A few weeks ago I blogged about neglecting the blog because I was working on my first ebook, about the Titanic. I finalised it last week and it’s now in the Amazon store for Kindle, and on iTunes!
The book is a collection of Guardian articles on Titanic, from its inception as the world’s largest ship (rumours first circulated that the White Star line was planning a mammoth liner in 1907), through the excitement of the launch and the tragedy that followed, and on to the present day, with the discovery of the wreck in the 1980s, James Cameron’s 1998 film and the creation of the Titanic ‘brand’.
The most moving pieces I found were firsthand accounts of the disaster from survivors, given to journalists on their arrival in New York and to the official inquiry that followed the tragedy.
Titanic is obviously the story of the moment, with the 100th anniversary of the sinking looming this weekend, and the ebook has reached #33 on Kindle’s world history list (yay!). The From the archive blogpost I wrote in conjunction has been shared more than 76,000 times on Facebook.
Senior researcher, Guardian News & Media (news library)
I’ve realised some of the queries I’ve mentioned this week are vague in the extreme – I’m a bit nervous about putting too many details (names, for example) before the articles are published, not that I’ve been researching anything controversial but some journalists like to keep quiet about what they’re writing! I might come back and add links once the pieces are in print.
10am: First job of the day is to listen to the morning conference – an editorial meeting open to anyone on the paper, which they stream so you can watch on your desktop. They invite guest speakers in most weeks, and today it’s Lord Hunt, chairman of the PCC, who was at Leveson yesterday.
10am: A bit of multitasking! We’ve been asked for a detailed package on Google for one of the editors, by lunchtime, so we’ve all taken sections (it’s quicker to share a big job if there’s a tight deadline). Used Factiva to search US/global press as well as UK, then emailed the docs.
11am: Took an email query from a journalist I did some work for last week (some writers have their favourites among us!), trying to pin down the precise role of a government advisor (there’s some confusion over whether he still is one). I hit Google for some details then the text archive, for a reliable source.
12pm: Another email query, looking for profiles and background on an interview subject. Back to the text archive and Factiva!
12.45pm: …which I’ll get back to now! It’s turning into another day spent on Factiva. I don’t want to engulf someone with a deluge of articles, but when I’m researching for someone who is planning an interview I try to provide enough substantial previous profiles to give them more than one viewpoint and lots of ideas. This interview subject is a writer so I’m sending reviews of his books as well, several articles he’s written and any recent news so the interviewer is up-to-date.
3pm: We’ve been asked to trace a quote that is being questioned by a reader, so back to Factiva and Google.
3.15pm: A bit more work on an archive blogpost for the anniversary of the Queen’s succession to the throne in 1952, writing the bones of the article and prepping some of the images in Photoshop. I’ll have to finish it off quickly on Monday morning!
3.30pm: Picked up a journalist query from email, looking for statistics on mental health issues for girls and women (eating disorders, depression, self harm). I looked at a few charity websites, which led me to the Department of Health’s 2010-11 hospital episode statistics – the data will never be comprehensive because cases only get recognised when people enter the healthcare system, but it gives an idea of the gender and age ranges where it is most prevalent. They focused on eating disorders last year as one of their topics of interest, which is helpful. I found reports of recent surveys on body image and self harm on the text archive too, and comparative depression stats from the ONS Adult Psychiatric Morbidity study 2007.
5.15pm: It’s been a busy day today! Just enough time to read through the draft of a From the archive blogpost a colleague has written (we try to check each other’s work because the blog doesn’t go through a subbing process before we publish).
Normally that would be me done for the week – I’ve been working three days a week since I had my son four years ago – but this Friday I’m going to news:rewired so I’ll have a day off and post a few thoughts on what I learn there over the weekend.
