Data Driven Journalism

by Alexandra McDonald

“Data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data-savvy. It used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you’ll do it that way some times. But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country.”

Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web.

This quote is taken from the Data Journalism Handbook, an online, open-source publication completely indispensible as an introductory resource to this fascinating and relatively new field of reporting and inquiry.

Using numerical analysis to transform the abstract into the accessible, is an emerging alternative to the rise of citizen journalism and opinion driven blogs that have flooded the internet-scape in a tsunami of witty but perhaps less informative prose. Combining statistical interpretation with a more traditional structure of news reporting, this new form of Journalism uses a quantitative scientific framework with the defining characteristic of creating legitimacy. Journalism and reporting is becoming increasingly assaulted and diffused. To create legitimacy and to restore coherence is imperative to improve public perception of a field of work that is vital to the function of society.

Nielsen 2012 data trends suggests not only that the online community in Australia is growing exponentially and downloading has hit an all time high, but interestingly that that more devices an individual owns and uses indicates a strong correlation to a reliance on social media for a significant portion of their news coverage. Check out my infographic.

These stats suggest that as more technology becomes integrated into societal structures, the more likely it will be that social media is going to become a predominant platform by which audiences access their news. A case in point to perhaps reiterate the impending new mediated world emerging, is Fairfax’s recent downsize from broadsheet to tabloid of both The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, and the 1900 jobs Fairfax recently culled. A more abstract notion of what Journalism actually is, is emerging with more platforms to access news becoming available, and this audience migration is having a huge effect on News Corporations. A world where everyone gets their news through twitter links instead of a good old-fashioned broadsheet newspaper is a jarring prospect for some, especially for those partial to the simplified ‘Atari’ days, but it is happening. And it is a good thing. Its exciting, innovative, transformative.

Check out Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog under the umbrella of the New York Times, to read some amazing statistical interpretation that has deservedly garnered him notoriety around the world for his political acumen. Ridiculously accurate predictions of American political races abound. During the 2008 Presidential election, Nate Silver used a mathematical model to predict the winner of 49 of the 50 states in America. The one state he got wrong had a 0.1% margin between Obama and McCain. In 2012 he accurately predicted with 100% accuracy the outcome of every one of the 50 states, wether the majority went to Obama or Romney. His self-described political calculus is fascinating and clearly very successful.

In our own back yard we have Possum Comitatus on Pollytics through Crikey.  Using polling data, Possum distils and interprets Australian politics into enjoyably snarky and certainly elucidating graph and table filled articles. Especially intriguing is the recent article ‘What Australians Believe’. Accompanied as ever in a sharp, witty and almost sardonic delivery, the data interpretation is clever as well as hilarious and highlights many logical fallacies the general populous hold about Australian government and policy.

Another great and successful example of data driven Journalism that jumps to mind is the Datablog team and the eponymous Simon Rogers, published through UK paper The Guardian. Awash with interesting and informative data interpretation of a myriad of subjects and accompanied by witty and coherent prose, Datablog presents easy to fathom data and interesting articles that really are the pinnacle of what this style of reporting is like when done very well. You can download the data sets for yourself to take a look, the layout of the page is coherent, user friendly and almost always packed with visually appealing detailed infographics. Not only this, but the topics themselves are fascinating. The ‘Iraq After the Invasion: A Decade Visualised’ graphic is incredibly detailed yet easy to navigate, has distilled massive amounts of data into an interactive infograph that is both accessible and spectacular.

Many examples of great data journalism abound, and it is at our fingertips. If recent stats on computer usage are anything to go by, for a significant portion of time, technology is quite literally right in front of us. As of 2012, the Global online population was 2,095,006,005. The world is changing at an exponential rate and adaptation is key. The news media and Journalism as a profession is in transition. Audiences’ expectations are changing. Industry pressures are shifting. Economic and technological influences are bending the perception of the news media into never before seen forms. It is exciting. Liberating. It all has the potential to be better than ever before, more engaging, more interesting, and in this interconnected world the reach is all but endless.

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Out with the old, in with the News.

by Alexandra McDonald

During a particularly interesting perusal of news articles and publishings late last year, I came across a general theme that popped up in the scholarly zeitgeist. It seems that the concept of ‘the truth’ in the fast paced, ever evolving news cycle is, and not for the first time, being challanged. Some very eloquent elucidations written in various publications captured the unique state of the Media quite aptly, painting an anti- reductionist and multilayered view of the state of the Media industry. One such article was by Jock Given on Inside Story, one by an old professor of mine Margaret Simons through Crikey, and also one by Martin Hearst on The Conversation. News about the news so to speak, is an interesting topic. To read these stories one cannot help but begin to contemplate the idea of truth in our increasingly mediated society, and to wonder what’s in store for 2013.

