Recently in Journalism Category
April 15, 2014
They found the image and they ran with it. They didn't contact Declan or the BBC. And today, they're both apologising.
As it happens, I was at university with Declan - we worked on Imperial College's student newspaper Felix together. I'd seen the photo before - when he posted it to Facebook, sharing a joke he'd written himself. Yup, the caption was by him - and was the best part of a year old:
click on the comments link to see the discussion
And there we have it. Two media outlets turned their journalistic instincts off when presented with something fun on social media, and made fools of themselves.
You don't get to stop applying the basic techniques of journalism just because you found something on social media. Verify, check, double-source. Or you'll be apologising to your readers - or your editor - pretty quickly.
April 9, 2014
If you're reading this, you're almost certainly a regular reader of my blog - because I'm going to do exactly no promotion whatsoever of this post. This is just something for my regulars, if you like, and those they choose to share it with.
I'm going to start doing a newsletter in the next few days, which will be called the Digital Publishing Irregular.
It will be, as the name suggests, about digital publishing, and it will be irregular. It will be more opinionated and broad than posts on this blog, and will represent, in many ways, the first draft of ideas that will eventually make their way here.
If you're interested in this, feel free to sign-up below:
Expect occasional missives thereafter…
March 26, 2014
Liveblogging so be warned: typos, inaccuracies and vile, vile abuse of grammar and syntax ahead.
Peter Jukes: Livetweeting the Phone Hacking Trial
Peter is better known as a dramatist, but has always been interested in technology and journalism. He's fascinated by dynasties, power and corruption, as his books show. So, he started going to the pre-trial hearings on the hacking allegations.
And he realised he could tweet it. And he found it a more interesting process than writing conventional articles about it. He knew some of the things coming - but couldn't tweet them until they were told to the jury. That's contempt of court.
He built an audience rapidly - but he couldn't afford
the tickets the loss of earnings from attending the trial to live-tweet the whole thing. He gave up for a few days, and there was a clamour for him to return. Someone suggested that he crowd-fund he tickets. He was initially resistant to this - despite the fact that his book has been crowd-funded. He was funded in 8 hours when he actually capitulated. Why? Because he was providing a service that people wanted.
With great crowd-funding comes great responsibility
The financial support came with emotional strings and he found he felt an enormous responsibility to his funders. He generally goes in the annex downstairs rather than the gallery, as he finds you have more freedom to work there, watching the streams, than in the gallery itself. But it's a grim, difficult environment for a writer. Over time, the trial became an incredible drama, unfolding as the trial went on. Why? Both the British justice system and the British media are on trial. That's a precarious situation.
People are following him, including court officials - and they're alert to any prejudicial statement he makes. What British journalism does is mix fact and opinion. That's a completely different situation to court reporting. If you comment, you're in contempt of court - so sticking to just the facts is an incredible discipline. Of course, you can't tweet everything. So he targets every salient fact or date - and the best of the quotes. The only editorial decisions he makes are compressing quotes.
Why did people fund him? Because he's independent - he doesn't work for any of the media organisations.
All his tweets are being archived to be made available as a searchable database on his blog after the event.
Put to the Question
Questions from the audience:
Did he do any media law training first? No. He wished he did. But he learnt from other journalist, and from getting it wrong.
He tweets from an iPad with a Logitech keyboard.
Did he pay tax on the crondfunded money? He needs to talk to his accountant about that...
What's the difference between what he does and lifestream of video or audio? How do you database or search or video? The internet is the revenge of words.
Al Brown, Vice News
The most popular videos they did were the hard-hitting news and documentary work - the one about being in the middle of stories. So, they started building Vice News to focus on that, and launched about a month ago.
The documentary film-making they were doing was labelled news long before they started it calling that. They find the news cycle quite boring - and so do many of their readers. "The News" as it exists now is something you have to be plugging into all the time to understand what is going on.
They wouldn't cover the missing plane, for example, because there's nothing to film, and nothing they can add. They're quite opinionated in their reporting. They want journalists on site, saying what they see in front of them - and what it means. Henru Langston's tweets from the Ukraine racked up 20m impressions. But he followed that up with long-form work, and the camera team were using Instagram and Vine as they worked, which was followed by a documentary. That final result si something that can be looked back on in a year.
