Newsroom offers readers sensors to help investigate local issues
The Manchester Evening News will use specialist-built tools to gather data on environmental conditions as Paul Gallagher Executive Editor (Digital Development) for Reach regionals, explains
Reporters at the Manchester Evening News are testing a new newsroom tool for local journalism which they helped to design themselves.
Staff on the MEN were invited to come up with suggestions for data sensors which could find a different angle or offer fresh insight on the stories they cover in Manchester.
Working with technical experts at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), the journalists came up with a number of ideas which were taken away to the workshops as part of a Google-funded project.
One of the proposals was for a home sensor which measures environmental data and might be used by tenants or residents’ groups who wish to gather evidence about the living conditions in their homes.
Newsdesk staff said they often receive calls from tenants who complain about their home environment but it can be difficult to verify the claims unless there is visible evidence of mould or damp.
Journalists said that as well as using the data sensors for stories, they hoped sensors might also empower tenants to challenge landlords or councils in Greater Manchester.
Based on the ideas from the MEN workshop, the house sensor was built by Ben Watkinson at UCLan to measure temperature, humidity and also the levels of pollution within a home by measuring levels of a number of gases.
The first two prototype devices have now been delivered to the MEN newsroom ready to help journalists tell stories.
They were tested during the heatwave at the end of July to measure the conditions inside a house in Saddleworth during the hottest night of the year.
Data from the sensors showed that temperatures remained at a stifling 29C or higher throughout the evening of Tuesday 23rd July and into the early hours of Wednesday July 24th.
It also revealed that levels of atmospheric pollution such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) rose steadily inside the house during the night and tripled in value between 5pm and 2am.
Further tests are planned to gather information about the living conditions experienced in Manchester during extreme weather spells. There is also a proposal for an external sensor to measure conditions outside a home.
The sensors will eventually be connected to a 3G signal so that the data can be streamed live to journalists and allow them to track changes in environmental conditions.
Another idea developed under the project, which is titled Sensemaker, was to analyse video footage of people on the streets of Manchester and extract information about the colour of the clothes they are wearing.
This was tested on the Manchester Day Parade earlier this summer where video of the crowds was converted to produce the ‘Colour of Manchester’.
Journalists will now look at more stories which can be reported using data from the sensors. The team is also planning to work with community groups and activists in Manchester to see if their stories can be told using the data sensors.
The Sensemaker project is funded by Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund, which has awarded millions of pounds to journalism projects around Europe.