I’ve just come back from the first student developer conference at the University of Lincoln, DevXS. I went with very little knowledge of how to code, but hoped to be able to bring something to the table as a journalist. It turned out I could, and I learned a hell of a lot, and stuff I feel to work in my favour as a wannabe.
Early on in the conference, Michael Brunton-Sprall, developer advocate at Guardian.co.uk, spoke about how a working relationship between data journalists and developers is essential. At the Guardian, the Data Blog publishes two to three new data sets everyday, he said.
Part of making the data accessible is making it available; the reason the Data Blog exists is to publish the Guardian‘s data sets for anyone to download and play with. They’ve also set up the World Government Data store, as a replacement to governments’ own publishing platforms, which are complex and make it hard to get what you’re looking for.
What’s available through the Guardian is just raw data though, and remains largely inaccessible to the average reader. To find a story and give the data a purpose, developers and data journalists work side by side.
The focus of the conference was largely on making data accessible through the development of applications. You can find some of the promoted data for the weekend here, and the broad challenges that were laid out for delegates here.
Realising just how much data is openly available, and being in a room with nearly 200 developers for a weekend made me realise just some of the potential. What concerns me is that there was only a few journalists in attendance- far more should have come.
If we’re expected to work in a “digital first” industry, then why aren’t we taking notice and working alongside developers while we’re still wannabes?
I’ve never come across a student journalist particularly passionate about data journalism, or a project such as the ones I saw over the weekend where young journalists are a core part of a development team, as I believe they should be.
The winning team at the conference, who “made a difference to university life for students”, used data from the Guardian university league tables, and mashed up it together with open data from Ordnance Survey. The result is an impressive application, which you can see live here (keep in mind it’s an early prototype).
It’s really clever stuff, and serves a purpose too, allowing prospective students to gain more of an insight to what living at a university might actually be like. It goes far beyond what you can glean from the typical league table, and more data integration is promised. It demonstrates, in my eyes, what can be achieved in such a short amount of time if you collaborate with the right people. I also think that, if their team had included a journalist, they would have managed more, and produced a better reading experience for an end user.
Get involved in development and data now; it’s becoming increasingly important, and so much data is available and under-used. Start by looking at the Data store, work out what the story is and how you can make it accessible. The potential is simply massive!
If you know of any projects that involve young wannabe journos and developers working together, then comment or tweet us @wannabehacks.