Brighton Future of News blog

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Live blog: It’s a great time to be a journalist – Open data, storytelling and more @greghadfield #bfong

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Greg Hadfield came to Brighton Future of News Group on our first birthday.

Quotes George Orwell from Decline of the English Murder and other essays.

He explains he wants to talk about why we want to write, how painful it is.

It’s like pulling teeth with every deadline.

Why be a journalist?


Get back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood.

Perception of beauty.

Sound on another, prose on a window pane.

When first decided to become a journalist thought of George Orwell. Wondered where George Orwell went in Barnsley, he stayed with NUM members working down the pit.

Greg went along 50 years later and found the granddaughter of the householder.

Sharing where I come from because it informs what we do.

Talking about data, but people think data journalism is cool and trendy, but in The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell tracked down the wages, the bills the earnings, he listed them in tables.

He did the same in Spain in Homage to Catalonia, it became journalism.

I came to journalism to change the world. Wanted to write a 4,000 word article to change the world.

Greg wrote about women’s right to choose for the Wakefield Express and met his wife at the rally where he researched.

Went to the prison, wrote about the NUM, the pit, Labour MPs, thought he was following George Orwell during his work at the Wakefield Express.

Working for the Western Morning News to cover nuclear test veterans.

Asked “who transcribed your recording?”  No one, was the answer, and he found the envelope with his files on the story written in his own shorthand.

In those folders was data from every veteran Greg met who witnessed the Christmas Island nuclear tests he met in Plymouth.

There were hand-written surveys, shorthand notes, the lot, all the data on two envelopes. Back then the stories were typed up on carbon paper.

Greg produced copies of his original pages showing the articles he wrote about 600 people from Devon and Cornwall who suffered after witnessing the nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Through his interviews he discovered the children and grandchildren of the veterans have deformities. He drove up and down Devon and Cornwall to find the data  and the story continues.

Think how much easier it would have been in the data was available. If there was a social network where people could share their experiences. The data was being amassed in academic and health journals and stories weren’t making it in to newspapers.

That data related to people’s lives, collating it. Imagine if there was a database.

It would be so much easier to do these stories these days.

The Christmas Island story goes on.

Greg commended Argus reporter Tim Ridgeway  for his piece about empty homes in The Argus, how many people need a home while many people are homeless.

Orwell did the same thing looking at homelessness in Barnsley and Wigan.

One of the things Greg is interested in is using open data in Brighton and Hove to address social issues.

This week we’ve had crime maps. Putting out housing data is very important. The local authority has obligation over private landlords who don’t meet regulations.

Why not publish all that data? Why rely on The Argus printing it once? Curate it, come back to it.

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian compares crime maps to some form of fetishism similar to exam league tables.

Greg was responsible for the first league tables in The Sunday Times. The release of that data the government kept up with, now people knew where their schools stood.

The crime map doesn’t work in the same way as Chicago or New York police map. No data has been released, it’s closed. We can’t work with it. is a single piece of central information.

If we had the data a variety of patterns could emerge, show crime near schools etc.

There is a mass of data about Brighton and Hove. Some of it is hidden away

There is a narrative and story to be told with that data.

Simon Rogers and the data blog at The Guardian is a great thing.

Journalism is better than that, it’s grabbing hold of the data and seeing meaning in it in prose that can change the world.

These days Greg does understand why The Argus doesn’t spend two pages of expensive newsprint on planning applications.

Why can’t we have a planning site similar to a  My Society project for Brighton and Hove?

People talk about the internet as a global platform, it’s transformed my life.

He produced Soccernet when there were 600 websites on the internet.

Greg Hadfield with the computer used to create Soccernet

Greg Hadfield with the computer used to create Soccernet

Brighton back in 1995 had two ISPs, and one of them was used by Greg’s 12-year-old son who came up with the idea to put football results online.

The site was written manually in HTML on an old computer, which Greg brought along to show everyone. Now he has set up his first WordPress blog in 10 minutes. How times have changed.

I think open data is changing our lives for good.

When there were 600 websites in the world, and Soccernet was one of them, people didn’t know what to do.

The semantic web will change things. It could be changed by a 12-year-old boy in Brighton or a tech ace in Bombay.

