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Google: What would Stan have made of it?

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Impressive bit of kit: Google News Lab’s drone

Impressive bit of kit: Google News Lab’s drone

THE DE RIGEUR toolkit of the journalist back in the day was a Speed Graphic camera armed with a flash bulb, which could singe the eyebrows of Dennis Healey when activated, a notepad, a pencil or pen, possibly a satchel of sorts and a stout pair of shoes for sure.

Stanley Phillips was a reporter/ photographer for the Welshman and a couple of other titles in the 1930s, long before The Herald became the people’s choice. He would set off by bike, or in the doctor’s car in emergencies, to cover the local news, which was promptly sent by mail or by telegram if urgent to the head office.

Stan favoured a pipe and would stand and yarn with those he interviewed, more often than not having a cup of tea at his leisure too. He then went back home and developed his sheets of film, washing them under the village pump.

What on Google Earth would he have made of what is on offer today to the humble journalist, no longer in stout shoes and most likely puffing on an eCig contraption while travelling in the modest BMW with connections in every orifice.

One thing that has not changed is that the world was round then and it is round now. The difference between Stan’s view and our view is that we can all now see it through 360 degrees and virtual reality, available to view in all its glory from just about any internet-enabled device smaller than one of Stan’s sheets of film.

Journalism is quickly utilising new technology and gadgetry to provide those seeking the news with a far more interactive and descriptive view of the world, wherever the news may be. 360 degree cameras are being added to the journalist’s toolkit. Google Earth is being used by the leading TV networks around the world to place the viewer at the centre of the action before, during or after an event, without so much as having to find the curator of a museum with a set of keys to blow off the dust from the maps. This is the future for journalism according to Google NewsLab, who are offering training to journalists across the globe.

The Herald attended one of the workshops in Cardiff, where we were shown how Google is aiding and abetting reporters in ensuring the information they are using including words, photos, videos and audio are factually reliable. We have all seen hoax images and hoax videos but Google have provided a system whereby this data can be instantly checked for its legitimacy.

They were also demonstrating the use of Google Earth and Google Maps for journalists to use to illustrate the stories. This may seem familiar to some but the scale and variety of use of Google’s facility is mind boggling.

Huge news corporations have found ways in which to take whatever they can from Google for free and incorporate it into their presentations.

Stan would have had to travel by horse, cart and biplane over weeks to provide a fraction of what the journalist can provide today without leaving his or her drawing room.

The world of 3D, virtual reality and 360 degree views is in demand as the audiences, most of whom are now upwardly mobile young things, turn to their phones for their news content and they want digital media in spades. Google wants to help journalists provide rich media content, which attracts viewers to ‘binge watch’.

We are all familiar with Google as a search engine, Google Maps, YouTube and Google Earth, but there is far more and it is growing. There is Google Public Data, which allows you to access a world of data to create high quality visuals. Google Alerts keep you up to date with the news you want tho see and hear. Google Fusion Tables combine data sets to tell a story using powerful charts, maps, graphs or custom layouts. Google Trends allows you to search data to allow you to bring people the stories they are looking for.

What Google appear to be doing and wanting is placement of as much information and digital media content online and they are encouraging just about anyone to contribute. Journalists can then access this information and weave it into their stories be they international, national or local. Most of the journalists on the training course whooped with joy at what they were seeing but The Herald looks and listens before it leaps and we were slightly skeptical, not to mention suspicious of the motives for Google providing so much for so little, in fact for FREE.

We were told that the Google NewsLab team consisted of only 10 people. How on Earth could 10 people gather and provide so much information? The truth is that it is we, the Google-reliant public, do so each time we search or ask a question. A clever algorithm takes and regurgitates every single word, number, photo, video and audio file as well as maps gleaned from their street patrols and somehow turns that all into even more searchable and usable content for journalists to use.

We will give one such example to finish off. Let us say that you are writing a story about the 10 most popular towns in Wales. In Stan’s day, he would have had to burn some leather to get around that one. He would have had to construct a survey of sorts and actually go out and ask people questions. Can you imagine doing that today as a journalist? He would then have to calculate all the answers from his questionnaires culminating in a result based on the percentages of answers. He might go to those 10 towns on the Brodyr Davies bus service to get some photos, which would take an age and then eventually put it all together longhand or by typewriter and send in the negative to be magically turned into newsprint. You get the idea, eh?

Today, a simple search on one of Google’s areas for journalists reveals the answers to those questions’ complete with statistics, photos, videos, audio, longitude and latitude and virtual tours, if required, all delivered to the internet-enabled device in the hands of those who just cannot wait until a Friday for the paper version comes out. The name of this magic? Google Fusion Tables.

Now there is something to be said for the good old days and Stan, bless his real wool socks, worked like a Trojan to do his job and we are all much the richer for his archives, paper and photos, which might just fill a large filing cabinet. What we have today is millions of Stanley Phillips across the world sending in their work and millions of us, the public, enabling and enriching that through our internet habits, however intelligent, stupid, significant or insignificant they may be.

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Police urge visitors to ‘check the rules’

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POLICE in Powys are reminding people to check the rules before they travel, as tourists from the Midlands, London and Bristol continue to visit despite lockdown restrictions.

Last weekend more than 1,000 cars were turned around by police in the Brecon Beacons after visitors attempted to access the area around Ystradfellte known as ‘waterfall country’.