They're trying to use as many forms as possible - short form, long form. Whatever it takes to tell the story. Length isn't something they're hugely pre-occupied with. On YouTube they get people watching on average 20 minutes of video. The idea of the short video is beginning to be dispelled - because people are watching on mobile at tablets.
Money and People
He's not allowed to talk about revenue split with YouTube - but it's easier for content makers to make revenue from their own platforms than YouTube. YouTube is about audience growth for them. They have so many different ways of monetising on their own platforms, that they want to bring people there.
He's always looking for hungry young journalists with access and a desire to tell stories. There's lots of tattooed 22 year olds - and some older heads who stop everyone getting killed. They like growing their own talent. People start by writing for the, and then transition to film-making if they're interested.
Equipment? A lot of it is very conventional. They're not citizen journalists. They use phone for live streaming - and high end cameras with DoP for their serious filming. They spend quite a lot of money per minute you see on screen. What makes it feel "rough" is what they choose to show.
They're always been a counter-culture kind of brand. How will they build news? Do more of it. But they won't chase the news cycle, or cover things they don't think they have anything new to offer.
Over half of their audience arrive via social media.
They're safety compliance is pretty much that the same as traditional broadcasters. Their stuff just feels more dangerous because ether show journalists freaking out which other media outlets would cut.
March 24, 2014
Allison Schrager has a problem with data journalism:
But I worry that data give commentary a false sense of authority since data analysis is inherently prone to bias. The author's priors, what he believes or wants to be true before looking at the data, often taint results that might appear pure and scientific. Even data-backed journalism is opinion journalism. So as we embark on this new wave of journalism, we should be aware of what we are getting and what we should trust.
How, though, is this different from traditional journalism? Inevitably, a journalist brings her bias to any story - and however hard we strive to eliminate that, it will find expression, whether we like it or not.
There's some very useful advice towards the end of her post about how to avoid distorting the data too much, and how to make sure that you're looking at the whole story, but she doesn't address that central question hinted at my her use of "a false sense of authority".
My gut instinct is that people are more wary of bias in data journalism, because there's a tendency to believe that the "numbers don't lie". And they might not. But how you chose to present them has a very big impact on the message a particular truth tells...
That's art, my friend, not science
Tim Hartford wrote about how misinformation can be beautiful for the FT a little while back:
Data visualisation creates powerful, elegant images from complex data. It's like good prose: a pleasure to experience and a force for good in the right hands, but also seductive and potentially deceptive. Because we have less experience of data visualisation than of rhetoric, we are naive, and allow ourselves to be dazzled. Too much data visualisation is the statistical equivalent of dazzle camouflage: striking looks grab our attention but either fail to convey useful information or actively misdirect us.
Visualisation, in particular, is in danger of dressing art up as science. You need to be very careful that the data tells the story it actually claims it does, and that you don't distort things for the sake of a more compelling "angle" or aesthetic representation.
And, y'know, check your own assumptions at the door when you dive into this. But this is all good, standard journalism practice anyway - not something new or unique to data journalism.
The fox knows his pivot tables, that's what...
Of course, this whole discussionon has been triggered by various interviews that Nate Silver has given around the launch of FiveThirtyEight. Matthew Ingram sums up the discussion pretty well:
When it comes to using data of any kind in the creation of journalism, Silver says that traditional journalists are quite good at the first two steps of the process -- namely, the collection of data and the organization of it into a news story or other format. However, they often fail to do as good a job at the next two steps, he says, which include the explanation or analysis of the data and some kind of generalization about its future implications.
Lurking in this is an explanation for the current obsession with data journalism: traditionally, we've only had very limited access to significant datasets. The arrival of digital technology has made collecting, sharing and analysing datasets significantly more simple, and so has opened up a whole new field of journalism, that we've only scratched the surface of before. It's difficult to complain about this (although some people try...), because more sources of stories is pretty much always a good thing.
But for an industry which tends to bend liberal in its politics, journalism can be very small "c" conservative in its outlook. There's an inherent suspicion of the new that anyone who has been working in online digital development will be familiar with. Coupled with the mistrust of journalists that the last few years of revelations has engendered, it's not a surprise that people are slightly suspicious of what we're doing with the numbers.
