Posted by & filed under cycling, MA Online Journalism.

For my MA Online Journalism assignment I chose to focus cycling, I tried to map some cycle data but then realised I was losing my audience. In the second phase I got back on track but still wanted to do good with my data. Especially when I noticed that my Birmingham Cycle Map had received over 1,100 hits.

View Birmingham Cyclist Map in a larger map

I discovered an American site called The Right Ride which mapped hazards. It was fairly straight forwards but pointed out all black spots, bad roads and potholes. Most importantly the comment voice seemed to be coming from the community. This encouraged me to take a follow an idea from Hannah Waldram’s investigation and produce a mash-up with FixMyStreet.

I looked for an RSS about potholes in Birmingham. There was no recent news in the feed but there were unresolved pothole problems on the site. I asked FixMyStreet if they knew a way to mash RSS with Googlemaps. They didn’t but they sent me an RSS mash-up of all local problems in Birmingham. I set up an e-mail alert for the Pothole RSS feed and am now able to click through on their updated Google Map and save to my Cycle Map. All ongoing problems are marked in pink with a dot or without a dot if it is unconfirmed. I let Hannah Waldram know about my discovery.

Just before my assignment was due in I thought of another way to spin the story as more potholes were popping up due to the bad weather which I think encouraged others to complain through FixMyStreet and furthermore the map.

I am reasonably happy with my feature and I’ve certainly learnt a lot through keeping my mind open and letting the audience dictate some of the way. However, I feel some traction has been lost in me discovering the story’s direction alongside the audience. For my next news piece I want to show my working less on the site. I find myself agreeing with Janet Koldzy “Research or gathering background information and material, can make a difference between a routine news story and one that attracts and audience and keeps it reading, listening, watching and interacting.” (2006, 107)

Since December I’ve become interested in the idea of introducing game dynamics into news features.

“Could newspapers similarly harness the human need for interaction and stimulation and sell not just boring text news but access to a shared experience?” (Smith)

Rosales also writes on the subject in a short chapter devoted to the subject (2006, 25-27).

I’ve been working on one idea called Spaghetti Junctions. I performed a Google Wave dry run with Andrew Brightwell. I blogged about this in January and Jon Bounds expressed an interest in helping out.

Bounds and I fleshed out the idea. The basic premise is you claim facts about Birmingham – these can either be true (or Chinns named after local historian Carl Chinn) or entertaining myths (or Bulls named after the Birmingham Bull). Points are gained for either. More points are gained if you can connect two facts via a Spaghetti Junction. To keep traction I’ve already prepared some facts which can drop in.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t run through this experiment this semester as the next stage will require a heavily adapted WordPress site. I fully intend to do it soon though. It would certainly be an interesting way to pass on and source information. We even decided that more points could be scored if you presented a recent newsworthy fact. Maybe this was something Bruns had in his mind when he talked about Kovach and Rosntiel,

“These new characteristics of the Mixed Media Culture are creating what we call a new journalism of assertion, which is less interested in whether something is true and more interested in getting it into public discussion.” (2005, 57)

There’s also a chance that we can make this game geo-located, linking facts to places on a map. If the player reports a ‘fact’ from the spot itself then I believe it might be edging towards what Espen Aarseth calls a ‘Community Game’ (2009).