Working week, 16-18 January 2012

  • 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.


Changes to From the archive

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.

Working week, 9-11 January 2012

  • 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.

Working week, 3-4 January 2012

Wow, where did 2011 go?

  • 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 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 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).

Working week, 19-21 December

The week before Christmas (six days to go, eek!) can go either way – people are starting to leave for the holidays, so it’s quieter than normal; or people are desperately trying to file stories weeks in advance so they can relax over Christmas, so it’s busier. And then there are the unpredictable news events like Kim Jong-il’s death, which spark a bit of a research frenzy.

  • 10 Facts on North Korea for the Datablog: The editor is away so asked me to pull together a collection of Datablog stats following the death of Kim Jong-il, announced on Monday morning. I didn’t have time to pop in graphics or images but quite pleased with the end result. We switched the headline because G2 had already launched a similar piece (which I’m sure we could have helped with!).
  • Added the Golden Globes nominations to the Award season 2011-12 Datablog post – Film forgot (unsurprisingly, Thursday is probably their busiest day), so I’ll make sure to check in with them on the day next time. Added the London Critics Circle noms too.
  • From the archive: Finished editing a piece on Churchill’s appearance before Congress (27 Dec 1941), and found a Jan 7 piece from 1970 on sex changes. I had to correct something an eagle-eyed reader spotted on the 20 December piece (1913 – merriest Christmas in history?), too – a transcription error meant we referred to 1/5d instead of 1/2d, and there were a few stray commas and hyphens as well (which happens sometimes when you copy the text of the original, if there’s a mark on the page). We’re all pretty thorough but errors do sometimes slip through! Have to pay more attention in future.
  • Corrections: It’s not often that one of our more dull jobs makes the news! The Guardian has published a correction relating to the claims the Milly Dowler’s voicemails were deleted, which we printed in July based on evidence at the time. We have the mundane task of attaching the correction to all the articles.
  • Trialling Newsvault: I set up a trial of Gale NewsVault following a meeting at Online Information, and it’s really interesting to see another example of a digital archive. It includes the Picture Post, which is referenced in the sex change story I found for From the archive (one of the first cases in the UK told her story to them in 1954). Brilliant to be able to call up the original coverage!
  • Other queries included contact details for Kate Nash, a phone number for an old contact and helping a US high school librarian with a citation for a From the archive piece (more confusing than I first thought!).

Working week, 12-14 December

  • Film award nominees and winners 2011-12 for the Datablog: In 2009 I ran a spreadsheet on the major film award nominees and winners, and the Film editor has asked for it again this year. I’m quite chuffed, I love the build-up to the Oscars so it’s fun to be able to track it all for work! Nice that the film team found it useful and suggested it themselves, too. They’re even going to help me update it so there’ll be fewer Sunday evenings spent thinking about spreadsheets!
  • Events diaries: We keep track of upcoming events in national, foreign and arts news. The diary was hosted on our intranet page originally, then we switched to Google Calendars a few years ago, and last month these were shared on the Guardian site as part of the Open News experiment. Which means even more pressure to keep them up to date! A quiet few days meant I could get a few months under our belt.
  • From the archive: We’re trying to get the Christmas period out of the way, and we have more space to play with over Christmas week. I’ve found a Dev Anand film being made on Everest (28 December 1973), a cheery news piece from 1831 about cholera outbreaks in the north east (31 Dec) and a 1941 piece about Churchill’s address to Congress (27 Dec).
  • Journalist queries included frequency stats on various austerity phrases in the UK press over the last few years, an article from Broadcast (there’s a paywall online), statistics for a graphic on metal theft, cuts on the Murdoch pie thrower and an attempt to track down the man punched by Prescott in 2001.

Training: Tweetdeck, 22 November 2011

I’ve been using Twitter for a few years but I’m behind the times with my software! Following a talk about the use of Twitter, I signed up for a Tweetdeck intro session with John Stuttle, one of the Guardian’s systems editors.

Tweetdeck offers much more usability than the basic Twitter feed. Key for me is that it allows you to track more than one account at once (and from more than one social network), to tweet from more than one account simultaneously (say my personal and department ones) and to publish timed tweets (so we could set a tweet to launch the weekend’s From the archive in advance, for example).

John recommended signing up for a account as well, which allows you to analyse the statistics on how many people used your link to click through to a story, versus other links, and use that to improve your tweeting. provides various other stats too – to view statistics and graphs just click the Analyze link at the top once you’re signed in, or click on Info Page next to an individual link.