An oasis of fact in a desert of opinion
However, I think that the Economist's robust defence of Silver and his approach to journalism actually gets to the heart of the matter. Right now, we have far, far too much opinion-based journalism and not nearly enough fact-based reporting.
As the piece concludes:
There is, and always will be, a place for bullshit--or if you prefer a more dignified construction, a place for arguments driven by ideas, belief and feeling rather than data. Positivism is in no danger of sweeping such journalism away in toto; American newspapers and airwaves are full, far too full, of shouters, table-bangers, aspersion-casters and heartstring-tuggers. They drive ratings and traffic (and inspire blogposts). But to the extent that Mr Silver's mission is to shrink bullshit's share of our national conversation, I can only wish him Godspeed.
Who can argue with that? I meet more journalism students interested in becoming opinion columnists than I do those interested in data journalism. I've talked to managing editors at our national papers who despair of finding graduates keen to get on a do reporting, rather than writing leader-type columns.
Data journalism is actually a form of back-to-the-roots movement, of focusing our journalism back on finding facts and the stories within them. We're just using different tools to do that.
For all but a very small minority of people at the top, the corporate world is a cult of youth. The 'up or out' mentality favours younger employees, if only because they have more rungs of the corporate ladder before them, have fewer competing responsibilities, and are cheaper. But as a communicator I know that messages that resonate well with one audience (in this case, shareholders), don't necessarily meet the needs of others (such as society, local communities, employees), or indeed benefit the company itself in the long-term. That's why some enlightened companies are adapting to the challenges and even benefits of an aging workforce.
This seems to be particularly common in journalism businesses, where the number of 40-plus people in the companies is often significantly lower than the 20 to 40 bracket. Some of them take the PR shilling, some of them go freelance (hello!). But what happens to the rest of them?
March 20, 2014
One of the revelations in this week’s case of a Microsoft worker who leaked pre-release Windows 8 software was that Microsoft accessed the Hotmail account of the blogger to whom the data was leaked. And it did so without a court order.
Your sources are not safe in Hotmail (now Outlook.com). (In fact, the standard guidance of "get online sources who need protecting offline as soon as possible" applies…)
March 19, 2014
Today was a good day. A hard and difficult day, to be sure, but a good day.
Around teaching the Newspaper MA students, and a meeting with Jon and Ben about the Interactive MA, I was with the Financial Journalism MA students at city, doing technical and web tutoring on their budget day website. And what an experience it was. It made me realise how much I miss the buzz of a busy newsroom. It's been some years since I work din one full-time now, but I do crave the feeling of being part of a team working towards something, and my current menu of work isn't really giving me that. Something to consider.
The reason that all this came to a head is that this team of students were working exceptionally well together, and the adrenaline rush of working to a tight deadline around a major news event was harnessed well, to create productivity and great reporting, and not dissipated in stress and anger.
And that's despite the amount of people working on a single WordPress install maxing out the database connections repeatedly - something to think about for next time we do something like this.
One thing I've noted this year is that a diversity of students makes for a better learning experience. Two of my cohorts have been much more diverse in age, country of origin and experience before joining the class, and that seems to bring a different dynamic to the group - one that's very positive.
Diversity and the lop-sided enterprise
It's an interesting contrast to offices I've worked in years ago, where the recruiting policy seemed always to be "more people like us", leading to a surprisingly toxic work environment. A whole bunch of people sharing common outlooks and weaknesses doesn't actually create a very good team. Both their strengths and weaknesses are amplified, making for a very lop-sided enterprise.
Which rather brings to mind Emily Bell's commentary on the hires going into Vox and FiveThirtyEight:
Well, Project X may now be called Vox, but the great VC-backed media blitz of 2014 is staffed up and soft-launching, and it looks a lot more like Projects XY. Indeed, it's impossible not to notice that in the Bitcoin rush to revolutionize journalism, the protagonists are almost exclusively - and increasingly - male and white.
I love you, Bro-grammer
This theme was picked up in an excellent Medium piece by Zeynep Tufekci:
Simple: among the mostly male, smart, geeky groups that most programmers and technical people come from, there is a way of existing that is, yes, often fairly exclusionary to women but not in ways that Silver and his friends recognize as male privilege. When they think of male privilege, they are thinking of "macho" jocks and have come to believe their own habitus as completely natural, all about merit, and also in opposition to macho culture. But if brogrammer culture opposes macho culture, it does not follow that brogrammer culture is automatically welcoming to other excluded groups, such as women.