What I have noticed in a lot of stories about the news of late is that there, not all the time but more often that it should, seems to be a kind of fluid perception of what the truth is. It seems to be a concept increasingly bandied around and distorted and stretched, by media outlets that are under enormous pressure to produce large amounts of content to satisfy the needs of the 24 hour news cycle. The result of this is misleading headlines, forced perception skewed in favour of melodrama and alarmism, and reductionist arguments. In the already infamous Leveson inquiry that investigated the now folded media outlet News of the World, those in defence of the company explicitly implied that the audience is forcing the hand of the media and demand for shocking, sensational and suspenseful news is reaching fever pitch, perhaps due to the increasingly disillusioned and disaffected public spectatorship.

Justice Leveson of the Leveson Inquiry

Journalistic integrity is key to any news publication, and of recent years audiences have more and more frequently defaulted to cynicism and doubt when regarding a news story presented to them. In no small part this is chargeable the rise of the internet and connectivity in this globalised world, it has never been easier in the history of news publication, to get closer to the source of a story than ever before, to do your own research, and hear the voice of a LOT of individuals, who suddenly have access to a platform allowing them to speak to countless people around the world. With the stratospheric rise of technology and the internet has pulled the idea of the alternate voice and the notion to challange the status quo has become more prolific and most importantly publicised than ever before. Audiences are no longer given a single viewpoint be a single newspaper to mull over whilst drinking tea and polishing their tophats (I’m sincerely hoping that it was a really popular pastime in eras gone by), we are no longer fed an idea having no re-course to find out the real events  behind the story. Many alternate voices are now easily accessible with the only requirement an internet connection, one very apt case in point is the Al Jazeera news network and the rise of Al Jazeera English. Originally an Arabic news outlet, it expanded in popularity during the war in Afghanistan, being the singular established news network to cover the war live and direct from its offices. Audiences in Western countries sought access from the ground floor, wanted an alternate to the arguably biased reporting that Fox News and the like were presenting, and thanks to the internet- it was easily accessible and readily available.

Having unintentionally trashed mainstream media a little bit here, I will say I do believe that the majority of all media outlets and journalists have very much integrity, a passion to inform and an idealistic moral code. Many journalists, and journalism students I know, got into the field to expose corruption, to inform the public. The profession is, to budding and seasoned journalists alike, a badge of honour that carries weight and responsibility. What is fractured here, what has arguably caused much of the problems, is the culutral state and economic market within which the media industry resides. The troubles, arguably, arise as a by product of the 24 hour news cycle, where quantity is key and quality is forced into second place within a profitable businiess model. It is the competitive nature of the industry. In my humble opinion, it is explained quite eloquently by the Herman- Chomsky propaganda model. Though a little long in the tooth (Herman and Chomsky published it in 88) it is still exceptionally relevant and applicable to the way news companies and producers operate today, im many ways it was a model before its time, the theory staying relevant with the evolution of the industry. This model states that the errant corruption that occurs is caused by the pressures of the industry within which it operates. Good, well-researched and educated journalism is very expensive to produce. Sensationalised headlines, as a rule of thumb, sell very well, which is important because the vast majority of news outlets are operating as businesses.

The dark side of the media was exposed last year, courtesy of the Leveson inquiry, and a divisive dichotomy emerged between Media proponents and audiences through what has come to be known as ‘The Finklestein Report’ on news media regulation here in Australia. An open and frank dialogue begun to emerge, on the state of the industry, both perceived and actual. Was it as broken as we thought? Or were we seeing behind the curtain more than ever before, exposing us to practices that have gone on for years of which we have been blissfully unaware? Is it getting better, is it getting worse? Or is it just.. Different? The Finklestein report so eloquently suggested there needs to be a more robust conversation regarding the responsibilities of the media, and a framework in place that ensures accountability without decreasing the freedom of the Media industry to operate, and publish. The report also points out many truths that define News production in Australia, for example the fact that media ownership is of the most concentrated in the developed world, limits the variation of opinion and perspective in mainstream news.

