If you’re a Hashbrum subscriber, or are a regular reader of this blog you may have noticed a recent obsession with cycling. The reason for this is it formed part of my MA Online Journalism Newsgathering Experimental assignment. Here it is, split into three parts.
Part 1 – Pedalling The Raw Data
This feature began with a simple observation, I’d started hearing and reading more news stories where cyclists had been involved in accidents. This interested me because I had been cycling into work. Working at Metro Newspapers at Fort Dunlop, I considered pitching a story to Birmingham Post about commuter cycling so I filed a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request on road deaths involving cyclists in the West Midlands.
When I started this course I began to think about different ways in which story could be told. My FOI request came through and I decided to map the deaths. I felt mapping could graphically represent the accidents which would help cyclists think about how they ride in that area. However, my FOI request had a significant flaw, the accidents were not located.
I put the FOI on the HashBrum site alongside the map and set about trying to find the accident locations via news stories and police reports. I also launched an investigation on Help Me Investigate.
“The first step in community organizing is to listen… you show that you are willing to not only listen to other voices in your online community, but to amplify them. That takes you into the second step in community organizing, building relationships.”(Niles)
I responded to each comment and I hope I succeeded in what Axel Bruns would call “dialogic, coversational, unfinished news” (2005, 53.) People showed me other experiments that were taking place, other data that was available and successful national mash-up maps.
I was encouraged by the different experiments taking place but they all stopped short of what I wanted for HashBrum. Dave Harte showed me a mash-up created by Times Online made from data which had been passed to me the day before. In December, I was shown a UK Crash Map on the BBC site. They were expansive but I wanted something more local and with more detail.
I was told about a similar investigation that was taking place in New York but no results had been mapped. Hannah Waldram was inspired by my experiment and launched a similar Help Me Investigate for Cardiff which I duly joined.
“Digital age journalism is now also interactive. Until recently it was a one-way process… this is no longer the case. Discussion and debate over all kinds of issues is enhanced by the digital age.” (Herbert 2000, 2)
I also received attention from the cycling community in Birmingham, including CTC and Birmingham Cyclist Blog and they both started following me on Twitter. One person who runs the Birmingham bike forum also contacted me in the New Year when a cyclist was involved in a serious collision in Solihull; I worked this fact into my story.
However, I was frustrated that I, or anyone else for that matter, couldn’t find the older news stories to corroborate the FOI stats I had. I spotted another US site called Bikewise they seemed to have access to full police reports.
I went hunting for other data. I discovered a site called SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You) a campaign launched by the Cycle Touring Club (CTC) which encouraged cyclists to report near misses and even get legal advice. I asked the administrator if I could access their data, they refused but were encouraging about the investigation. They offered some tips such as ‘the cycling community prefers using the terms crash or collision rather than accident.’
I decided the only data I could use was the UK government statistics. I decided I could marry the Birmingham pinpoints up with some of the missing FOI accidents. Following our mapping lesson I looked into ways put these stats on a map and then limit it to the Birmingham area.
I launched another task using Help Me Investigate and spent many hours converting the stats to Longitude and Latitude and trying different sites that could accept a large amount of data. I tried Mapalist, Many Eyes, Google Earth Pro but I couldn’t convert them. I contacted @Psychemedia a mash-up specialist but couldn’t get it to work. When I disappeared into the world of Python I had to give up.
Find out how I got back on my bike in part two.