As a world renowned centre for the study of journalism and media teaching, Cardiff University's School of Journalism is helping to shape all aspects of the international media, journalism and communication landscapes.
As the school begins to roll out Dataminr to masters students as part of their journalism courses, we spoke to Digital Journalism Lecturer Gavin Allen about how technology is influencing the next generation of journalists.
Can you provide a bit of background on how your students will be using Dataminr as part of their studies?
The masters students have two production days per week where we run as a newsroom. They're given a patch – as any local news reporter would have – and it's their job to go out and find stories. I've seen how Dataminr can alert on a national and international scale, but I'm interested in the students using it to report at a local level. I want the students to be able to trace a lineage from an alert to a story.
I also want to get the students up to speed on monitoring fast-moving events; taking in large amounts of information and learning to analyse it quickly. This will help them combat the data overload that you’re susceptible to as an online journalist. You need to decipher quickly what's useful and what's not. They're not introduced to that kind of pressure enough as students, usually for good reason. Under the right conditions, I want them to get more used to the speed of the flow of information.
How have you introduced the concept of real-time information gathering to your students?
I began with a Twitter masterclass – talking them through how to use Twitter and TweetDeck. I then said, “The next evolution of this process is Dataminr and I'm opening this up to you.”
We’ll have a training session, led by our Dataminr customer success manager, to ensure they're all set up correctly and, although our production cycle has already begun, the production days get into full swing from January. During that second semester, I want them to be able to use Dataminr effectively, so before their production schedule cranks right up we’ll be running practice sessions to get them ready.
How do you think the course will prepare students for a future in the newsroom?
It will make the students sharper. It will help them understand the speed and the pressure that can be associated with online reporting, but it'll also give them that buzz you get from breaking news. The buzz you get as a journalist is one of the reasons you continue to do the job. Dataminr will help engender that feeling within the newsroom while making the students understand the idea of real-time news feeds.
We can’t have the students walking into newsrooms unaware of what Dataminr is and not knowing how to use it, because they’d be at a disadvantage to the existing reporting staff and to other applicants with industry experience. We’re instilling how useful it is within the newsroom and how much it matters to editors on-desk.
They can then go to an interview and be able to say, “I’ve used Dataminr; I'm familiar with it; I've broken stories with it.” This will impress editors and help our students land jobs. That's what we're about: taking students and turning them into professionals.
What aspects of Dataminr made it the right tool for Cardiff University?
The university is constantly striving to make our courses the best in the country. Dataminr has real currency within the news industry; we know that it has a major place in the newsrooms of the UK, both regional and national.
People within the industry who often use Dataminr – like desk-level editors of major publications – will know of Dataminr and if they see that our student journalists are coming through with those skills, it's only going to improve our standing as an institution.
I used Dataminr as an Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror's website for four years and we quickly realised that as a breaking news tool it was going to be of great benefit to us. I used it on a daily basis and it became such an integral part of the workflow that I couldn’t put it down.
It allowed me to break international exclusives by providing early indications of breaking stories. It was one of the tools I didn’t want to give up when I left Reach, as I realised how integral it had become to the way I monitored news. And, if we're trying to prepare the next generation of journalists to be that next-level candidate, we want to arm them with the same information.
How is technology changing the newsgathering process?
It offers competition, because readers are seeing the same stories. That's one of the reasons why Dataminr is so important, because everyone's got a Twitter account, so they can see news as it breaks, if they're looking at the right things, but not everyone has a Dataminr account.
And that's one of the areas where real-time alerts can really benefit a journalist,
What do you think of the notion that technology such as artificial intelligence will replace the need for humans within the field of journalism?
A tweet or a piece of information is always ever just a source, and journalists still need to do all the traditional legwork to go and stand that story up. We can't give up those concepts and methods.
AI can be used to make journalists’ jobs easier, but it’s only a piece of a puzzle – likely the first piece for information gathering. The human element is still required to decipher the information, so it’s about understanding what the technology can do for you and how useful the solutions can be, without thinking that it can replace traditional forms of journalism. It requires a mixed skill set. You have to mix the old with the new.
How do you see the newsroom dynamic changing going forward?
We need to ensure that information is being used responsibly. There’s a professional dynamic that needs to be maintained. We have to raise standards in fact. The world is changing and people expect more from us, if we as an industry are going to survive and thrive. It's up to us to raise those standards, to be professional and to use all the tools at our disposal; to fact check; to be accurate; to be trustworthy; to annotate, modify and correct. And be up-front and honest about that.
I'd like to see journalists focusing on quality coverage going forward, because web journalism had to fight for its place and for recognition. Trust levels in news are higher for print and broadcast then they are for online, so there's still a lot of work to be done with readers. There's a perception perhaps that the print journalists have more time to research and work on stories, and will therefore put together more comprehensive coverage. Whereas, the digital journalists are more driven by the immediate news flow and kicking out lots of stories quickly, and which aren’t in as great depth. There are still separate print and online teams in newsrooms.
I'd like to see more newsrooms moving toward the likes of The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Guardian, who are genuinely invested in advancing the online journalistic model. I understand that is not financially viable for every publisher right now, but until that approach becomes widespread, you're still going to have this dichotomy in perceptions.
To learn more about how Dataminr delivers the earliest tips on breaking events and pre-viral information to journalists, visit the Dataminr for News solution page.