Hopefully in the near future, this mounting pressure from audiences, scholars and government will push for more integrity and responsibility that stems from within the industry, removing the need for an external body to regulate it. Now is perhaps the time for ‘the truth’ or at least an honest idealism of what we imagine the truth to be, to experience a resurgence. Exposure of antiquated or adverse news gathering practices force the inception of new ones if not the eradication of the entities that conducted them. The monolithic News of the World tabloid and its ensuing crumble and fold as a result of the Leveson inquiry, is a landmark example of this. With the rise of the alternative voice, the exponential possibilities the internet presents as a mediator to access a huge audience to hear and in turn be heard, the world is at the forefront of a unique and exciting new era of media, one that will surely be transformative.

Raymond Finklestein of the Finklestein report.

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St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.

By Alexandra McDonald

Melbourne’s 2013 Laneway Festival at the Footscray Community Arts Centre was, and I know this is a big call, quite possibly the best festival I have attended in the last few years, if not ever. The grounds were unquestionably beautiful, the four stages spread out amidst much greenery, trees provided dappled shade up to the banks of the Maribyrnong River, appetising food stalls offered up a whole range of options if you felt so inclined to run that gamut of deliciousness. Thanks to a cheap pack of stick on diamantes we were rainbow splattered visions that proudly strode into the sunlight, sparkling and unabashed.

Normally distracted by anything that has the word dumplings attached to it, I couldn’t even be sidetracked from the draw of the amazing, lilting, eclectic sounds drifting in and out as we strolled past each stage.  The crowd was an unquestionably happy one, grins and laughs echoed around, as groups made their way from one act to the next in the errant, emerging sun, a forecasted overcast day was shouldered for a sunny one. The line for a drink wasn’t too long, which was an awesome thing if not conducive to being able to afford groceries the next week, if you’re on a shoestring budget.

The Neighbourhood and Snakadaktal were standout acts pretty early on in the day, but the festival really got going for us when The Rubensstepped onto the stage and with the first quavering croon Sam Margin’s brilliant voice captivated the crowd entirely. It was brilliant, but thank god for the big screens, because the Dean Turner Stage was what can only be described as a kind of corralling, giant, concrete laneway of sorts had an extremely limiting effect on how close to the stage you could get before being forced to get uncomfortably acquainted with fellow revellers. I tried getting closer briefly but ended up sandwiched in-between a particularly perspirationally challenged be-bearded dude and a girl whose long, braided dreadlocks, to my dismay, kept smacking me in the face with every undulation of a crazy weird dance she was performing. So we hung back at a comfortable distance, happily singing along to ‘The Best We Got’, ‘My Gun’ and ‘Lay It Down’.

Pond were super amazing and great fun to watch thanks in no small way to the boundless energy of front man Nick Allbrook. Tame Impalas ‘little brother’ of sorts establishing themselves again as the band to watch in 2013, banging out tunes teased from shiny new album Hobo Rocket, and man did they go down a treat.

Alt-J, the band I was most looking forward to, did not disappoint my pretty ridiculously high expectations. Their alternative, progressive version of electronic indie rock/pop/psychedelic folk/art rock drew the crowd up into the quavering beats, slamming riffs and soft musical meanderings. An awesome wave of music swept the concrete gauntlet that was the Dean Turner Stage. ‘Breezeblocks’ was the pinnacle, arguably the most well known of their tunes, and a thrill of excitement shook the crowd as the first line was delivered. By the end of the song what felt like the entire crowd was sing/screaming “please don’t go please don’t go I love you so I love you so” right alongside lead Joe Newman’s brilliant, distinctive, wavering voice. ‘Fitzpleasure’ broke out a frenzy of dancing and ‘Taro’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Dissolve Me’ all gained equal excitement and passion, as well as ‘Something Good’. To say pretty much every song reverberated a kind of enraptured reverence and thrill in the crowd that avidly soaked up the set would not be an overstatement.

We hit up Ms Mr on another stage, who were captivating and memorable, when ‘Hurricane’ hit it seemed the entire crowd threw their arms around each other and sang along at the top of their voices, it was a great atmosphere to be submerged in, and a tribute to the infectious hooks from this talented twosome.

At the request of a smitten friend we trotted off into the dusk to find the River Stage and witness beat making wunderkind Flume. His set was pretty killer, as demarked by the ever-swelling crowd that completely packed the enormous expanse before us threading right back as far as we could see.

