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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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Ceredigion gritters prepare for Winter with a visit from ‘Goldie’

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AS WINTER maintenance training preparations continue, a specially-painted golden gritter named ‘Goldie’ visited Ceredigion on 2 October to mark Econ Engineering, UK’s biggest manufacturer of gritters, 50th anniversary.

‘Goldie’ is spending the autumn visiting local authorities across the UK as they prepare for the winter ahead.

Ceredigion County Council prepares for winter all year round; salt replenishment starts in early June to ensure that by the time winter begins stock levels are up to approximately 10,000 tonnes. This is the amount of salt that gives Ceredigion the resilience it needs if it cannot secure additional salt supplies during the winter season in a timely manner.

The winter service fleet is operated by 51 qualified gritter drivers and maintained by 9 mechanics who all work on a rota basis over the winter period. There are 10 primary gritting routes covering 437km of Ceredigion’s roads, including the Trunk Road network.

One of the first tasks for the winter service team is to ensure that over 400 Grit bins across the county, which are for the motorist to use, are filled and any damaged bins replaced. Depending on the severity of the winter and the availability of resources, these bins may need to be replenished again during the season.

Councillor Dafydd Edwards is the Cabinet member responsible for Highways and Environmental Services and Housing. He said: “Although autumn has just begun, our staff have been preparing for winter for many months already and now are taking the next step to ensure our winter fleet is ready for any frosty occurrence. Training is being completed and maintenance checks are being carried out on the gritters. Our fleet consists of 10 frontline gritters, 5 situated in each of the north (Glanyrafon) and south (Penrhos) depots and 7 reserve gritters.

“The decision as to whether gritters are deployed depends on what information is received from MetDesk, our weather forecast provider. Each day during October through until the end of April, the council will receive three forecasts a day. This information is analysed by a group of experienced duty officers, who are on duty 24hrs a day, to determine whether a gritting run is required or not.

“Having Goldie here has been a timely reminder that winter is on the way and the council is doing everything it can to minimise disruption to travelling over the winter. If you are a motorist, it’s also time for you to be mindful of how you should prepare for winter too – in the way you drive during icy conditions.”

Andrew Lupton Econ Engineering Sales Director said, “Econ Engineering has worked with Ceredigion for many years now and we’re delighted that Goldie has been able to make a guest appearance as preparations for winter get into full swing. Ceredigion has always shared Econ’s own belief in the important role that technology and innovation can play in keeping winter roads safe and the council has taken great care to specify that their Econ vehicles are fitted with the most up-to-date technology. We have fitted the fleet of gritters with high-tech kit including navigation aids for the drivers, which ensure gritting routes are treated accurately across the region, both maximising road safety and minimising the impact of salt on Ceredigion’s environment.”

For more information on Highways During Winter and advice on driving in Winter go to https://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/travel-roads-parking/highways-during-winter/

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Trains could be opening from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth

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THE REOPENING of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway is not only possible, it’s now on the cards. This was the message of a meeting at Plaid Cymru’s Annual Conference in Swansea, arranged by Ben Lake MP, Elin Jones AM and Traws Link Cymru.

The meeting came after the publication of the Welsh Government’s rail strategy document, ‘A Railway for Wales – Meeting the needs of future generations’, in which the Welsh Government states that it wants to ‘improve connectivity on the nation’s key corridors – especially the western corridor from Ynys Môn to Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Swansea Bay.’

Over the years, Plaid Cymru has secured commitments by the Welsh Government to invest in scoping, feasibility and technical studies. It has also made several manifesto pledges to reopen the line.

The inclusion of the rail route in the Welsh Government’s rail strategy document is a major step as it lists, for the first time, that the re-opening of the line is part of the Welsh Government’s overall transport plan for Wales.

Ben Lake MP said:

“I am grateful to Mike Walker and Geraint Blayney for preparing such a detailed presentation, and indeed to the entire campaign for working so diligently to ensure that this important proposal receives the attention and consideration it deserves.”

Elin Jones AM said:

“It’s great to see that the campaign to reopen has now for the first time been given official status within a Government transport strategy.

“Whilst Welsh Government had commissioned both a scoping study and a full technical feasibility study for the reopening in recent years, it is only now that they have included the line as part of its future thinking.

“It will be for Westminster Government under the current devolution settlement to fund new rail infrastructure, but Welsh Govenrment has a role in ensuring that it is high on the agenda for rail investment.”

Mike Walker, a campaigner for Traws Link Cymru said:

“Following the Feasibility Study into the re-opening of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway that was published in 2018, and which showed that there are no insurmountable engineering problems associated with the re-establishment of the line, Traws Link Cymru is further encouraged by the recent document released by the Welsh Government  “A Railway for Wales: Meeting the needs of Future Generations’.

“This outlines future Strategic Corridor Developments for Wales including enhanced connectivity from Ynys Mon, through Dolgellau, Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, to Swansea and South West Wales. For the first time, the Welsh Government has publicly acknowledged the need for a north-south rail corridor, a key element of which is the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line that has been the focus of the Traws Link Cymru campaign.

“The onus is now on the Welsh Government to accept that the re-opening of this railway line is a transport priority for Wales, and to seek funding from Westminster to deliver the project.”

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Hate Crime Awareness Week 2019

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NATIONAL Hate Crime Awareness Week will take place from October 12 – 19  this year. Ceredigion County Council is highlighting the campaign by reminding residents of what is a Hate Crime and signposting people to the necessary support; whether they may be a victim or a witness to a hate crime incident.

Ellen ap Gwynn is Leader of Ceredigion County Council and Members’ Champion for Equalities. She said: “We will not tolerate any form of Hate Crime in Ceredigion. Everyone should be respectful of each other’s individual characteristics and beliefs. This national week of raising awareness is an important reminder to us all that we need to live in harmony with each other to make our communities safe and prosperous places for our residents to live in without fear.”

Hate crimes may be physical or verbal attacks, threats or insults that are motivated by the victim’s age, disability, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, sex or gender identity or sexual orientation.

Hate crimes can be any criminal action that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice and hatred.

Kay Howells is the Mid and South West Wales Community Cohesion Coordinator. She said: “Hate crimes often go unreported, leaving offenders free to commit further offences. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, please make sure that it gets reported. By reporting these offences a picture of the number, type and range of incidents taking place in Ceredigion can be recorded, enabling resources to be targeted in order to deal with them.”

If you are in immediate danger call the Police by dialling 999 (non-emergencies 101).

You can make a report online using the Victim Support website, http://www.reporthate.victimsupport.org.uk/ this can also be made anonymous if that’s better for you.

Alternatively, you can call Victim Support directly 24 hours a day on 03003 031 982. If you would like support they can arrange this at the same time as making the report.

Visit the council’s Hate crime page for more information: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/your-council/strategies-plans-policies/equality-diversity/hate-crime/

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