Five innovative audio implementations in the news industry

Did you hear the news? Five innovative ways of implementing audio in newsrooms

The second half of 2017 has been saturated with talk about news organisations investing significantly in video. In all that talk and speculation, I noticed an important topic being overlooked: audio. Here, I’ve looked into some recent experiments in digital audio news and podcasting I was curious to learn more about. Continue reading “Five innovative audio implementations in the news industry”

How the BBC is using voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home

Next year, the BBC will pair editorial staffers with its software engineers to figure out what content experience people want from voice-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home in order to inform new interactive editorial formats that are technically feasible.

“We will do some experiments together,” said Mukul Devichand, editorial lead for BBC Voice. “We are keen to understand what it means to natively publish in this platform — no one has cracked it yet.” Continue reading “How the BBC is using voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home”

BBC is launching an interactive radio show for Echo


The future of entertainment is here. The BBC, in collaboration with Rosina Sound, is working on an interactive radio play for artificial intelligence-enabled home chatbots like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

The production will be the first of its kind — the first to use this kind of technology and to function in this way. It plans to release this futuristic, high-tech play by the end of the year.


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The play

The story, called the Inspection Chamber, will work similarly to choose-your-own-adventure books and games, in which users can influence the direction of the story by the choices they make.

The creators of the Inspection Chamber, though, are seeking to take that idea a bit further and make listeners really feel like they’re in the story.

The story’s narrator will ask you, the listener, questions throughout the story. Your answers to those questions will change the outcome of the narrative.

The questions are designed so the listener doesn’t have to step out of the story to consider their decision, but instead feels like they’re a character in the story. It’s meant to feel like you’re interacting with the other characters in the play.

The creators of the play said they took inspiration from games like The Stanley Parable and Papa Sangre, and authors such as Franz Kafka and Douglas Adams. The story became, in the creators’ own words, “a comedy science-fiction audio drama.”

The technology

The sci-fi elements fit well with the medium through which the story will be presented. The show’s creators say they’ve built a “story engine” that lets the story work on a variety of different voice devices.

First, the Inspection Chamber will come out on Amazon Echo and Google Home, but the BBC is looking into other devices, like Apple’s HomePod and Microsoft & Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker, as well.

The project comes out of a wider BBC initiative called Talking With Machines that is exploring spoken interfaces. It’s looking at ways to share content through these technologies and improve interactive audio interfaces. It also aims to create a platform for these interfaces that works across devices, instead of relying on one particular device.

Merging art and technology

In some ways, the plot of the Inspection Chamber had to conform to the limitations of the technology used to share it. For example, Amazon’s Alexa requires users to speak every 90 seconds, and these devices only understand a limited number of phrases. The story’s writers had to come up with a way to incorporate these phrases and time requirements into the story, without making it feel forced.

The use of this technology to tell a story may be experimental now, but as the technology improves, this type of content will likely become easier to create with fewer limitations on creativity. This presents some interesting ideas about the future of creative fields and technology. Rather than shy away from tech in favor of the traditional, the BBC is going full force into it.

Physical books and theater productions may never go completely out of style due to their many virtues, but using new technologies creates new possibilities with a plot, user experience, and more.

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer interested in AI, chatbots, and tech news. She writes for VentureBeat, MakeUseOf, The Week, and TechnoBuffalo.

Data journalism on radio, audio and podcasts

In a previous post I talked about how data journalism stories are told in different ways on TV and in online video. I promised I’d do the same for audio and radio — so here it is: examples from my MA in Data Journalism to give you ideas for telling data stories using audio.

this american life

As with any audio post, This American Life features heavily: not only is the programme one of the best examples of audio journalism around — it also often involves data too.

Right To Remain Silent is one particularly good example, because it’s about bad data: specifically. police who manipulated official statistics.

You might also listen to Choosing Wrong, which includes a section about polling.

Another favourite of mine is an audio story by The Economist about the prostitution industry, based on data scraped from sex trade websites: More bang for your buck (there are even worse puns in the charts).

David Rhodes, a BBC data journalist, has a range of stories on his Audioboom account, including pieces on Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, and this piece from the excellent factchecking radio programme, More or Less.

In podcasting this episode of The Allusionist tells a story about an experiment with data and dating.