Arriving at Bat for Lashes after darkness had fallen, Natasha Kahn flickered and captivated as a shimmering vision against inky shadows. As the first few chord for ‘Laura‘ begun the silence was total and heavy with anticipation, the atmosphere was electric. It was an ethereal and affecting show, one that would surely be held in the crowds memory for a long time, a memory that when called upon is still capable of causing goose bumps a week later, in an office, in the middle of the day.

The festival passed in a complete blur of anticipation mixed with complete contentment with the place I was at, the people I was with, and to wander from stage to stage, act to act. The atmosphere was so cool and laid back, it seemed that nothing but this chill, appreciative lo-fi attitude was acceptable and I happily embraced it. We ran into old friends, made new ones, and hung out soaking in the atmosphere, wether sitting under the dappled shade of trees near the Future Classics stage, or weaving our way through the jumble of revellers over at the Eat Your Own Ears stage, The River Stage or the eponymous Dean Turner stage, we ran about, shedding our stick on jewels and feeding of the excited atmosphere.

On our way home, packed into a train carriage that was more akin to the proverbial tin of sardines than an actual form of transportation, we got the entire, packed in masses to join in a hearty and resounding happy birthday for a lucky friend. She stood there beaming, a look of complete albeit tired bliss etched across her face, demarking the way we all felt about a day immensely well spent. It really was a terrific day.

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By Alex McDonald


chet faker

The exclusive township of Portsea was host to the Beach Club music festival this Australia Day weekend, and with the promise of a banging line up and great weather, my friends and I hit up the beachside Portsea Pub to check it out. The vibe was super chilled. A luxurious ambience permeated the collective crowd that drank, laughed and soaked up the sun. From one to midnight the place was filled (but not too full) with cool kids hanging out, and in my case getting incrementally more sunburnt as the day went on. Chet Faker, the headline act and the outfit that was most anticipated, played an amazing afternoon set and was definitely the stand out act. Nick Murphy aka the guy behind the pseudonym derivative of Chet Baker, was brilliant, his voice smoky, mellow, awesome. The crowd swayed, smiled and sang along to the melodic ambient electronic pop, ramping up especially through Faker favourites “I’m Into You” and “No Diggity”. Strange Talk went down a treat too, rocking out their Triple J endorsed hits, Zoe Badwi, Andy Murphy and Seany B each spun out some great individual sets. Sons et al were pretty damn cool too, as was JR Reyne. From the huge pan of freshly cooked Paella steaming in a corner to the Corona shack and the Coldstream caravan, the set up was well thought out- and getting to buy a stainless steel bucket o’ Coronas on ice solidified the summery, beachy mood. Celebrity spotting became a bit of a running joke with a friend getting a bit flustered when she spotted ‘the hot blonde from Master Chef’, as well as a bunch of footy players, and some lads from the latest Big Brother. Not having a TV was severely to my detriment and alas I did not win that game, although I did get a few free shots of Patron when I took a footy to the face as a result of not really knowing what to do in a ridiculously competitive and ultimately short lived game. It was a really good day, one where if not watching one of the great musical acts, we sat around on the grass hill or at one of the big wooden tables, looking out over the sea, laughing, joking and jumping about with an ever increasing crew. The sun went down, the evening came and went in a blur, and the end of the night arrived way too soon. As we retired back to our friends beach house, we were all filled with the satisfied, happy feeling of a day well spent, singing Chet Faker songs ridiculously loud well into the rest of the night.



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Gig review

Hot Chip Hot Chip Hot Chip!!

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Montalto Estate

Montalto Estate

Some of the eclectic sculpture and artwork scattered around the grounds.

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Montalto Estate- A Gem on the Mornington Peninsula

Gum Tree Picnic Grounds- sit in the dappled shade sipping wine- total bliss!

Nestled away in the beautiful Mornington Peninsula countryside, is the Montalto Estate, a gorgeous winery which offers not only a fantastic bistro, wine collection and extensive grounds to roam, but a unique experience for those who book in advance. First, begin with an extensive wine tasting session, where you can choose your favorites from a selection of reds, whites, sparkling and even alcohol free wines. Then make your way through the estate, dotted with eclectic pieces of artwork and sculptures, to your private picnic site, where you will enjoy a gourmet three course meal whilst drinking your wine and soaking up the sun, view and fragrant air.



Montalto Estate

I took this photo in the summer, so be aware, it may not be as green in the midst of winter!

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