kindle is £1.14.

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