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Use Templates to Make News Apps Quickly

- April 3, 2013 in Data Journalism

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 10.27.02 Coding is expensive and slow, journalism should be cheap and fast. This is the main problem I face as a data journalism producer. My responsibility is to produce news apps for Helsingin Sanomat, a main daily newspaper in Finland. When there is a breaking news event, we have about five hours to come up with an idea, get the data and publish the news app. In most cases it would be too slow to start from scratch. To overcome this problem, we have been creating kind of a Style Book for data journalists. The Style Book contains a set of News App templates we can modify and publish very fast. Ideally, we just insert new set of data to template and publish it. This can be done in five minutes, although it usually takes more time. Common example of this approach is a map made with Google Fusion Tables. You can put your data into Fusion Table and have a working interactive map in less than ten minutes. The templates we use are mainly built by our data desk. We try to make every new News App so generic that we can use it again as a template. The Style Book is currently a page on our internal Wiki. All our journalists can access it from our intranet. It lists some 20 templates at this point. Below, I’ve listed some of the templates we use. Links are to live versions of News Apps we’ve made using the templates. Timeline. Based on TimelineJS, this is very fast way to show news as process. This particular example is about the crisis in Gaza. Animated graph. Based on the Hype tool, this is a Flash-like animation to show almost any content. This particular example is the results about our questionnaire to racism scholars: how many of you have received threats because of your work. Animated quotes. This is built by our data team. It shows a set of quotes in a loop. Counter. When there are tax hikes, benefit cuts, etc., we can show the results of these changes to our individual reader. Just tell us your salary and some other details and we’ll tell you how this affects you. This example by our data team shows the effect of tax hike on electricity based on how much you use. Interactive maps. This is perhaps the most common news app we publish. We use Leaflet to make our maps. This one shows how many children there are compared to kindergarden places in different regions of Helsinki. Fourfold table. This is a tool to get opinions from our readers. We ask two dimensional question: Is the new Music Centre beautiful or ugly, necessary or unnecessary. If the question is good, this really gets audience. This example is about new stadium planned to be built in Helsinki. Graphs. For standard graphs we use Datawrapper, and Tableau Public. Each has their merits and problems. All are quite fast to use. This example is about comparing supercomputers. Forms. To ask questions from our readers. Google forms are good. We also use custom made tools when we want to have more contol over the visual side and time is not an issue. This example asks what kind of razor you use. Scorecards. This is useful tool to present sports teams, companies, etc. as a user-friendly, sortable database. This example is about ice hockey teams in Finland. Voting tools. If we want our readers to vote on some issue, we have a custom tool for that. This particular example is about proposals for a new bridge in Helsinki. Which one is best? Roll-over images. A tool to show how things have changed in time. We overlay two images on top of each other and the user can roll them back and forth. This example is about old postcards: Helsinki 100 years ago and in present day. Special layouts for web. The Helsingin Sanomat magazine has large features each month, and we publish some of them in web with special layouts. We use all of the templates we have in these versions. This example is about living a month as muslim. If you are interested in our work, all our news apps can be found here:

Hackday for News Apps at OK Fest

- September 4, 2012 in Data Journalism, OKFest, Open Data, Sprint / Hackday, visualization

GOAL: You have six hours to make a working news app. There are three of you, a coder, a graphic designer and a journalist. Is it possible? Yes. Five times in the last two years the biggest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has invited people to do just this, at HS Open hack days, which I first talked about on this blog back in February. In the basement of our offices, groups of three have made data journalism that has even landed on the front page of Helsingin Sanomat.

Kunnanluoja-game was created at HS Open. It shows what will happen population and political structures in Finnish cities if the government forces the cities to merge. Plans to force mergers of cities has been one of the hot topics in Finnish politics for a few years.

On Friday 21st September, Helsingin Sanomat will organize the sixth HS Open, at OK Fest. This time we are processing data from the Failed State Index and the World Bank. The data will be provided by Helsingin Sanomat, but groups can use any data they choose. The goal is to make a News App: a 560×400 pixel program that can be embedded to any web site. It can visualize the data or gather news data from users. Participants can sign up individually or as groups. We will divide the participants into teams with all the necessary skills. We hope that people will discuss their ideas beforehand. E-mail is good, but if you can meet up during OK Fest that would be great! The purpose of HS Open is to learn a new trade, datajournalism. The News Apps you make are yours, but we hope that we will be able to buy the best apps and publish them on our site. You can find out more details about the day and sign up here. Places are limited, so get in touch soon. Hope to see you there!

Finnish data journalism app contest

- February 21, 2012 in Data Journalism, External, OKF Finland, visualization

Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s leading national paper, is organizing an article app contest to find data visualizations. For many journalists today, it’s not a lack of open data that’s the problem, but a lack of the skills and off-the-shelf visualizations needed to make that open data useful to them. A year ago, the Finnish government decided that in principle all data generated with taxpayer money should be free. This has been leading to tonnes of great releases. At the beginning of May, the National Land Survey of Finland will release all its maps as open data. The National Audit Office of Finland has already released campaign funding data as a kind of API. The City of Helsinki has the Helsinki Region Infoshare project, that collects city-level data into one place. Statistics Finland are also publishing all their data openly. Furthermore, Open data activists such as Antti Poikola and Petri Kola have been doing great work in lobbying the Government and creating a data ecosystem. An Open Knowledge Foundation chapter is about to be formed and Open Data activists are crowdsourcing Freedom of Information Act-related data requests on So we have plenty of data, but using and publishing it is still lagging behind. This is especially true with the major media outlets. Journalists are still publishing static charts with their articles online or using Google Fusion Tables to make very basic visualizations. Not very innovative. To tackle this problem, Helsingin Sanomat is organizing a contest to find article apps. By article apps we mean applications that can be embedded into any web site in 560×400 pixel Iframe. An article app should visualize some interesting data, with the possibility of user interaction or of displaying data inputted by the users. There are 3000 euros worth of prizes. Developers will not lose any rights to the works they submit to the contest. The contest is open to everyone, and the deadline for submissions is the 8th April 2012. More info can be found here. There are few limitations for the article apps, but we hope that the apps use open data. If the article app crowdsources data from the users, it would be great if the data could be exported openly. One part of this process has been to think about the business models of open data journalism. The idea behind the article app format is to standardize at least one format in data journalism. When we have some kind of standard, it will be easier to buy and to sell data journalism. Our suggestion is that outlets buy the license to publish an article app once with each article – regardless whether it’s published at the site, in our iPad application or some other channel. The next time we use the same graph with different data, we would pay the license fee again. For one article the compensation would be quite low, but if the app is used hundred times, it would be higher. This business model is still theoretical, as we have not published anything using this model. Also, the amount we would pay for one article is still unclear, as we have not had any discussions with developers. We’d love to hear your thoughts on