There's an obsession in certain hiring circles about making sure new hires are a good "cultural fit". I think that - in journalism - you actually want people who are a slightly poor cultural fit. Journalism at its best is a team game with a little bit of internal friction. Journalistic teams who are too matey, too similar in mindset and too comfortable slip easily into a common worldview bubble that excludes that sort of boundary-pushing, challenging journalism that makes a publication really stand out.
From Diversity, Quality
It's utterly right to make the argument for diversity from a cultural point alone - but it's worth bearing in mind that there is another argument that supports the same results, that of building a better team, even is that's a team with a few more rough edges. Journalists need people around them to challenge their worldview, reporting and conclusions - because that internal process makes for better journalism, and better service to the community you're reporting for. Too much uniformity within teams creates that toxic "us versus them" reporter versus audience dynamic that I've seen too many otherwise good journalists slip into.
Beware. And hire uncomfortably.
March 18, 2014
Now, here, in the present day, it's clear the internet wasn't a fad. More or less everything else was. Newspapers, for instance. They used to be sombre dossiers issued each morning, bringing grave news from Crimea. Now they're blizzards of electric confetti, bringing The Ten Gravest Crimean Developments You Simply Won't Believe. The art of turning almost any article of interest into a step-by-step clickbait walkthrough has been perfected to the point where reading the internet feels increasingly like sitting on the bog in the 1980s reading a novelty book of showbiz facts that never fucking ends. This trend will only continue.
Yes, I know I risk mockery by taking what was basically a humorous piece and responding to it seriously, BUT:
The above only holds is we assume that all online media will be the same. That hasn't been the case for print or broadcast media, so why should it be the case for online media?
Sure, we have a problem with too many publishers chasing the "one, true way to internet success", but the reality is that many different models will emerge, and just rushing to copy the latest online thing will not guarantee you success.
Anyway, you may now return to "having a laugh", as the kids call it.
March 13, 2014
Don't you hate it when somebody leading a journalism business slips into jargon? Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily does exactly that when quoted in a Quartz piece on why funding is piling into new journalism ventures:
"Suddenly, the market for content just opened up," said Sarah Lacy, founder of PandoDaily, which has secured about $4 million in venture capital since 2012. "It's dramatically changed. I think a lot of it for me was Vice getting valued at $1 billion. No one had seen anything like that in the content space. And they're trying to speak to a very specific audience that's hard to reach in a deeply authentic way. It's certainly not something you're phoning in. It's not a pre-written press release. It's not a listicle."
As a commenter puts it:
Vice is deeply authentic?
This isn't actually about authenticity - which is one of those buzzwords that's in danger of following "engagement" into a semantic void - but about being web native. Too many of the ventures of the past have been of the "do what we used to do, but online" form - online magazines or newspapers that borrowed the tools of blogging to do much as they did before. If you were lucky you got some web thinking in there, but if you weren't they was just a straight replication of print formats. Think that doesn't still happen? Look at most tablet editions of magazines and how badly they sell.
Life amongst the web-natives
What we are seeing is the emergence of journalistic forms that are deeply web-native, and that use well the expanded toolbox digital gives us. Without the very high overheads that traditional publishing businesses carry, and using clever, light-weight tech, they're rapidly building towards sustainable models of online journalism - even if they don't look like the forms we know. That does two things: it makes them potentially sustainable, profitable web businesses - and that makes them attractive to VCs. But it also changes the context of the debate about the future of journalism.
Let's be honest here: I'm pretty much one of those grumpy old "these markets are conversations" Cluetrain Diehards, and I'm pretty proud of that. (And if you have no idea what I'm talking about that, follow the link and consider yourself SHAMED)
But there's one conversation I'm very deeply uninterested in having - and that's "does journalism have a future?"
That's a finished conversation, because the answer is very clearly "yes". The growing pool of profitable, online-fiesta and only business proves that. It just doesn't look like the business we had before.
The Journalism Conversation Concluded
The new forms of journalism emerging aren't just shovelware from print. They let go of the idea of the printed page and the press deadline, and experiment with new ways of storytelling, and new ways of creating package of material, that wouldn't have worked in print.
