Wikipedia gets it wrong even as a source of sources

I am currently teaching a term-long data journalism course at Birkbeck, University of London for MA students. Aside from seeing their overall projects develop, it is fun to see how students respond to challenges, such as to find data visualisations. (They came up with fine examples on gender pay gaps, China’s Uighur prison camps and trade discrepancies.)

One particularly interesting set of responses came when I asked students to find something wrong on Wikipedia (without editing in their own errors). Several found basic factual mistakes in pages on their home towns and other things they know well. Having said that, in data journalism courses I always advise using Wikipedia as a source of sources, to follow links and footnotes to good primary material. Continue reading “Wikipedia gets it wrong even as a source of sources”

Tax discs, books, interviews, money – where paper beats digital

Neophilia is a condition where the sufferer believes that newer things beat older ones. It’s quite common among technologists who make their livings introducing new things. This can bias them against older technologies – such as that miracle of resilience, portability and usability, paper.

For Computer Weekly, I looked at some specific areas where paper can outperform digital. George Osborne’s cancellation of paper tax discs appears to be costing the country tens of millions of pounds a year. Take-up of e-books has stalled, with the proportion of Americans reading paper books actually rising. Oxfam deliberately uses paper for some sensitive interviews and in places where people are worried about government surveillance. Continue reading “Tax discs, books, interviews, money – where paper beats digital”

The Christmas gift you deserve: freedom from Facebook

If you want to get yourself a present for Christmas, then how about extra free time with a side-order of serenity? Follow Jaron Lanier’s advice and cut down on social media. I’d add, start with Facebook.

Facebook has unappealing aspects common to many tech companies, such as aggressively (and legally) avoiding taxes. But when it comes to disrupting politics, by allowing who knows who to target voters with ads saying (until recently) who knows what, it has no equal. Continue reading “The Christmas gift you deserve: freedom from Facebook”

NUJ freelance training in 2019

The National Union of Journalists has announced 2019 dates for my day courses for freelancers, all running at NUJ headquarters at Headland House, Acton Street, 10 minutes’ walk from King’s Cross and St Pancras stations.

I am down to run First steps in freelancing, designed for new and recent converts to the freelance life, on Friday 22 March and Friday 11 October. It costs £60 for most NUJ members, £50 for student members and £110 for everyone else.

Winning and negotiating freelance work will run on Friday 5 April and Friday 25 October. It costs £70 for most NUJ members, £60 for student members and £130 if you are not a member. Continue reading “NUJ freelance training in 2019”

Aid organisations dodge cloud for technology that works

There were two reasons I wanted to write about software used by international aid organisations. The first reason was that there were lots of great projects to write about. Where commercial mappers failed, Missing Maps volunteers using OpenStreetMap and aerial images had 23,500 square kilometres of the Democratic Republic of the Congo hit by Ebola mapped in a fortnight, helping Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to tackle the outbreak.

The second reason was that aid organisations need technology that works in all environments. Among other things, this often means avoiding cloud computing. MSF physically flew its new maps to the Congo, first on paper then on a small server, to save bandwidth to its facilities there. Those with staff working mainly in the field, such as Oxfam and World Vision, make sure their software works offline. It demonstrates why cloud is not the answer everywhere, even if mobile coverage in Britain are usually better than in central Africa. Continue reading “Aid organisations dodge cloud for technology that works”