Key Advice Blog

Is open data the new customer service?

Posted on: 13/05/2010

Open data was the focal point of yesterday’s Digital Editors Network (DEN) meeting at North West Vision and Media in Manchester. Some open data mavericks are lobbying  for this to become the rule rather than the exception. With David Cameron and Nick Clegg leading a more open style of collaborative government, the time to push for more open data is here.

Francois Nel, DEN co-convener and director of UCLan’s Journalism Leaders Programme, opened the discussion challenging all to re-think what data means to online communications – particularly for the news industry – and our culture.

Julian Tate, one of the organisers of FutureEverything conference (May 12 -15) in Manchester, is lobbying for the city to become the UK’s first OpenData city. He used Vancouver, Canada’s open city initiative as a benchmark. Take a look at data.gov and data.gov.uk to get a glimpse of where this may be  heading in the UK.

Paul Bradshaw, onlinejournalismblog and convener of the HelpMeInvestigate project, gave examples of how data management revealed key issues for such stories as the MPs’ expenses fiasco. He said data is the place where journalists and publishers meet with citizens and IT. Think of it as freedom of information without having to fill in a form. Journalism students are exploring this concept, and will bring their new talents to the workplace.  Is corporate media ready?

The Guardian’s information architect Martin Belam and New York’s Propublica reporter Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson highlighted how news gathers working closely with data manipulators can create new interpretations of news and information that are more powerful, more insightful and more inclusive than one-dimensional news gathering. Although, like our current leaders, they may seem like strange bedfellows, such cooperation is thinking outside the box. And, never has there been  a time – economically, socially, politically – when some fresh ideas were desperately needed.

Sweden’s University of Gothenburg Journalism, Media and Communication Ph.D candidate Oscar Westland used a mixed martial arts metaphor to compare the traditional approaches with the new media world. Looking at how print and online news reporting are being driven to change by new and mobile technology, Oscar pointed out the importance of redefining our methods. It appears the answers to the current media problems may not lie in familiar places.

“We need to plan for trial and error,” he said. “This is moving fast.”

Nick Turner DEN co-convener and head of Digital Media for CN Group closed the meeting leading a discussion on where this can go next. DEN will look at what role they can play in taking this to the next level. The next DEN meeting will take place in the autumn.

Mobile information, open data and interactive, geo-based apps may seem an arm’s length from our news and information creation centres, but if our blog and news readers are embracing them, surely we also need to embrace this change with open arms – and minds.

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