Startups like Vox and The Intercept don't look much like the papers that once sheltered their founders. Sustainable tablet editions aren't page-tuning PDF replicas of your print edition, they're titles like The Magazine, a sustainable iPad and web business, with a successful print Kickstarter behind it.
The only question left is "is there room for the existing businesses in this new future?" And that's a challenging question.
Adapt, Evolve or Die
To follow the paths of those start-ups, the existing businesses need to drive down their cost base ruthlessly, without cutting back on the content creators - which is what many of them are doing. They need to get over their obsession with big projects, and big buildings. They need to become - well, completely different businesses.
I don't see that happening. I'm not sure it's possible.
And so, we come to a hard conclusion: that the lessons learned from those agile startups can't be learned by the big publishing businesses - they'll have to forge their own path. And the clock is ticking - leave it too long, and those startups will take all the attention away from you. And where the attention goes, the money goes. You can't wait for someone to show you the way - that's why I was so hard on "best practice" a few days ago - you have to forge your own path.
Journalism does have a future. Paid journalism does have a future. Are you able to be part of it?
This is the eighth in a series of 31 substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.
March 5, 2014
Today, I taught my last formal class for this year's class of Interhacktives at City University. The two terms I teach them in have gone astonishingly quickly, but I've enjoyed it very much. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with what they've learned, both in their final assessed piece of work and in their careers to come.
And as something of a parting gift, I wanted to leave them with five general pieces of advice for their no-doubt brilliant future careers:
1. Know your kit
Android versus iOS, Mac versus PC, Canon versus Nikon. None of this matters. All of them are perfectly good bits of kit that will allow you to do you job. Just make sure that you're familiar enough with them that they effectively disappear, leaving you to focus on the journalism. Don't rely on your work IT department to provide you with what you need - they're always behind the curve and are working to different agendas. Make the right kit choices for you, and put the time in to make sure you know how it works. It'll pay off in spades, because it gives you the time and the skills to produce really good work. Which leads us to...
2. Invest time to save time
Digital journalism is about working clever, so you can work hard but effectively. The best time investment I've put in during the last few years is learning Markdown. This is a "language" for writing web copy fluidly, without having to hard code the HTML and without the time delay of constantly going up to click on the formatting buttons. So far I've written this post - links, crossheads and all, without touching the trackpad once. All the formatting has been done using Markdown, and it'll be translated to HTML when I publish. WordPress supports it. Medium supports it. SquareSpace supports it. Great skill to learn, because it makes me faster. Find things like this. Take the time to learn them.
@adders you gotta add an addendum to 2. Learn to touchtype & learn to type **really** fast on a touchscreen. D'you like the Markdown there!— ilicco (@ilicco) March 5, 2014
3. Never be afraid to experiment
People who tell you what the "right" way to use an online service are usually wrong. Why? Because these things change over time. Like any social system, the dynamics are constantly changing, and the evolving technology beneath them - and around them - just accelerates that process. IGNORE any article that tells you how to use a new social platform within the first month or so of that platform's life - maybe the first six months. Behaviour patterns take a while to emerge, and even longer to settle down. The people who create the service are often atrociously bad at understanding how it will eventually be used. Learn by experimenting - and by watching the experiments of others.
4. Find your peers
I've had a cohort of friends and colleagues around me as long as I've been doing digital journalism. The likes of Kevin Anderson, Robin Hamman, Joanna Geary, Alison Gow, Sarah Hartley, Andy Dickinson, Graham Holliday, Martin Stabe, Glyn Mottershead and Paul Bradshaw have been influencing my thinking for over a decade, and way too many others to list have joined that on-going conversation about digital journalism in the time since. We've shared experiences, knowledge, failures and successes, and through that driven the field forwards. This field is moving too fast for any one person to keep up with on their own - so find people you trust, and continue sharing your experiences with them. If those are your classmates, so much the better.
5. Don't obsess about journalism
Many of the things that will change journalism won't come from within journalism. Pay attention to what your peers all over the world are doing, sure. But cast your net wider. Many of the disasters we've seem in media's attempt to develop online community have happened because the people behind it haven't looked outside the media frame of reference. There's experience, learning and methodology that's been developed over two decades that's been ignored or missed simply because the discussion about the future of news has turned inwards. Disruption comes from the outside: if you want to see it coming, you need to be looking the right way.
