Monday, 5 January 2009

Julian Todd - the man with the head of a developer but the heart of a journalist

If you want to view the future face of journalism, then look no further than Julian Todd (or you could if you could find any photos of him!).

Anyway, in the absence of a pic you'll have to make do with my description.

Julian, who I was fortunate enough to hear talk at the recent BarCamp Liverpool,  has the head of a developer, but the heart of a journalist and he is using his techie expertise to break down the barriers to democracy ensuring that information is available to all.

He is one of the collective brains behind the mySociety project which itself is behind:

Other sites which adopt this hyper-relevant/local journalism approach include StreetWire and

Julian is also working on a project to 'scrape' relevant information from Merseyside Police Force's website to allow residents from throughout the county to find out why the Force helicopter is out and about above their houses.

The work that Julian and the mySociety team are doing was once the domain, and the domain solely of local newspaper reporters who would once scour agendas and minutes to provide all the latest information relevant to their readers.

Even now, planning applications are a primary source of news for any good local newspaper. But Julian and his colleagues have taken it one step further and used their knowledge to automatically scrape relevant information for users.

Julian is in the very truest sense of the term a data miner - a modern day investigative journalist.  These are the people who uncover gems of information which are invaluable to readers and users, both in print and online.

The Future of Journalism

It is people like Julian and his fellow developers who we must look towards for the future of journalism. Not only to his skills to be able to source information and scrape websites to uncover hidden facts and relevant details, but it is also to his drive and determination to uncover these facts which journalists must aspire.

No longer is journalism the domain of the English graduate, it is now the stomping ground of developers, programmers and those who know how to source information for those who know their way around the web.   Journalists must now be able to source information and be able to use all of their expertise and know how to uncover the truth for their readers.

Convergence isn't just about the newsroom, it's about the journalist and the role of the reporter. Reporters were once known to be jacks of all trades and masters of none. Now they must be jacks of all trades and masters of all. And this is no more true than using the web as a tool and uncovering new ways of getting information.

People like Julian Todd are leading by example and the journalist must take note.  This really is the future of journalism - relevant information made accessible to the reader.

Welcome to the future of journalism.


Richard said...

sorry to be a complete ego-head, but StreetWire and PlannignAlerts are actually websites I developed.

Kevin Matthews said...

Hi Richard,

It’s not being an “ego-head” at all, both StreetWire and PlanningAlerts are great sites.

But why are developers such elusive/secretive characters?

What were your aims behind developing these sites?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure were that secretive, we all have blogs, twitter accounts, mailing lists etc. You should join the mySociety mailing list:

More on teh reasons behind streetwire and planning alerts in these 2 talks:

Kevin Matthews said...

Hi Richard,

I’ve subscribed to your blog, sent a ‘follow request’ to your Twitter account, and will listen in to the talks on SreetWire and PlanningAlerts.

Many thanks

Anonymous said...

Just a thought on this. Agree with everything you've said (especially the English graduate bit) but.... say a developer comes up with an easy to understand way of serving up planning apps for the area, the system will only be as good as the information released. So, is the role of the journalist to take information, open it up for discussion, then curate said information (including the local knowledge gleened from throwing it out for discussion) into a story, be it for the website, the print title, a blog and so on?

Kevin Matthews said...

Hi David H.

I heard a great line from Eric Ulken at a recent seminar at UCLan: “A journalist shouldn’t be writing a story that a computer can.” Brilliant.

A journalist shouldn’t have to waste his time with those mundane duties like keying in and formatting what are crucial elements of a local newspaper like planning applications.

The time saved doing jobs like this gives the journalist the chance to go through the information, process it, and as you say curate it into a story.

More and more of this type of information is freely available out there, the journalist’s job is to channel that information and make sense of it for the reader/user.