Jornalism of Things Conference 2019
A field report from our product manager ContentLine Silke Jungblut
Stuttgart, 8.30 in the morning. It is still relatively quiet on the streets and the Literaturhaus is still closed. But that is about to change, because the first Journalism of Things Conference invites to a common exchange between sensor experts and journalists, between students and old hands and between disciplines, which at first glance have little to do with each other, but at second glance surprisingly much to do with each other.
In addition to the panels in the conference room, which also allow for an open Q & A session after the speakers’ presentations, workshops are held in which one can build sensors or experience how sensors work in everyday life and what results they deliver.
Looking for answers, I focus on the round tables that deal with questions about innovation or just the aforementioned links between sensor technology and content, and hopefully contribute ideas to the redesign of digital journalism.
First, however, keynote speaker John Mills from the Media Innovation Studio talks about his experience with the topics mentioned above. He presents projects in which he was involved and talks about the experiences he has made in this context. The interaction between people and objects is in the foreground. He tells about people who could talk to each other about things in their environment or retrieve messages from people who previously interacted with the same object. He also reports on the “Livebird”, a retired bird motif that was too good to be thrown away and so it was quickly rebuilt to visually colourise the football situation of favourite clubs. Depending on the result, the entire bird turns either red or blue and thus automatically displays the coveted information that can be retrieved and interpreted at first glance. But John Mills also knows about innovations in print: Super8 is the name of the project, which transfers conductive ink to paper and allows interaction with the paper via a small device. When the device is placed on the conductive ink, the reader can activate certain points on the paper, such as with a keystroke, and the small device provides appropriate information. In our example, comments about a famous football match. Depending on which connection or endpoint is touched on the paper, other information is available. A map for newspaper articles, so to speak.
Sensors – How do they change journalism?
The first discussion panel now deals – in general – with the question of how sensors can be used explicitly for journalism. Nicholas Diakopoulos, Wiebke Loosen, John Mills and Marco Maas explain the importance of algorithms in data collection and the advantages they can provide. Do people always have to collect data with their own senses or is this work that can be outsourced to sensors? Or is it possible to automatically generate texts from sensory data and are they good enough to be accepted by readers? These questions and those concerning data protection with regard to the collection of data were at the forefront of the open discussion. Even if data is collected and processed anonymously, the ethical question of human transparency always resonates in the background. It’s unlike the interaction of data with utility, which at first glance has little to do with personal data: an umbrella that glows blue when the weather forecast predicts rain counts to a smart environment. Who cares about the fact that weather also has to do with location-dependent data?
Lifting sensor data treasures
The second panel, however, is more concerned with sensitive data. Laura Galamb of Teralytics describes a project that collects and evaluates data from mobile masts and thus contributes to determining peak times in traffic. However, she ensures that the data are not linked to individuals and are collected and stored absolutely anonymously. Marco Maas, on the other hand, openly talks about his transparent handling of personal data. His vacuum cleaner robot automatically announces when he has cleaned the living room and lets his Twitter followers participate in his activities. Via the channel @sensorresidenz, the dirt level in Mr. Maas’ apartment can be traced live, as it were.
Among other things, Arvato Systems and Ricardo Gameiro report on a project that evaluates comments in social media and automatically answers them. The importance of chatbots in general is becoming increasingly relevant, as confirmed by Michael Schmidtke of Bosch. There, extensive tests are carried out with chatbots, which should relieve the burden on human colleagues and respond to customer needs. But also the analysis of texts generates reader-relevant results: After about 11,000 police reports were analysed, a so-called crime map was created, through which readers can view what criminal acts have already taken place in their residential area. Whether you always want to know that exactly, can probably also be found out by means of data.
Journalism of Things investigative
As the name suggests, the third panel discusses the question of investigative topics.
We hear about experiences from projects dealing with bicycle theft, but also from satellite images that reveal violations of human rights. Sensors can be found almost everywhere and the only physical limit that seems to exist for them is the lifetime of the connected battery. The latter limit cost the project about bicycle theft more than 2000 Euros, because after the battery died the GPS tracker on the bicycle also resigned its service and of course the stolen goods could no longer be found.
But whether it’s a question of finding out how often parcel messengers actually ring the doorbell or just throw the infamous recipient-not-found card into the letterbox, or even the proof that the electrical bulkhead is still being traded afterwards, sensors play a major role in typical consumer issues.
The staff at De Correspondent thought bigger. They dealt with the data collected by fitness trackers and determined the routes run by people. If these location-related data are combined with other data, such as Google Earth or the determination of altitude metres, interesting conclusions can be drawn about the living conditions of the tracked persons. Even to the situation in which an employee of De Correspondent visited a Secret Agency agent in his home and openly asked whether he was a secret agent. Of course, this procedure was not without results, even if there was no trouble for the investigating data collectors, but probably for one or the other data-inclined jogger.
If you think that this is already a big fish in terms of data collection, you should take a closer look at the results of the satellite sensors. Michael Anthony of Earth Analytics India Ltd. surprises with impressive images from space, which in addition to the amazement caused by the high resolution, also trigger outraged reactions. Clearly visible and impressively visualised, we see the initiated forest fires in South America flickering across the screen like a small beacon. But apart from the rather photo-oriented evaluation of data, there are also those that function via thermal images or motion. Up to a millimetre, the shift from landscape can be tracked and recorded, for example, where it comes to illegal mining, so that action can be taken against it.
This makes data relevant and significant not only for journalism, but also to national security and human rights observance.
We also learn about the significance of data in the fourth panel, which deals with citizen-centered data. In addition to a presentation on the acceptance and transparency of public data, there will also be a presentation on the significance of data for the prevention and control of aircraft noise. Especially in the Rhine-Main area, aircraft noise plays a major role for many residents, which can only be monitored and controlled using measurable data. The German Aircraft Noise Service has been dealing with data on aircraft noise for years and is in constant contact with politicians and airports in order to keep the burden on citizens to a minimum. What began in Frankfurt has now become a global project that can no longer be ignored and is frequently consulted, especially for the preparation of expert opinions in court hearings. In Europe alone there are almost 770 stations for aircraft noise measurement.
The idea of a bike-o-meter collects data on the actual situation for cyclists on Berlin streets. How much distance do cars keep from cyclists when they overtake them? 2500 volunteers were willing to participate in the data collection. The result is hardly surprising: most overtaking procedures take place at too little distance, and even a helmet won’t help. At first, this analysis does not offer any solutions, but it does make us aware and understandable of the problems we face in everyday life.
Even though the ethical and legal question of the use of such data is always raised, it quickly becomes clear in the lectures that data collection and evaluation play a major role in research or investigative topics. Journalists who want to draw attention to problems in their region or internationally will find helpful supporters in the sensor technicians, who play an important role in the compilation of statistics and the substantiation of facts. The actual storytelling is of course still done by the journalist, but the possibilities that sensors can provide in the context of research are enormous.
I’m curious to see if there will be any further reports on projects or sensor-researched content next year, and I would like to thank the organisers for many new insights and opportunities.