Many of those stopped claimed they thought the rules around travel were the same as in England, while others had deliberately flouted them.

Seventy-two per cent of people reported for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions in Powys since March 27 have been from outside the police force area.

“I would like to thank the communities of Powys for their cooperation in recent months in complying with requirements of the Covid 19 legislation and also reassure them we are still working hard with our partners to police the restrictions that remain in place across Wales,” said Superintendent Steve Davies.

“Our officers have worked hard to engage with the public at every opportunity throughout these unprecedented times by explaining what we are doing and why, and encouraging people to make the best choices to protect public health in Wales.

“But where people have clearly flouted the rules we have dealt with them appropriately and issued fines.”

He said officers will continue to conduct stop checks throughout Powys and across the force area this weekend.

In England, people can now travel an unlimited distance for exercise and to access so-called ‘beauty spots’.

But the Welsh Government has said people must remain local – ideally not travelling further than five miles from their home – for exercise or limited leisure pursuits, and this also applies to anyone travelling across the border.

Wales’ three national parks – which include popular sites such as Snowdon, the Elan valley and the Pembrokeshire coast – currently remain closed to the public, as do all National Trust car parks and properties.

The latest Welsh Government advice is available at gov.wales/coronavirus.

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‘Check in, Catch up and Prepare’ All school’s in Wales prepare to enter next phase

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ALL children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.

It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.

In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.

In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.

The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.

Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

Kirsty Williams said:

“My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.

“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.

“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.

“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.

“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.

“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.

“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”

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Four further coronavirus cases confirmed in Hywel Dda area

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THE LATEST figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) reveal four new cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Hywel Dda Health Board Area.

As of today, June 2, Carmarthenshire identified three new cases, Pembrokeshire has one new case and none in Ceredigion, meaning the new totals stand at 732, 279 and 42.

Wales now has a total of 14,121, with 67 new cases and seven additional deaths recorded, bringing the death total to 1,354.

With Hywel Dda reporting 61 deaths to date.

Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “Contact tracing continues in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy. Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with an individual with Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) in order to prevent the risk of others spreading the infection in our communities.

“Anyone who has a positive Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) test will be contacted by a team of contact tracers, and asked for details of everyone they have had close contact with while they have had symptoms.

“Please keep a note of your activities so you can easily remember your whereabouts on a given day, along with who were in contact with. You do not need to have any concerns about providing names to the tracing team. This is for everyone’s benefit and we are grateful for your continued cooperation.

“If you are asked to self-isolate, you should also comply with this request to prevent further spread of the virus.

“Tracers are trained staff and personal information that you provide will handled in line with data protection regulations and will not be shared widely.

“Over the last few weeks, Public Health Wales has been setting up the methods and guidance for how contact tracing will operate. We will continue to work closely to support local health boards and local authorities in delivering contact tracing.

“Welsh Government’s revised lockdown arrangements also continue. People from two different households in the same local area can meet up outdoors, provided they continue to maintain social distancing and strict hand hygiene.

“The announcement adds that, as a general rule, people should not travel more than five miles from home. This will help to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading as people begin to travel more.

“Revised lockdown arrangements also apply to people in Wales who have been told to ‘shield’ from the virus. They are able to go outside and meet people from another household, provided they keep a two-metre distance.

“Future relaxation of lockdown measures will also be dependent on everyone following advice set out in the ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy, including self-isolating when required.

“Information about the symptoms of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) to look out for is available on the Public Health Wales website, or members of the public can use the NHS Wales symptom checker.

“Anyone experiencing Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms can now apply for a home testing kit using the new UK online portal. For further information and a link to the booking website, visit: www.gov.wales/coronavirus or www.llyw.cymru/coronafeirws. This will be supported by a national 119 phone service, through which people can also order a home test.

“We are encouraging everyone to download the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) Symptom Study app, which has been supported by Welsh Government. The app allows users to log daily symptoms to help build a clearer picture of how the virus is affecting people. For more information, including how to download the app, visit covid.joinzoe.com.

“As part of wider support measures for families, Public Health Wales is offering all parents, parents-to-be, grandparents and care-givers free access to a series of online courses designed to help them understand the development and emotional milestones of their children, covering everything from pre-birth to late teens.

“To get access users just need to visit www.inourplace.co.uk and use the code ‘NWSOL’ if you live in North Wales, and ‘SWSOL’ if you live in Mid, West or South Wales.

“Public Health Wales is also continuing working to address the negative impact of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) on the social, mental and physical wellbeing of people in Wales. Our latest campaign, ‘How are you doing?’ is now live and offering practical advice from phw.nhs.wales/howareyoudoing.

“Anyone with a suspected coronavirus illness should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. They should only contact NHS 111 if they feel they cannot cope with their symptoms at home, their condition gets worse, or their symptoms do not get better after seven days.

“Only call 999 if you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, do not call 999 just because you are on hold to 111. We appreciate that 111 lines are busy, but you will get through after a wait.

“We also want to reinforce the message from NHS Wales that urgent and emergency care services for physical and mental health are still open and accessible.

“For parents, if your child is unwell and you are concerned you should seek help. If you have urgent dental pain you should still call your dentist. If you have a health complaint that is worrying you and won’t go away you should call your GP practice. If you or a family member are seriously ill or injured you should dial 999 or attend your nearest Emergency Department.”

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