This is big news. Adrian Holovaty, one of the most important journalists you’ve never heard of (or maybe you have), has quit washingtonpost.com to strike out on his own after winning a Knight grant to experiment with hyperlocal journalism. His project will be called EveryBlock.
Holovaty, who’s in his mid-20s, is the master of the mashup, in which datastreams are merged to create something new and useful. Using publicly available data from the Chicago Police Department, he created ChicagoCrime.org, which automatically sorts crime information and plots it on Google Maps. (If you’d like to see such a feature in Boston, forget it — although the Boston Police deserve credit for their innovative blog, they do not make crime data available in a form that would allow an outside programmer like Holovaty to make sense of it.)
Another Holovaty special: The Congressional Votes Database at washingtonpost.com.
I saw Holovaty speak last summer at the Media Giraffe conference at UMass Amherst. I thought his most interesting comments were in response to a question as to whether he considers himself a journalist. His answer: absolutely. He laid out the differences between an electronic journalist and a traditional journalist like this:
- Gathering news: A traditional journalist calls sources and conducts research. An electronic journalist writes programs to fetch data.
- Distilling the news: A traditional journalist decides what’s worth including in her report for print, online or broadcast. An electronic journalist decides which data queries are worth showing to readers.
- Reporting the news: A traditional journalist writes or broadcasts news stories. An electronic journalist puts together Web presentations.
Do young people who want to pursue careers in journalism need to become programmers? Well, it’s certainly a promising field for those with the inclination and talent — but it’s not absolutely necessary. In fact, the Congressional Votes Database depends on contributions from traditional journalists, who do old-fashioned tasks such as deciding which are the key votes and describing them. At best, such journalism is a skillful amalgamation of old and new.