This is the fifth in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.
March 3, 2014
So, I knew there would be at least one day in this idiotic project of mine when it would be really hard to get it done.
I wasn't expecting it to be day three.
For various reasons - that pretty much come down to a tube strike - I've just delivered a full day's training for a publisher client of eConsultancy, and then gone on to do two and a half hours with one cohort of students at City University. That, gentle reader, is one long and cognitively intense day.
So, I'm sat on a train rattling its way back to the coast, sat just across from a grumpy man watching video on his iPad, and trying to see if I can think of anything coherent to say this evening. Here's one thing:
I love niche journalists.
Loving the niche reporter
There's something in me that loves working with really good journalists who have drilled down into a reporting specialisation and can ride the wave of their readers' enthusiasm for a subject. It doesn't matter how dull some of these subjects might seem at first glance; if you really roll up your neuro-sleeves and get stuck in, you can find what's fascinating and exciting in any subject at all - and that's an incredibly valuable skill to have right now.
All of us who are connected to this here internet thing have one thing in common: we're suffering from information overload. There's a reflexive viewpoint that suggests that things would be better if we went back to just having a few selective gatekeepers publish for us, but that very clearly isn't going to happen. Genies have an almost pathological aversion to going back into the bottle, whatever fairy-tales tell you. The there's the Shirky position of "we need better filters". But I distrust constant algorithmic filtering of what I see - filter bubble ahoy! - and rather enjoy the idiosyncrasies of good old human selection.
Attention crisis journalism
The common response of people seems to be flight into speciality. When presented with overwhelming levels of information, you look for tools or processes to just narrow down to the subjects that are most important to you. For example: how many national or international news stories did you really car about today? The only one that's actively crossed my radar (on an admittedly busy day) has been the developing situation in the Ukraine, that tickles away in the back of my brain, making me feel nervous that, if we're not very careful this could turn into something bigger and nastier than we expected.
How many stories in the worlds of journalism, publishing and tech have a paid attention to? I've read about a dozen or so, and saved a similar number into my "read later" apps of choice.
The glut of national news
Here's the thing: I think the news business is the wrong way around. I think we have way too many people producing the general news and opinion that most people have only a snacking interest in, and way too few working in the real niches of information and interest that people have an almost unlimited appetite for. The disruption we're going through right now is that imbalance of supply and demand starting to work its way through the system.
National newspapers are getting ever more desperate in their search for sustainable business models now the bundling effect of the printed package has gone, while the under-supply in the niche sector has largely, in the consumer space at least, been met by the rise of the enthusiast blogger in the space. This is amateur in the true sense of the word - someone who does it for love, not money.
This is why consumer mags are having such a torrid time transitioning to the web - why pay to read slightly distant journalists writing about your passion, when you can read the words of passionate participants for free? I suspect the collapse of the consumer magazine will happen sector by sector - how many computer games mags are left on the shelf? - and will lead to the destruction of many well-know brands, simply because the publishers have left it too late to start answering the question of their role in this changed world.
The new consumer publishing ecosystem
But that's OK - as we've seen in the gaming sector, new professional entities hiring journalists have emerged, who explicitly exist in that diverse ecosystem of amateur and professional. They interact with - and recruit from - the passionate bloggers. That trend will only accelerate.
Right now, it feels like a great time to be a niche journalist - because as our existing institutions crumble, we can seen new ones rising. I'd feel a lot more uneasy if I was committed to generalist reporting - because we're not seeing similar new institutions launch in that space.
Learn to love the niche, my friends. It's where the hot publishing actions is in the attention crisis age.
This is the third in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.
February 27, 2014
What happens if you mix the geo-data embedded in photos with some data about where our listed buildings are in London?
Higher graded buildings were more likely to have photographs taken near them: 88% of Grade Is had at least one photograph falling within 25m of their centre (as defined by the coordinates given in their list description) as opposed to 76% of Grade II*s and 61% of Grade IIs).
The average number of photographs for those that had photographs within this distance was also highest for Grade Is (168 photographs on average), followed by Grade II*s (58) and Grade IIs (42).
Some interesting work from John Davies at Nesta, using the Flickr API. Just proving what's intuiting, perhaps, but a nice illustration of how you can use a big public dataset like Flickr to test assumptions.