Senior researcher, Guardian News & Media (news library)
8.45am: Caught up on Twitter on the bus in to work, and read a couple of really interesting #libday8 posts and articles (see below for links)
9.30am: I had a journalist query waiting in my inbox when I logged on – looking for a quote from Hansard (the House of Commons record). There’s an easy-to-use archive on the parliament.uk website which goes back to 1988, and there was a possible date (we like!) but it wasn’t the right one. I searched by MP on Hansard but couldn’t find the quote for that year’s session, so I checked our text archive and Google for the article referenced in the email, to see if I could gather any more info. This led me to a new date (1994), but you can’t search that far back by MP so I headed to the advanced search instead. I should have tried there first! Nothing came up when I searched for the keywords. I even whacked the quote into Google but no joy there either. I’ve asked the journalist for more information. And it seemed so simple…
10.30am: Our trainee maintains a spreadsheet of casualty figures from Afghanistan which feeds into a Datablog post on British dead and wounded. I’m responsible for updating the running total in the article and relaunching it with an amended table when wounded figures are released. The spreadsheet also includes amputation figures, released quarterly by the MoD through DASA. They’re out today, and normally our trainee Nina will just copy over the new figure and tot up the annual total, but the MoD have changed their methodology so now they’re reporting amputations by financial year. This, and the fact that they don’t report quarterly figures less than five, means our annual totals no longer tally with the official MoD numbers. I’m loathe to switch to financial year (“there were xx amputations in 2010″ is nicer journalistically than “there were xx amputations in 2010/11″) but as it stands our annual data is incomplete. I’ve added an explanatory note to the spreadsheet but I’m going to consult the Datablog editor to decide whether we should switch to the financial year rather than Jan-Dec.
11am: Still working on the Hansard query! The journalist has provided the source of the quote (a pressure group report), so I’ve got more to go on – it seems the quote may not have been said in the House. I checked Google in the first instance, and the writer thought it may have been from the Diana inquest but I can’t find it. I’ve admitted defeat and contacted the House of Commons information office.
12pm: We’ve decided to include both the Jan-Dec and financial year totals for amputations in the Datablog figures, so Nina and I amended the spreadsheet and added a note to explain discrepancies.
12.15pm: Amended the table of wounded data attached to the Datablog post on British casualties and relaunched the article.
1.30pm: Proper lunch break – there’s a charity cake sale on by the canteen today so I treated myself to a slice of cherry loaf, yum.
2.30pm: Panic over regarding the missing quote, the journalist has located it himself (a bit embarrassing!).
2.30pm: Working on From the archive, the ‘on this day’ series that we publish online (with a piece printed in Saturday’s Guardian comment pages). Found two too-long pieces for the end of Feb (Mickey Mouse in 1935 and trials of using computers in 1986) which need trimming.
4pm: Journalist query – tracking down a Guardian article from the 1990s – pulled together a few possibles from the text archive and Factiva.
4.30pm: Graphics wanted some help finding military stats for an interactive, so I borrowed the Military Balance and photocopied the relevant pages. A bit tedious but much preferable to typing it all out!
5.25pm: A quick one to finish – a PDF of an Observer spread from a fortnight ago (from the text archive).
5.30pm: Leaving on time for the first time in a long time. Sounds like a country song.
Generating a Wordle from a hashtag: Education asked on Tuesday if we could create a word cloud from the questions asked on Twitter using the #askgove hashtag. See my post for more info on how I prepped it (and why it didn’t run).
Awards nominations: The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, streamed live on the web. I prepped the article first thing, added the nominations to our spreadsheet as they came in then amended the article before publishing (controversially no nomination for Tilda Swinton!). My computer decided to remove itself from the server ten minutes before the announcement, cue much gnashing of teeth, but luckily the old ‘turn it off then turn it on again’ trick worked. I had a bit of a struggle creating summary tables for the page (thanks Critics’ Choice for nominating six best actors) but Ami showed me a nifty way of narrowing the columns. And I forgot to change the date (so that the article jumps to the top of the Datablog list), but handily someone else noticed and fixed it! Quite exciting launching a story in real time, but lessons to be learned about paying attention to the little details.
Pre-emptive blogging: I’m trying to work on a few blogposts in advance, so I’ve been looking for content on the Queen’s succession and Valentine’s day.
Journalist queries included recent comment on the health and social care bill, a 1994 article from Modern Law Review (luckily one of the free online ones), writing bulletpoints on some Olympic sports, corrections, polls on satisfaction with the NHS, a comparative health report, profiles of Aki Kaurismaki, a fact check on Woody Harrelson and background on the judiciary system (who heads it, who regulates it, law schools).
I’ve just signed up for Library Day in the Life Round 8, which runs next week. It’s a great way of connecting with other info pros and finding out about libraries in other sectors. I’m hoping next week is an interesting one!
Working on plans for Olympics coverage: We’ve been chatting this week about how we can cover the London 2012 Olympics from an archive perspective. We’ll be blogging some archive stuff, and tweeting too, hopefully with coverage from previous London Olympics. We’re trying to initiate our own projects, rather than being approached by others all the time – it’s much better to be involved from the start so we can be realistic about what is achievable (learning from past mistakes!).