People living and loving in Brighton and Hove can create a new form of journalism using the semantic web and data and produce something George Orwell would have been delighted with.


I do believe there’s never been a better time to be a journalist but it is a rubbish time for newspapers.

Brighton is a great place to be a journalist now.

(A little crash meant I couldn’t note Greg explaining how great the internet is for journalism, individuals working on their own or within organisations using data).

You have to have drive. Individuals can do their bit.

Work for a newspaper, work for an NGO and get information to do something world changing.

Working with HIV AIDS Alliance in Hove.

Can you setup a blog and change the world? It’s very difficult.

Looking at the miners then, now wonders where the journalism about the homeless, the marginalised living on council estates?

Greg would like to see embedded journalism within the community. Live the life of the community. Working at the Wakefield Express he was living and working with miners.

There are great causes to fight. Every generation of journalists has their campaigns to fight.

In Brighton it’s the housing and social housing situation. We need to shed light and publish data about it.

Who has the most to lose from open data?

The council and the police will gain from releasing data. It’s a weight off their backs. The democratically elected organisations have little to lose and everything to gain.

Those who exploit ignorance have something to lose.

Releasing information about exploitation means the exploiters will lose and everyone will gain. From bankers bonuses to Rackman style landlords, get the information out.

Data is the start but there’s the optimism to create something.

Brighton and Hove buses has one app built by a developer in his spare time when the information was released. to him Portland, Oregon, information released and numerous apps created.

Let’s release the data and have 1, 000 flowers blossoming.

Brighton Buses, Southern Rail, NCP, release the data and we could have an integrated transport system app.

With the information out there, will the data be rendered meaningless by spin?

Yes, it worries me. When we published one piece of information about a school told parents will take it out of context.

But we need to have more faith in the people in the street than the teachers, governors and politicians do

If you publish the immigration stats as open data, there would be different interpretations, graphics and opinions.

Whether the Daily Mail (have worked for) or The Guardian.
Different visualisation and commenting.
We live in a pluralistic society, not one or two media barons, we are thousands.

Data literacy is important. There are different perspectives.

Mentions Ben Goldacre Bad Science, as critical of misunderstanding data.

Today there was a debate about Free Schools. It turns out 76 per cent of schools are good or outstanding. The fact 24 per cent aren’t good can put a different twist on it.
I want to make sense of that data. Don’t want THEM to tell me I’m not intelligent enough to understand that data.
We can all debate that data if it’s out there.

Data isn’t about figures.

Everything can be out there from the trivial to the heavy stuff.
It’s about the individual choosing where they’ll find their helpful and fulfilling stuff.

Lack of outroar about Primark and sweatshops. Do we live in apathetic times?

Do not think we’re living in apathetic times. Don’t think we’re opiated by the mass of information to not be active.
Youth engagement in politics blame young people for not being engaged in politics. Look to thyself. Young people with access to information are fantastic, energetic and want to be engaged.

John Keenan mentions comments where people don’t get it.

Greg wrote Normanton news. Sit in a pub and listen to people talking about the newspapers. Those negative conversations have always gone on.

You don’t hear the conversations now you do hear them online.
On Twitter you’re in tune with people. Look at a hashtag out of your comfort zone and you see everything is out there.

Need to have citizen centred journalism, understanding them and helping people fill a gap to lead more informed lives.

People have always been trolling journalists. Don’t read the comments if you don’t like them.

Anyone can write on the web, would it be better to see a short bit about Wikileaks on BBC News?

Trusted authority of a band, journalists working for a title, is an overwhelming privilege, whatever the title is.

When you write something public there is tremendous issue to be public.
Criticism about big media is they haven’t made the most of human talent giving its all to work in a career to be proud of.

When journalists move their Twitter followers go with them. They’re loyal to the brand.

Get out of jail free card is “my tweets are my own”.

If media companies are lucky the new young journalists will stay with them.

If cities open up their data, make it easy to understand. Say transport data there’s money for people to make apps and sell them. Digital media businesses interested in that.

Who do you see taking on the burden of wading through great swaths of data? Local newspapers? Are people going to take on that responsibility?
Big national news organisations have teams to take it on, but outside of that not much has happened.
Who is going to take that responsibility? Joel Gunter asks

Conrad Quilty-Harper stayed up all night dealing with data for the Telegraph @coneee – Follow him, Greg says.
We, as journalists demand information, then there’s a huge tidal wave of data.

