Open data: last chance for city newspapers?

In a previous life, Greg Hadfield, Cogapp's director of strategic projects, was the first Fleet Street journalist to leave national newspapers for the internet in the mid-1990s. Now, he is a leading protagonist in the movement to create "open-data cities" as well as a champion of semantic web technologies.

Greg, a former news editor of The Sunday Times, was winner of Provincial  Journalist of the Year in the British Press Awards in the early part of his career. He has written the cover article in this month's InPublishing magazine about  how the rise of open-data cities may offer local newspapers the last chance to re-invent themselves.

"Put bluntly, I believe the many of the businesses that run local newspapers are guilty of serial breaches of trust," Greg writes.

"They have violated the trust of journalists - by paying them poorly, equipping  them badly, and failing to provide a viable platform on which they can exercise  their journalism; they have violated the trust of their communities - by cutting  costs and withholding investment, thus failing to satisfy the democratic needs of active and informed citizens; finally, for what it’s worth, a number of executives appear to have broken faith even with shareholders, by seeking to suck as much value as possible out of a moribund industry - in salaries, pensions and share options - while privately recognising that the game is up. That the party is over.

"The world has changed. And media companies have failed to re-invent themselves to take advantage of an unprecedented level of disruption.

"So what is to be done? And where to begin?"

Talking about his home city - where Cogapp has its offices - Greg explains:

"Brighton and Hove - like other open-data cities - believes 'the value of public data is greatest when it is freely and openly shared, without unnecessary licensing restrictions'. All political parties in the city have signed up to an open-data manifesto that envisages 'a city in which every individual and business can use and re-purpose public data to help create a more vibrant and sustainable future, with more efficient public services, more effective voluntary organisations, and more enterprising private businesses'."

Against the backdrop of falling circulations and revenues, he suggests city newspapers should re-invent themselves. Ceasing to be products, they could become providers of data-driven services - not only on the web, but also on every device imaginable, including internet-enabled television sets in every living room

Greg concludes: "They could catalogue and collate the data, publish the data, store the data in 'data mines', visualise the data, enhance the data, and link the data from which services yet to be dreamed of will be built, for the benefit of local businesses as well as consumers.

"This, however, will require traditional media companies to re-invent themselves, to re-establish trust with their employees, partners and communities, and to work with public and private organisations of all sorts.

"Once again, they must invest in journalism, journalists, and journalistic enterprise; they must give their journalists the tools and the technologies to do the job, to meet the needs of their communities. They must not outsource innovation - but they must accept they will need outside help to be successful.

"If they do this, if they work with those striving to shape the future of our open-data cities, they could once again put themselves at the heart of the communities they seek to serve."

You can read Greg Hadfield's full article here.

Or download his podcast here.