Facebook algorithms, body cameras and gadgets: What we learned at EIJ 2017

A few members of the Chicago Headline Club’s executive board had the privilege of attending this year’s Excellence in Journalism conference in September.

The annual conference brought together members of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association to talk, share and learn.

We learned lots that we’re excited to bring to Chicago in the future. But we also attended a number of great panels that had tons of information that could be useful for you immediately. Here are summaries of a few of the conference’s events.

Intro to data journalism

Data stories tend to fall into two main categories: those that focus on trends, and those that focus on exceptions. During the Intro to Data Journalism workshop, ProPublica news applications developer Lena Groeger walked newbies through identifying story ideas and organizing and visualizing data.

Trends, she explained, tell us about big picture changes in society. Exceptions are, of course, the outliers, for example, a school that saddles students with the most debt, or a state with the worst rates of something.

To help with visualizing data, she cites a ProPublica Project: Worker’s Comp Benefits: How Much Is  Limb Worth? which visualized how much money workers were compensated after suffering permanent injury to a limb in different states. Another example visualized the potential effect of Hurricane Ike on Houston, had it taken a different path and struck the city directly in 2008.

Her advice to get started is pick a project, Google for answers (yes! she wasn’t kidding) and find a community of data journos for support. Oh, and you’re going to need this, a treasure trove of data journalism resources: bit.ly/data-resources. You’re welcome.

-Brandis Friedman

Deadly Force Captured: Police Coverage with Body Camera Footage & Public Records

Investigative reporter and editor Seth Rosenfeld highlighted several historical references tactics police use for crowd control, dating back to the 60s: the Kerner Commission Report from the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which he says reads like a novel, and has powerful insights that still apply today.

“One of the most powerful tools and least utilized tools to us as journalists are the general orders that each police dept makes,” Rosenfeld said. He describes them as a “big binder of memos that cover every facet of police operations,” like the department’s organizational structure, rules of conduct and its written communication system.

A simple Google search for “SFPD general orders” or “Chicago Police General Orders” will lead to them pretty quickly and easily. He adds the general orders on body-worn cameras are especially useful. For reference, here are the orders for Chicago: http://directives.chicagopolice.org/directives.

Chris Burbank, former Salt Lake City police chief and currently of the Center for Policing Equity joined Sheryl Worsley, the news director at KSL Radio in Salt Lake City, to discuss how to gain access to video taken by body-worn cameras and what reporters need to know.

Burbank advises that police departments mount cameras on officers’ eye level to get their perspective. Also, agencies have to have a plan for how and where to store the videos, which can be expensive. Taser International stores and watermarks the video, so that any alterations or edits can be caught. It also captures electronic traces to every time someone plays the video. He specifically referenced the LaQuan McDonald case in Chicago, where there were questions about exactly when Mayor Rahm Emanuel watched the video of McDonald’s shooting.

Worsley says there is strength in numbers when stations or papers band together to advocate for access. Leverage local SPJ chapters (like the Chicago Headline Club) to get angry letters flowing. Make friends with First Amendment lawyers who’ll sometimes help for free. And lastly, don’t take refusals sitting down: appeal!

-Brandis Friedman

Geek Out 2017

Each year, one of the most anticipated sessions is Geek Out – a freeform sharing of new journalism tools, gadgets and multimedia platforms. This year’s hosts were Robert Hernandez (@webjournalist), Kim Bui (@kimbui), Henry M. Lopez (@henrymlopez) and Joe Ruiz (@joeruiz).

For full notes on the session, check out: http://bit.ly/geekout17

Otherwise, here are some highlights:
Tech and Tools collection: http://webjournalist.org/topics/tools/

Digital Tools with a nice design: https://digitalstory.tools/

The new Insta360 ONE: 360 Camera Has Bullet Time Mode

Check out a sample video made at the conference here:

Augmented Reality might give journalists new ways to tell stories, but right now, here’s a new twist on an old song:

An Artist Uses an iPhone to Visualize Sounds in A.R. using Apple’s ARKit & OpenFrameworks

Pannellum is a lightweight, free, and open source panorama viewer for the web.

Lastly, check out the Desert Sun’s interactive series on the dying Salton Sea

-Robert K. Elder

Advanced Verification Techniques: Ensure Video and Photos You’re Running Are Trustworthy

With fake news and fake photos on the rise, we must interrogate photos as if they are sources, says Mandy Jenkins, head of news at Storyful.

Here are some tools that can help:

First, start with a Reverse Image Search using https://tineye.com/  or the RevEye Chrome Plugin to see if the photo has been published elsewhere.

To get inside the photo’s meta data, trying using Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer, which can tell where & when a photo was shot, and with what device http://exif.regex.info/exif.cgi 

FotoForensics also compares new pixels with old pixels, to see if/how a photo has been edited. http://fotoforensics.com

And to verify locations, please check out Wikimapia. It uses maps & satellites that Google Maps sometimes doesn’t. http://wikimapia.org/

The last tool is James Bond meets CSI: Find My Shadow allows you to calculate the position & height of the sun on any day, so you can approximate the angle of a shadow in a photo: http://www.findmyshadow.com

-Robert K. Elder

Health Journalism, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds journalism that sheds light on healthcare issues and it issues grants to promote “A Culture of Health.” In its EIJ presentation, the foundation highlighted two of its projects, the first of which was a collaboration with the Center for Disease Control:

500 Cities

Using an interactive map, the site’s goal is “provide city- and census tract-level small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use for the largest 500 cities in the United States.”

The second resource the foundation shared was a study it supported called, “Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity,” from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Read the study here:

There’s even a comic book overview:

-Robert K. Elder

A peek behind the curtain of Facebook’s algorithm

Dorrine Mendoza, a former CNN.com senior producer who now works in Facebook’s news partnerships department, explained a bit about how, exactly, Facebook decides what you see in News Feed. The algorithm is based more upon what each individual user clicks on, she said, than what creators post.

That said, there are several criteria that Facebook evaluates when it decides whether or not to serve a post to each user. Each post gets a numerical ranking that determines whether or not it’s served.

The presentation isn’t online, unfortunately, but I snapped a few grainy shots of the screen.

-Ben Meyerson

What else?

Among a slew of other panels and professional development sessions, Lester Holt and Jake Tapper were honored by RTDNA (Holt accepted his award remotely from Florida, where he was stationed in advance of Hurricane Irma).

Several locals landed awards: The Better Government Association was honored with the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award, the Headline Club was the SPJ Region 5 Large Chapter of the Year and a finalist for SPJ’s national Large Chapter of the Year. The same honors were bestowed on DePaul University’s SPJ chapter, which was Region 5’s Student Chapter of the Year and a finalist for the same award on the national level.

You can read more about what happened at EIJ News, a student-run operation set up to cover the conference.

Sound like fun? We’d love to see more Chicagoans out at the conference next year, which will be hosted in Baltimore from Sept. 27 through 29.

-Ben Meyerson