There’s MPs expenses,  Wikileaks, miss it but it’s still there.
Need to curate the stuff we’ve got.

Need to say “I’m going to be the expert journalist on housing”.
Will it be journalists? Journalists in big media? NGOs, don’t know.

Now every morning can wake up and see in Google Reader and see a host of information.

Would encourage people to specialise. Think Global act local is the phrase, but Greg doesn’t agree, keep the global perspective, think local, act local, think global act global.

Greg is passionate about education, transport and housing data. Know we have the technology to do something special.

He would love to have tenant advice housing data. Have social recommendations for tenants and landlords.

Isn’t this working a different way around from tradition?Used to start with person. It’s great stuff about people who matter. It’s people telling story then dig out information. Seeking data is horrid. Cathy Watson

Don’t see data in a geeky sort of way. Do see information as data and seeing a patter. Nuclear test dates, son’s birth, granddaughter’s birth, it’s all data.

Good work done digitally and virtually. Google British Nuclear Test Veterans not a lot of stuff has been done since the web started. These stories could be found.

Met a detective who had access to 600 databases. He knew if you had county court orders. It was pre serious stuff. Now we all have access to multiple databases. It’s what we do with them that’s the trick.
Find all the people in Linked In in Brighton and Hove.

Used to go through Who’s Who finding the local people.
Got trainees to go through Who’s Who to find out schools and universities. Got a lead out of it that the majority went to Eton and Oxbridge. Went back 50 years and found it was no different.

It’s data but it’s about real people.

Woodward and Burnstein told to follow the money, still the same – John Keenan.

What skills do journalists need? Data mining rather than shorthand?

You need 120 wpm shorthand. With a recorder you waste so much time trying to find that quote.

Touch typing is good. Greg was the boy in a touch-typing class.

Got to love Excel.

Discovered the delights of Google Fusion.

Compared with how it used to be it’s phenomenal.

Love keynote, love visualising stuff.

Do you need to know PHP, nope.

Couldn’t do his PHD at Oxford, so went back to Barnsley. Went to the same school as Michael Parkinson.

Applied to work for the Barnsley Chronicle didn’t get it. Made apple pies until he went to the Wakefield Express.

JoshR asks what is journalism or reporting?

Reporting is of the moment. Something has happened.

The buzz is interesting, but it’s not the journalism that interests Greg.

Spent two weeks dealing with Rose and Fred West. There was the moving story, then there’s the story behind the story. That is what Greg enjoys.

The two-page spread with the mega headline gives texture to the story.

How is Tunisia these days? Who cares? We’re on to Egypt now. Next stop who knows. There’s a great story to come out of Tunisia. Now the spotlight’s off the journalists there don’t have to write it by 9am.

Rolling news, commodity news agenda. Then you have the iconic journalism.

Have these people on TV who are names. They don’t exist in isolation. Quality journalism is about supporting iconic journalists with people who can help them be who they are.

Sports journalist at the Telegraph asked what he should be doing. Greg response, be yourself in more channels.

Great to see journalists adapting to new environment. Keen to get the journalism out with media.
One of the four motivations of George Orwell, egoism.

Word Nerd viral by News International out today. It promotes something behind the wall.
It’s innovative and should be celebrated.

Whatever you think of The Daily or the pay wall, Word Nerd is something new and innovative.

What do you think about the pay wall?

Don’t like the word wall. Applaud a big media organisation which wants to know about its readers.

Daily Telegraph doesn’t know who its individual readers.
Been using the Telegraph website since 1994, but they wouldn’t know.
With a pay wall they know who I am, where I live and communicating.

The Guardian know who people are.

What do you think about journalists being paid for journalism? Frank LeDuc

Don’t think about business models. Don’t get paid to be a journalist, but part of a machine, bigger picture, bigger business mode.

Don’t write to get paid. Like to get paid, like to be valued.

Tomorrow Open Data City Brighton and Hove (Tuesday, February 8) at The Quadrant at 7.30pm, will be about doing.


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JournalistWorks, Brighton FONG. Brighton FONG said: It's a great time to be a journalist – Open data, storytelling and more @greghadfield #bfong […]

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