Finally, I have to include an episode of Radiolab, one of my favourite podcasts. Shots Fired — which is split into two episodes — employs the common approach of interviewing the journalist who undertook a data-driven investigation (in other words, hooking the story on the journalist’s ‘quest’). It’s embedded below. For a geekier trip, try their podcast about Benford’s Law.

Podcasts about data journalism

There are also many great podcasts about data itself — one of my former students compiled a list for GIJN:

If you’ve heard any other examples of data stories being told through audio, please let me know — I’m always on the lookout for more!

Filed under: online journalism Tagged: audio, BBC, data journalism, David Rhodes, podcasting, radiolab, The Allusionist, The Economist, This American Life

Data journalism in broadcast news and video: 27 examples to inspire and educate

channel 4 network diagram

This network diagram comes from a Channel 4 News story

The best-known examples of data journalism tend to be based around text and visuals — but it’s harder to find data journalism in video and audio. Ahead of the launch of my new MA in Data Journalism I thought I would share my list of the examples of video data journalism that I use with students in exploring data storytelling across multiple platforms. If you have others, I’d love to hear about them.

FOI stories in broadcast journalism

victoria derbyshire gif

Freedom of Information stories are one of the most common situations when broadcasters will have to deal with more in-depth data. These are often brought to life by through case studies and interviewing experts.

In 2015, for example, a former and then-current MA student worked with the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on FOI responses from 42 police forces relating to violence in schools. The online version of the story included an interview with a former teacher affected by the issue (captured in the gif above).

Other British examples include this ITV story on mental health trusts cutting beds, and this Channel 4 Dispatches piece on benefit sanctions. And I keep a list of other FOI-based stories by the BBC here.

In Canada Fifth Estate’s Rate My Hospital investigation in 2013 featured a number of case study and expert video clips online, this time more presenter-led, while also in Canada this Global News story on pit bull attacks uses charts and tables online, but vox pops and archive clips in the (embedded) broadcast treatment. You can also watch broadcast treatments of stories by their data journalist Patrick Cain into car testing and problem gambling.

Another data journalist in a broadcast organisation is Tisha Thompson at NBCUniversal. Her examples include “collecting rape statistics when the military refuses to hand them over” (more here); government employees accused of stealing the beer they’re supposed to be delivering (more here). (Tisha says this is “Why you should make your own database, especially when the government doesn’t do it”); water quality in Virginia and Maryland; high-end luxury and fashion brands on a list of government seizures; and potholes.

Striking statistics

Hans Rosling, who died earlier this year, did much to popularise the use of statistics and data visualisation. His engaging presentation style led BBC4 to commission a series on “The Joy of Stats“. Here’s one of the highlights:

Broadcast data journalism by students

Karl Idsvoog at Kent State University shared a number of examples of his students producing video reports on their data journalism projects, including pieces on university marketing budgets, free cars for coaches, high school concussions, and athletes missing class (shown above). They’re all good examples of data stories that can be found on your doorstep.

Network analysis in video

Network analysis — analysing relationships between actors in a story — is becoming more and more widely used. Here are a couple of examples where a broadcaster has used it: first, the BBC’s Newsnight leans on a galactic metaphor…

…And second, Channel 4 News uses a network to illustrate the complex story of Rangers Football Club’s troublesome finances:

The data isn’t on screen — but it’s behind the story

One of the reasons it’s not always easy to think of good examples of data journalism in video and audio is because the data itself is hidden. Channel 4’s investigative programme Dispatches often features investigations where data analysis is involved, but it’s not always obvious in the programme itself.

Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse – shown below – involved compiling spreadsheets to demonstrate the scale of the problem, which also helped one reporter to identify recurring reasons why people did not involve the police authorities.

Those spreadsheets were also crucial in convincing the lawyers that they could defend any legal action.

Web-native video

Data video journalism doesn’t have to be made for broadcast. Many of the stories that I’ve worked on in the BBC England data unit have included a video clip. This investigation we did into library cuts includes a caption-led video on how one prominent library has been affected by the cuts.

Across social media the BBC also used a short clip to illustrate some of the key statistics from the story:

As an aside, many radio stations reported on the story by interviewing librarian Lauren Smith, and well known authors.

