The Future Is Here… Don’t Be Afraid!

Zuckerberg VR
Mark Zuckerberg at Samsung’s Mobile World Congress event – Facebook

When Mark Zuckerberg walked towards the stage at Samsung’s Mobile World Congress event in early 2016, one of the most discussed technology innovations became very real: Virtual Reality. Over the past years virtual reality seemed to be around the corner as the next big thing in media consumption. Suddenly, it arrived.

No matter if it is augmented reality, implemented by Google Glass or Microsoft Hololens, or full fledged virtual reality, implemented by Facebook’s Oculus Rift, it seems clear that many major corporations are investing heavily in what they consider to be the future.

Apart from some very few media corporations such as The New York Times, who experimented with VR with a specific mobile application, most publishing companies have not yet committed to the VR trend. In fact many publishers still seem to struggle with the transition from print to digital media. Not only are they struggling to establish working business models for their websites, they also seem to be behind on the shift to mobile media as well.

With the ongoing acceleration of the technological revolution this is yet another reason to worry about the media and news industry in general. If these companies keep moving at an old economy pace, it is doubtful they can keep up with current developments. The next big thing might be around the corner even before they start to adapt to then already outdated technologies.

No matter if they are trying to protect their current business as long as possible or if they are just afraid of the future, there is no time to wait any longer. Since the exponential acceleration of the technological development is a fact, publishers should start facing the digital future without fear if they want to survive.


 DISCLAIMER: This post has been written for the seminar “Online and Mobile Media” during an international research exchange at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, within the “Next Media” master program at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg (HAW Hamburg) in 2016. For more information or any questions please contact me at mail@moritzrecke.com.

The Art Of Telling No Story – Data-Driven Journalism

311 calls New York
There were 34,522 complaints called in to 311 between September 8 and September 15, 2010. Here are the most common, plotted by time of day. Illustration: Pitch Interactive

Recently I wrote about data-driven journalism and whether it is worth the effort in regards to their monetisation potential for publishing companies. Although there are definitely great and interesting stories to be told with large data sets, it seems unlikely that the immense costs involved in the process of creating these stories can be justified within the current framework of digital business models within the publishing industry.

Still many data-driven stories and corresponding data visualisations seem interesting (e.g. in form of infographics) or even insanely beautiful (e.g. in form of maps or graphs). There is one problem with some kind of data visualisations in terms of storytelling though: they tell no story.

Consider the prominent visualisations of the 311 calls in the city of New York for instance. Although immensely beautiful and acknowledged by design experts around the globe, it’s hard to find any substantial story within the data or its visualisations. As shown above a plot of 311 calls by time of day with different colors for different types of complaints surely leads to a beautiful image, but there is no real story behind it.

The facts that there are more calls during the day, complaints about street condition seem to drop during the night and noise complaints are on the rise during the evening are hardly surprising. Even if these calls are plotted on a map, an attempt also explored with the 311 data, things do not get more interesting.

Still, the visualisations of the 311 calls not only look awesome, they received high praise and are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. I am not disputing the aesthetic qualities of the visualisations, but in terms of data-driven journalism or data-driven storytelling, there is not much to be found here.


 DISCLAIMER: This post has been written for the seminar “Online and Mobile Media” during an international research exchange at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, within the “Next Media” master program at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg (HAW Hamburg) in 2016. For more information or any questions please contact me at mail@moritzrecke.com.

Is Data Journalism Worth The Effort?

The Wikileaks War Logs (The Guardian)
The Wikileaks War Logs (The Guardian)

Data-driven Journalism is grounded in calls for open access to information and transparency and has strong links government related open data initiatives, making public data available in standardised and open formats. It aims at the process of filtering data and telling new and interesting stories with conditioned data sets rather than just using the data as a source.

The most prominent example of data-driven journalism is the case of The Guardian and Wikileaks, where data has been transformed into interactive visualisations to allow a exploration of the data by the user itself.

It is clear by the amount of data alone, that these interactive visualisations can not be created manually. They need to be created with designers and developers working hand in hand, automating data processing and filtering to allow for the story to be explored by the user. This is a complete game changer for most news publishing corporations who traditionally had only journalists and maybe illustrators or photographers telling stories.

Ever since data-driven journalism became a mainstream element for many major stories, the newsroom process became much more technical and complex. This has also risen the cost for the newsroom staff to create the content for the publisher’s website. Since developers are in high demand all around the world, it is safe to assume that the costs for publisher’s grew substantially in this regard.

Considering the difficulties most publishers have to monetise their digital efforts successfully, it is doubtful that expensive data-driven stories will be able to compensate for that. As desirable as great stories such as the Wikileaks example might be, it is hard to find evidence that it is helping publishing companies to find new and working business models on the internet.


 DISCLAIMER: This post has been written for the seminar “Online and Mobile Media” during an international research exchange at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, within the “Next Media” master program at the University of Applied Sciences Hamburg (HAW Hamburg) in 2016. For more information or any questions please contact me at mail@moritzrecke.com.