LAT Database Producer Discusses His LAPD Experiment

The future of journalism was sliced, diced and debated in a myriad of ways this past weekend at the 13th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ). Held April 20-21 at the University of Texas at Austin, the event featured innumerable keynote addresses and industry panels.

During one discussion titled “From Desk (lap) top Computers and Smartphones to Tablets: How Journalists are Responding to the Mobile Revolution,” LA Times database manager Ben Welsh suggested that he’s aiming for a Minority Report-like future. He envisions layers of computer-assisted reporting – operated by robotic spiders, and explained how he has been experimenting with the concept. Per a report by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas:

“You find a simple, repetitive and moving data stream that updates every day,” Welsh said. His data stream? The Los Angeles Police Department emails he receives at 2:30 every morning.

Welsh created an automated data pull that loads crime information based off the email into a database. Specifically written codes ask and answer the common questions a reporter would ask when looking at that specific data set. “What do you get out of it?” Welsh asked. “Breaking news, a way around PIOs, instant analysis and automated copy.”

The conference was a goldmine of information, for those interested in bookmarking and perusing later. On another panel, a Brazilian newspaper editor mentioned that readers who barely spend time on his paper’s website during office hours have been found to devote – once home at night – an astounding average of one hour and seven minutes reading the iPad version. Because, the editor argued, that edition has been carefully designed to take advantage of the sleek new delivery system.