Unlocking the secrets of open data journalism in Manchester

As more and more public bodies free their data to the public, and with interpretation of that data set to be increasingly important in journalism, it was only a matter of time before someone had the idea of bringing journalists and computer geeks together to learn from each other how best to crunch the data.

Over in the US, the Hacks and Hackers Hack Days have been established a little while and they recently held one in London. Here in the UK, the people at Scraperwiki have been building tools to help people clean up raw data before working it to produce the meaningful stories nestling within. I attended the News Rewired event in London in June – Scraperwiki were there too but with such a packed scheduled I had no chance to attend one of their mini intro sessions.

So when I heard that Scraperwiki was busy organising Hacks and Hackers Hack Days in the UK, I was very excited. More so when I heard they planned to hold one in Manchester. It would save me travelling to either Liverpool or Birmingham. But more importantly, it was an opportunity for my publication – Inside the M60 – to show that the new breed of digital journalists are more than willing to support such important collaborative ventures.

I’ll be the first to admit that my numeracy is patchy. From years of working in the arena of finance and banking I can spot flaws in a profit and loss account at 50 paces and tell when percentage changes don’t match the actual figures. But I’m hopeless with spreadsheets. I don’t know how to deal with data, but I’m very keen to learn as I can see plenty of opportunities for Inside the M60 to uncover important stories lurking inside Manchester’s own data sets.

This is why I and my colleague Nigel Barlow have been very busy behind the scenes, working with Scraperwiki for nearly two months to help make the Manchester Hacks and Hackers Hack Day a success.

Tickets go on sale today, for a special workshop on 15 October, with an equal number of places available for journalists/bloggers and coders/hackers. What’s going to happen? We’ll be working in small groups, learning from each other to produce stories from data and present some small projects at the end of the session to show what can be done. The previous sessions were a great success so we’ll be aiming to equal that here in Manchester.

Lots of exciting things are already happening in Manchester with data – the Open Data Manchester group persuaded GMPTE to release data sets on public transport recently and a number of interesting projects have already emerged, including phone apps of local bus timetables. Manchester’s thriving digital community will ensure that much more will happen, we local journalists just need to start working with them.

So, if you’re a coder or a journalist, do sign up – it promises to be a really useful and fun day.

And you know what? Even before this event got off the ground, news emerged that some of Preston’s enterprising journalism students and hyperlocal bloggers are already planning to form a hacks and hackers group that will meet regularly in Manchester to further whatever comes out of the workshop day on 15 October.

We are still looking for some sponsorship, so if you can support this valuable project do please get in touch! We are also still looking for someone to come and film the workshop for posterity.

If you can’t make the event, follow us on Twitter on the day. The hashtag will be #hhhmcr.

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