This story on the impact of a government scheme leads on a video clip which includes interviews with people who used the scheme, and this investigation into midwife led units also led on a video with someone who, like one in four patients, had to be transferred to a consultant led unit. This music festival data story’s lead video goes from a gif-style stop motion to expert interviews.

And if you’re doing a data story involving animals, there really has to be video too.

Germany’s public service broadcaster Bayerischen Rundfunk produces data journalism including the example below…

…and Swiss broadcaster SRF has an impressive data operation too.

Can you add any?

These are just some of the examples I’ve come across in video and broadcast media (I’ll look at audio in a separate post). I’m always on the look-out for new examples, so please let me know if you’ve seen others.

Filed under: online journalism Tagged: Bayerischen Rundfunk, BBC, broadcast, data journalism, dispatches, Fifth Estate, MA Data Journalism, NBC Universal, Patrick Cain, SRF, Tisha Thompson

UK pubs enlist bots to fight against filter bubbles ahead of the UK election

British publishers are using Facebook Messenger bots as tools to arm voters against filter bubbles in the run-up to the general election on June 8.

The Times has launched a Messenger bot under its political sub-brand Red Box. The bot, called “filter-bubble buster,” is primed to provide people with a balanced view of information ahead of voting.

Users are asked to give their post code, and are then sent polls and information relevant to their local constituency. They can select which party they voted for in 2015’s general election and which way they’re currently leaning ahead of the June election. The bot then sends them 5 p.m. updates with stories and information curated by The Times’ social media team, which give a balanced view of all sides of the campaigning.

“We were interested in thinking of how to deal with fake news in this election, and we wanted to find a way to deal with the issue of echo chambers,” said William Park, social media editor at The Times and Sunday Times. “We want to make sure people read enough outside of what they normally read to stay well informed.”

Currently, the stories incorporated are from The Times — and are outside the paywall to attract new audiences. Though given the Red Box daily morning newsletter curates relevant political stories from around the web, the bot may also do the same.

The idea is to get bot users to open up about their intentions, without the fear of judgment they may get in more public areas like The Times’ comments sections and main Facebook pages. Whether the bot can actually influence whether people stay in their filter bubbles or not is yet to be proven. But it is something The Times social team will watch closely.

A developer will monitor the user data generated by the bot daily, both to keep an eye on whether people are finding it useful, and to aggregate the data anonymously to see whether people have changed their minds about their political tendencies during their use of it. Some of that anonymous data will be fed back to users too. For example, an individual user may be told how other users’ within their same constituency may have changed their minds on who they’ll vote for, having been exposed to a wider range of information on the political campaigning.

“We will choose the things we think will keep them best informed. You tell us who you intend to vote for or can say you don’t know, tell us the constituency, and we can then use that data to serve articles that person is unlikely to have read. We won’t be pushing any political agenda, but sending a mix of what we think everyone should read, and information related to their own preferences,” said Park.

The BBC has also gone down the bot route, shifting the focus of its newly launched Brexit-focused bot to Snap-election coverage until June 8. Users of the broadcaster’s bot can also opt to see all the stories that come from the BBC’s fact-checking site Reality Check, originally started as a temporary project to cover the EU Referendum, and made permanent from this January. These formats debunk widespread misinformation and fake claims made by politicians and other public speakers.

Brits do seem to be actively seeking out a wider variety of news sources to inform their voting decisions, according to research commissioned by video ad firm Teads. Nearly half of the 2,000 adults polled in the study, said they’ve become more wary of news reported on social media following high-profile fake-news scandals around both Brexit and the U.S. election. Just over half of them said they were concerned that social media sites only show them views similar to their own, therefore propelling the so-called echo chamber, or filter-bubble, effect.

Some respondents are putting that into action, with half claiming they’re actively branching out from their favorite news brands to ensure they’re getting a full view of each side of the political campaign.

“People are increasingly demanding to know where the news is coming from, who is writing it, and it shows that publishers have a right to monetize their eyeballs more than ever, because people want to go to them to ensure they’re getting the skilled editorial staff and credible information,” said Justin Taylor, U.K. managing director of Teads.

The post UK pubs enlist bots to fight against filter bubbles ahead of the UK election appeared first on Digiday.

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