Sunshine Week, March 13-19: Acceptable advocacy for journalists

For several years, I’ve loved Sunshine Week — a campaign by the American Society of News Editors to call for more government transparency.  It’s one of the few times that journalists and news orgs are willing to engage in direct activism, which makes for a lot of amusing verbal gymnastics.

Today at the Knight Digital Media Center, I wrote about new advocacy/awareness tool from Sunshine Week: a model proclamation that news orgs and other activists/advocates can customize, publish, and challenge specific government officials and agencies to adopt. It gets into specifics, at least to some extent.

See: Sunshine Week shows how to call for open government

It’s a good start, but here’s what else I’d love to see from Sunshine Week…

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How Obama’s national wireless initiative could make the digital divide worse

I’ve long been annoyed by, and concerned about, the long-term implications of the digital divide. Today, my mobile blog post on Tech is: Obama wireless initiative silent on net neutrality.

President Obama announced this initiative last week. The intent is to bring wireless broadband to 98% of Americans. That’s great, but my point is: What if most of the people in range of those networks can’t afford to use them fully, or at all?

This is likely, since the new Open Internet Rules passed last December by the FCC largely exempt US wireless carriers from key net neutrality requirements. This leaves the door open for wireless carriers to charge mobile customers extra to access just about any site or service at an acceptable speed.

In my article, I explain how that might happen, and what it could mean for people who can’t afford to take full advantage of those networks.

Covering police accountability at Oakland Local

Over at Oakland Local (a community news and views site I cofounded), I’m working with reporter Eric K. Arnold to cover police accountability — an important and touch topic in this town.

We’re approaching this from the perspective of empowering Oaklanders to be able to wield influence on how police operate in their neighborhoods. There’s been a lot of friction and violence, and community members have often felt powerless on this front.

So here’s what I’ve written so far on this topic:

Also, today Eric Arnold published an excellent overview of what Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board is and how it works:

Much more to come on this front. Stay tuned!

Yet another reason to make your site mobile-friendly: disability access

I just wrote this post for the Knight Digital Media Center at USC:

Got accessibility? Mobile-friendly sites also help disabled users

It was sparked by a new Pew report on problems that people with disabilities have with accessing the net. I found a couple of interesting twists.

1st: US DOJ has proposed new ADA regs for web sites, including “public accommodations” (hm, could include news sites?)

2nd: Making a site mobile-friendly goes a long way toward making it more accessible.

This subject is near and dear to my heart since one of my best friends, who is mostly blind, has faced significant struggles in getting access to services, information, education, and opportunities online and elsewhere. That has definitely hurt not only his quality of life, but his health. And he’s fairly tech-savvy! This is a problem that needs to be solved, and going mobile-friendly is one main way to start.

US Census upgrades American FactFinder tool, new data coming soon | Knight Digital Media Center

For journalists and others who use Census data, the American FactFinder is a key research tool. It just got a pretty major upgrade — although the 2010 data isn’t included yet. Apparently that will happen “in the coming months.

I wrote more about this for the Knight Digital Media Center at USC site: US Census upgrades American FactFinder tool, new data coming soon | Knight Digital Media Center.

Everyblock’s New Geocoding Fixes

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Adrian Holovaty. (Image by Additive Theory via Flickr)

Recently I wrote about how a Los Angeles Police Dept. geocoding data glitch yielded inaccurate crime maps at and the database-powered network of hyperlocal sites, Everyblock.

On Apr. 8, Everyblock founder Adrian Holovaty blogged about the two ways his company is addressing the problem of inaccurate geodata.

  1. Latitude/longitude crosschecking. “From now on, rather than relying blindly on our data sources’ longitude/latitude points, we cross-check those points with our own geocoding of the address provided. If the LAPD’s geocoding for a particular crime is significantly off from our own geocoder’s results, then we won’t geocode that crime at all, and we publish a note on the crime page that explains why a map isn’t available. (If you’re curious, we’re using 375 meters as our threshold. That is, if our own geocoder comes up with a point more than 375 meters away from the point that LAPD provides, then we won’t place the crime on a map, or on block/neighborhood pages.)
  2. Surfacing ungeocoded data. “Starting today, wherever we have aggregate charts by neighborhood, ZIP or other boundary, we include the number, and percentage, of records that couldn’t be geocoded. Each location chart has a new “Unknown” row that provides these figures. Note that technically this figure includes more than nongeocodable records — it also includes any records that were successfully geocoded but don’t lie in any neighborhood. For example, in our Philadelphia crime section, you can see that one percent of crime reports in the last 30 days are in an ‘unknown’ neighborhood; this means those 35 records either couldn’t be geocoded or lie outside any of the Philadelphia neighborhood boundaries that we’ve compiled.”

These strategies could — and probably should — be employed by any organization publishing online maps that rely on government or third-party geodata.

Holovaty’s post also includes a great plain-language explanation of what geodata really is and how it works in practical terms. This is the kind of information that constitutes journalism 101 in the online age.

(NOTE: I originally published this post in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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Government 2.0: More Transparency Online

Several planners of the recent Government 2.0 camp

Several planners of the recent Government 2.0 camp (By Patrick at work, via Flickr)

There is a movement afoot among government employees to use “social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies to create a more effective, efficient and collaborative U.S. government on all levels.” It’s called Government 2.0, and it could end up being very useful for journalists, citizens, and government officials and employees.

Members of this movement held a lively and productive unconference, Government 2.0 camp, in late March in Washington, D.C. The Twitter stream for the hashtags #gov20camp and #gov20 are still going strong.

Personally, I find this movement remarkable and encouraging. One of the great difficulties citizens encounter in learning about or interacting with their government has been the top-down, silo-focused, and generally tight-lipped or obfuscatory approach typical of government communication…

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Los Angeles Police Geocoding Error Skews Crime Maps has some recently revealed geodata flaws. has some recently revealed geodata flaws.

Crime maps are one of the most popular and (in urban areas) ubiquitous types of geo-enabled local news — and they’re a staple of the Knight News Challenge-funded project Everyblock. This data comes from local police departments — but how reliable is it?

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported a problem with the Los Angeles Police Department’s online crime map, launched three years ago… is offered to the public as a way to track crimes near specific addresses in the city of Los Angeles. Most of the time that process worked fine. But when it failed, crimes were often shown miles from where they actually occurred.

“Unable to parse the intersection of Paloma Street and Adams Boulevard, for instance, the computer used a default point for Los Angeles, roughly 1st and Spring streets. Mistakes could have the effect of masking real crime spikes as well as creating false ones.”

Apparently the LAPD wast not aware of the error until alerted by the Times…

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Twitter Frenzy: “We’re rotting corpses grabbing for any glimmer of relevance”

That’s how Daily Show tech correspondent Samantha Bee explained why Congress and the news media are so fascinated with Twitter:

Hat tip to Adam Glenn

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