"'I'm learning to code' is the new 'I'm working on a novel.'"
So tweeted, Roy Bahat, head of IGN last Wednesday. If it's true, then the Mozilla Festival 2011, which ended yesterday is the new literary event of the year. It's writers are prolific: in just 48 hours they've churned out a data journalism handbook, to be published next week.
The event set participants design challenges to do in real time with relevance to the three core themes: media, freedom and the web. As the website puts it "this is one of the largest hackjams you'll ever see".
So what came out?
First and foremost, the handbook. Liliana Bounegru from European Journalism Centre [EJC], who leads the projects, explains in a YouTube interview that the purpose of the handbook is to give reporters who are beginning to work in data journalism "a starting point".
"There are a lot of useful resources on the web," she said, "but they are all scattered in different places. So what we're trying to do is put everything together and have a comprehensive step-to-step guide".
The project involves 40 contributors from news organisations such as the BBC, the New York Times, The Guardian, and journalism schools such as City University, London.
The revolutionary aspect is that the film is interactive. Users can control the camera with their mouse to see the world of the documentary in 3D. They can click on floating boxes to get more information, click on images to find out what they are and see comparable pictures from other cities around the world using Google Streetview. And the documentary is always 'current' - the images change to match the real-time weather conditions in Toronto. Director of the film Katerina Cizek told Wired that when she and her team were first shown the new technology "our jaws dropped".
Other exciting data journalism projects are popping up online. One shared by the EJC is Tableau Public. The tool allows journalists to work with raw data from spreadsheets and turn it into graphs and visualizations, either using automatic formats or in a more customized way. The results can be embedded into blogs. The video introduction reassures users: "without requiring you to write code or hire a developer, this dashboard is a fully functioning application ready to save to the web".
Another tool from the United Nations Development Programme presents users with data that allows to build their own human development index.
And there's more to come. The winners of the News Technology Fellowship, a programme sponsored by a partnership between Mozilla and the Knight Foundation, were also announced at the Mozilla Festival. As reported by Journalism.co.uk, the five winners - Mark Boas, Cole Gillespie, Laurian Gridinoc, Nicola Hughes and Dan Schultz - will each spend fifteen years in different news organizations, including the BBC, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera English, training colleagues, coming up with new ideas and bridging "the gap between technology and news".
So is this the future of news? Maybe so, but it's only just beginning. Wired quotes Cizek: "What we've done with One Millionth Tower is not the future. It just points to it." The Shakespeare of data journalism is still to come.