Wikipedia blackout: We didn’t see a massive influx of queries on Wednesday, when Wikipedia was blacked out for 24 hours to protest Sopa. Optimists would say that’s because our journalists are above using Wikipedia, but it’s more likely that they’d figured out ways around the blackout. Our encyclopaedias made a star turn for Guardipedia, when Patrick Kingsley fielded questions from readers stumped by the blackout. Shame there was no mention of the librarians (and lots of library clichés!), but he did give us a shout out on Twitter.
Journalist queries included a 1996 article on the Olympics, Syria in numbers, recent social stories on China, examples for a panel on home experiments gone wrong, interviews and reviews for Russell Tovey and Jaime Winstone, net % change of GDP over time, MP quotes on the Work Programme and a land registry search.
Last week the Guardian underwent a modest restyling, with several pages stripped back. As a consequence, our From the archive column will no longer appear in the print version of the paper (except on Saturdays), but we will still be posting it online.
While there’s more caché to having a column in the paper, there are advantages to working web-only.
The word-limit isn’t as restrictive, so we won’t need to edit a good piece down to 480 words, or tack on an unrelated article if it’s too short (although we don’t want to start posting 1,500-word essays either).
We can play around with the format, using strong graphics or images if we find them instead of text.
There’s some extra work involved in uploading articles straight to the web though.
The pieces don’t run past a sub-editor, so we need to pay more attention to the copy, comparing it with the original article to make sure there are no missing words or stray commas.
Sometimes we’ll have to write our own headlines, where the original doesn’t have one or has a poor one (19th century articles tend to be wordy).
I worked on the first batch of web-only articles last week and found a few errors in the texts. We’ve changed the rota to take that into account, so one person preps the article for uploading and someone else subs it, so hopefully we’ll catch most of the mistakes before we launch! I’ll be paying more attention to it when I find articles from now on, too.
Film Datablog post: Nominations were announced for several awards last week (WGAs and Bafta longlist), but Film were busy again and didn’t have time to update the spreadsheet. I need to check with them a few days in advance next time, to make sure they can cover it, or get someone else involved for the days I’m not here. The Golden Globes are next week, I can’t decide whether to get up crazy early to update the page or just wait until I’m in the office. Shame they’re not on terrestrial telly!
Changes to From the archive: The Guardian dropped a number of pages from the paper yesterday, including shortening the Comment section, which means our on this day column is no longer in the print version. But fear not, we’re continuing online (may blog this later). I had four to upload on Monday, phew! I’ve rewritten the instructions on how to do it all to reflect the changes, too.
Work experience: We have a work experience bod with us for a fortnight, so I’ve been showing him some of the longer-term projects we’re working on. There aren’t many opportunities to train people in ourdepartment, so it’s good to get a bit of experience.
Developing the intranet: Our plans for the intranet took a back seat over Christmas, but we’re getting back into it again. I’d hit a point with the design where I needed someone else to come in and advise, and a colleague is now helping me with the images, so we should be ready to relaunch soon.
Journalist queries included the current electorate of Denmark (took a bit of digging but I now know the words for election, postal votes and invalid votes in Danish), anything on Nick Walkley for an interview, background on Kate Freud and interviews by Lucian on family, a specific Guardian story on Ed Miliband “by a Labour frontbencher” and polls on public attitudes to cuts.
Corrections: Lots to catch up on from the festive period, so it took me a while to weedle my way through the list. Luckily otherwise it was a slow start to the week back!
Department meeting: planning blog coverage for Olympics and other upcoming events, what to do with From the archive (will be dropped from the paper soon), engaging more with Twitter followers.
Intranet: I’ve not worked on it for a while, but a colleague has offered to help with the design so hopefully we can relaunch soon.
Fruitless searches: I was asked for the text of an Early Day Motion on Thatcher’s funeral from 2007. A search of the parliament.uk site was fruitless, so I checked for cuts on Factiva and it turns out the EDM wasn’t actually tabled (too controversial I assume!). If something isn’t there there’s usually a good reason. I did discover the really simple database of EDMs on the parliament.uk site for next time, though.
Journalist queries included whether there was dancing in the Welsh valleys when Churchill died, recent polls on Thatcher (please, no more Thatcher queries…), the source of Rick Santorum’s “CS Lewis” quote (unknown, to all but him), an article from the BMJ (we don’t subscribe but the health desk do), and locating a review that’s not on the digital archive (I suggested the reader contact a specialist archive – another case of a review only appearing in an early edition so not archived, I think).