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My Role at PBS: Datavangelizing to Local Stations

Posted by on Mar 24, 2011 in Blog, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Time for an update on the world of PBS!  PBSNews.org, the national site I was working on, has been put on hold while we focus our attention on serving journalism at local stations.  This has long been a component of our project, but it is now a priority which we’re focusing on heavily.

What does that mean for my role as a Data Producer?  If you’re a PBS station, as part of your dues, you can have the fun (horror) of working with me on a project.  I can do data analysis and presentation, and whatever else you want to call the crazy stuff I do. We’ll explore new story forms that can help us journalists craft even more precise, engaging and localized stories that’ll make a big difference to your community. 

That doesn’t just mean maps and charts. We’re thinking about playing with games (think less the “gamification of news”  as in the all-too annoying meme, and more NYT Budget Puzzle).  We’re wondering how we can we use data to craft explanatory, maybe even evergreen news sites.  We’re building for all spectrums of the audience, people who are relatively unfamiliar with the Internet and data geeks who live and breathe for this stuff, and will view my source code to figure out how I did something.  It’ll be an adventure.

Oh, and no, I’m not a straight developer, so I don’t want to just rebuild your comment system.  Just to be clear.

So, big issue in your area?  Let’s build a site around that specific topic, using editorial and technical skills.  Wondering how you can dive into the actual facts behind a story?  Not just what someone says on camera, but whether what they’re saying is true, and why things are the way they are?  We can start to explore that, using numbers as a basis for cold, hard facts.  If you work at a PBS station, and are interested in chatting about an idea, shoot me an email at meminkoff@pbs.org.

If you’re not at a PBS station, you can still help!  What are you seeing from the PBS station in your community, and how does that differ from what you want to see? What would you change, particularly in that station’s online presence?  Doesn’t even have to just be data-related, as we have a whole team of journalist-producers at the ready.

Also, I’ll be making educational materials and tool to make this stuff a little bit easier to “grok”, as they say in the techy world.

In my ideal world, educational materials will not focus on how to make a certain type of map, but how to tell a certain type of story.  Tutorials will have technical explanations of Web production skills, but also explain basic questions of data analysis, where to find data, and generally assist with how to approach this data-driven world. There’s a difference between tech tutorials and journalistic tutorials. Let’s explore that.

As for tools, the first iteration of that will come out soon, and be a tool you can use to highlight specific states in the background on a Google map – no coding required.  The code file (called KML) will automatically be generated for you.  (Interestingly, I have not been able to get Fusion Tables to work for this sort of endeavor – it doesn’t like combining points and polygons.)

Ideas for specific types of tools you’d like to see? Something you wish was a little easier but you haven’t seen around? Again, let me know.

Finally, what do I think of this local angle?  I couldn’t be happier –really.  Some have called me a “datavangelist”, and I’m always trying to help and spread the word. As long as I get to keep crafting original projects, I’m more than delighted to help others, and share knowledge and tools along the way.  Ideally, I’m not just helping one local community, I’m helping multiple local communities. Really making an impact as much as I can, in the stories we tell, and how we tell those stories.  Not just in LA, not just in Memphis, but many places. And in a more targeted way than I could nationally. And I’m happy to dive back into national work as needed to.  Both sides of the coin are good, fun ones to explore.  All of these goals are pretty cool for someone in her first job.  I may be many things, but you know what I’m not? An unthinking cog in the machine.

So, that’s why you haven’t seen a ton of content from me in the past few months.  I try to talk the talk and walk the walk, and I am.  Starting something new takes time.  I’m going to try to bring back the openness, and share ongoing progress as I’m able.

I never ask this, but please do me a favor and share this blog post.  I want to try to reach as many people as possible – especially PBSers, but really, garner some feedback from anyone who cares about news.

I’m off — I’ve got some journalism to commit!

« « Why I really love NICAR (and the New York Times)

My (quickly formed) vision for a journ-prog curriculum » »
  • http://borasky-research.net/2011/01/13/project-kipling-alpha-test-is-now-in-suse-studio-ddj-datajourno/ znmeb

    I’m all for this, but I have no contacts at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Can I help you with the software? ;-)

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    Michelle Minkoff Reply:

    Ha! I’m sure I’ll be looking for ideas as I go along, and could benefit from your knowledge. Good to know we’ve got a data-friendly ear to the ground in Oregon. Help runs so much deeper than whether you know people at an actual station…

    [Reply]

    znmeb Reply:

    Yeah, I’m mostly working with freelance online / “traditional” journalists rather than broadcast. I never caught the TV bug and my radio interests are classical music and jazz ;-)

    [Reply]

    znmeb Reply:

    Yeah, I’m mostly working with freelance online / “traditional” journalists rather than broadcast. I never caught the TV bug and my radio interests are classical music and jazz ;-)

    [Reply]

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