Scraperwiki and UK's Channel 4 - media embracing the web

ScraperWiki is a new website I discovered this weekend that collects code used and teaches how to scrape data from websites.

I’m thrilled by this site – my nerd skills are not what they were prior to becoming a journalist and I need to get better at scraping the web.

What really caught my eye is that the site received funding from a mainstream media organization, Britain’s Channel 4 under their 4iP project. Channel 4 is a non-profit channel in the UK. One of their programs is a site called 4iP which commissions web projects similar to how they commission television programs. They’ve funded Audioboo and Help me investigate … among other projects.

This is brilliant, the media organization is using its resources to fund projects that benefit the public with an understanding that the most important currency in the open source community is good karma. ScraperWiki is a good example of a site which brings developers and their skill sets to journalists without breaking the open ethos – Channel 4 does not control the site or the data, they facilitate its use.

One of the problems with journalism is that we disparage online communities, we fight them, and then eventually we embrace them when we finally are forced to see their benefit. Think of the Internet – the media went to war against all the supposed sites run by “Bob” which could be misleading the public. Trust the newspaper, trust the television, don’t trust the Internet. Wikipedia – same thing, the media went to war against it before finally embracing it. Blogs – repeat last sentence. Twitter – damn, we did it again.

(For the record, I’ve been an early adopter of all of the above – but I started as a blogger then became a journalist so that may be my excuse for not getting out the pitchfork every time the web invents something new.)

Now, we’re looking at Open Data as the latest web driven initiative which threatens the traditional norms of journalism. No longer will we be in control of data – which we are uniquely positioned to purchase (via FOI processes funded by large news companies) from the government. With Open Data everyone will have access to the same data at the same time.

Something different is happening – journalists are jumping onto the open data bandwagon and embracing it in some cases. The question is are they doing because they wish to embrace collaboration with the web or are they doing it purely for survival.

Channel 4 appears to be embracing the collaboration and have funded a great foundation block of the growing Open Data movement. More media organizations need to follow their lead and actively support start-ups that benefit both the community and journalism.