The West Australian: You can’t BEAT it for breaking news

I wasn’t able to attend the media event below but I followed it with interest on Twitter and told the Walkley Foundation’s multi-media manager I would write something about it if I could find an angle. I found one — it’s all about the future of journalism, and if you want to know more, check out the websites of the Walkley Foundation and the Global Editors Network (GEN).
There was a significant journalism event in Sydney earlier this month which might have passed you by, especially if you’re old school and read the words “data-driven journalism prototypes.”
The event was the Editors Lab hackathon, part of the Global Editors Network’s (GEN) series and the Walkley Foundation’s program on innovation in journalism, also supported by Google. In plain English, the theme was: “Data-Driven Stories: Find or tell stories with data.”
Fourteen three-person teams from across Australia, including newspapers, television, and universities, took part in the two-day event at Macleay College in Sydney’s Surry Hills to produce the best journalism project based on data. Each team was composed of a journalist, a developer and a designer. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the video of the winning pitch from The West Australian — Joe Hardy, Sophia Lewis and Ben Martin, left to right. Photo above by Stephen Davis/Macleay College – as they explain what their project, “BEAT: A real-time visualisation of breaking news,” is all about.
Ben Martin, assistant editor at The West Australian, led the pitch: “The crux of everything we do is telling stories and telling them well. BEAT will help us identify those stories quickly, and respond quickly. It’s mostly designed for use by our senior staff on our super desk, which sits at the centre of our integrated newsroom and where all editorial decisions are made for Seven News’s Perth bulletin, thewest.com.au, and The West Australian newspaper.
“In the past few months, we have brought our digital department into our newsroom, so they now sit just metres from the super desk. Previously, they were on a different floor on a different wing of our building. Now, we have put people with technical and creative skills in the thick of the news business. It’s the start of something exciting and innovative, and to go to Sydney and win the hackathon was reassuring evidence that we have the talent to keep being successful in the world of digital journalism.”
BEAT puts live information from the police despatch system in an easy-to-understand, usable, graphical interface for their newsroom. MatCAD, the Western Australian police computer-aided despatch system, is made available to newsrooms via a password-protected website. But it’s hard to read and there’s too much data. BEAT polls MatCAD for new data every 30 seconds. It categorises each event by urgency, seriousness and newsworthiness, and delivers it on a dashboard accessible to anyone in the newsroom at a glance.
Ben Martin describes how BEAT is used in their newsroom: “When there’s a breaking news event, sending the right person with the right equipment to an event currently involves constant ‘where the hell are you’ phone calls, illegible scribbling on white boards and, basically, a fair bit of luck. I want live, official, reliable information that I can use immediately. A newsroom needs to respond to breaking news now because our audience wants its news now.
“BEAT tells me a serious crime story is breaking. My first question: where are my reporters? My photographers? My satellite trucks to beam pictures back to the newsroom? Is the helicopter available? Let’s add our Newsroom Logistics Layer to BEAT. By geolocating our staff and vehicles, I can see who is closest, who has the right equipment, the skills and ability to respond. We can make quick decisions. No more multiple phone calls. No more scribbling on a white board. We respond fast and efficiently to live news events.
“BEAT can also be used to identify fast-moving crime trends. We could filter for burglaries in the past two hours. If we see a spate of burglaries, we can give our audience hyper-local, real-time information. The message might be: “There have been seven burglaries in your suburb in the past two hours, check your locks and doors and check on your neighbours …” What could be more local, relevant and usable than that?
“We have already started identifying other usable real-time data which can be layered over BEAT: for example, road closures and traffic delays seriously impact our ability to get to breaking news. BEAT is a breaking news dashboard and vital newsroom logistics tool. It’s a simple, elegant, usable way to monitor the beat of your city.”
If you want to get more information about BEAT, click on this link from the Global Editors Network (GEN).
The West Australian will compete against other Editors Lab winners from Season 4 during the Editors Lab Final — the World Cup of Newsroom Innovation — at the GEN Summit 2016 in Vienna on June 15-17, 2016.
Sydney innovation experts from Fusion Labs presented an informal Launch Ready Award to the Sydney Morning Herald team — Inga Ting, Richard Lama and Kathleen Virnat -– who win up to two days of free consulting and training to help them take their prototype DataHub to a product launch. DataHub is an online forum that links journalists with researchers who are willing to share their data. Runners-up were the ABC team, with their Cooee app searching the corporation’s content to find what topics audiences are reading or responding to the most.
If you want a list of the teams, the judges, presenters, the organisers and more information on the Editors Lab series, go to the Walkley’s website where you can also find contacts for the event: Kate Golden, the Walkley Foundation’s multi-media manager, and Evangeline de Bourgoing, director of programmes for the Global Editors Network.

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