My summer as a Google Fellow at the BBC

The Google News Labs Fellowship programme places students interested in journalism and technology at releavent news organisations across the UK. Fellow Liam Bolton, who is going into his final year at Leeds University, shares what he learned working with the Visual Journalism and BBC News Labs teams this summer.

So, the Google Fellowship has come to an end. Working with BBC News Labs and the Visual Journalism unit has afforded me some great opportunities.

Visual Journalism

As part of the Visual Journalism team I’ve been involved in creating charts, maps and news applications for publication. From smaller projects on social unrest in Venezuela and elephant poaching through to the production of a body matcher for the Rio Olympics, working with a mix of highly talented developers, data scientists, designers and journalists has been an honour.

The Trust Project

One of the main BBC News Labs projects I worked on explored the complex role of trust in news. As Google Fellows, Georgina Rannard and I developed a report for the Trust Project outlining a clear set of trust indicators and prototypes for measuring trustworthiness in news.

News Tools

I was delighted to get the chance to develop practical news tools through the Trust Project.

The Stat Index, a prototype I created using the statistical programming language R, has been made open for anyone to use. The Stat Index mines text, measuring the extent to which statistical insights have been used in news content. While it makes use of Freebird, an internal tool being developed by BBC R&D, the Stat Index can be used by anyone to analyse and compare news content.

I am in the process of developing another tool, News Stat, which finds and extracts statistics from a range of sources. Like the Stat Index, News Stat was built using R. Users, whether they be interested readers of news or Journalists, can simply enter in a URL and it will extract key statistics from text. It can even be used to specify what kinds of statistics readers are interested in. News Stat can be found on GitHub.

What does the future hold?

The hope is that the public, as well as journalists and newsrooms, can use these tools to learn more about the relationship between statistics, trust and news. I’m also very interested in how these tools might be used beyond the world of news. News Stat, in particular, can be used to extract stats from a variety of non-news sources.

My background is in data visualisation, data science and open data. I’m currently in my final year as a student at Leeds University although I worked for a news agency that specialised in visual journalism for several years before embarking on my degree. In 2015 I also set up a small, data-driven non-profit that allows students to address some of society’s most pressing problems. It’s been a huge pleasure to draw on these things as a Google Fellow at the BBC and I’m looking forward to taking some of this summer’s projects forward.

The aim of the Google Fellowship is to support the rise of data in newsrooms. I hope we’ve managed to do this in our own small way. It’s been a fantastic few months and I’d thoroughly recommend it to the next batch of Fellows.

Liam Bolton
Twitter @LiamBoltonUK


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