Category Archives: HashBrum

#MAProject: Basic concepts – The JTeam and Views to a Crisis

As I’m trying to finish my MA Project, I realized that when I write my final Production Report it will be more about failure than success. But this could also be  because I haven’t got much feedback on what I’m doing, so I’ll just put it all out in the open. Tell me what you think.

The JTeam

The starting point was to create an informal team of journalists, specialized in multimedia and interactive narratives, that would follow specific production guidelines to tell marginal stories to main issues. This was also my main idea when me and my MA colleagues started developing Hashbrum, a hyperlocal website dedicated to cover the “neglected stories of Birmingham” (looking back through the filter of recent events we could have done so much more), but we failed to follow that line, although the basic concept was there.

When I say “informal”, I mean “not fixed”, the team would vary from story to story, since every story needs different skills and sensibilities. It could also work as an external Multimedia production company embedding journalists from established media brands. Another example of this would be, and the way they change  journalists and editors for every story. Having the people and the tools, this would be a team of journo-mercenaries (at least we would admit that), although mimicking the A-Team for journalism doesn’t look that good after you’ve seen others doing the same for other (probably more successful) businesses.

And this would be it: a pool of eager, talented, skilled journos ready to step into action armed with multimedia and  interactivity  and witty remarks. This also has a more broad organizational model, but for now this is enough.

So, what would be the J-Team’s first assignment?

Views To a Crisis

While living in the UK, I noticed that most of the information about the standards of living, the  economical and social situation in Portugal we’re skewed – to say the least –  and, above all, inaccurate. Portugal looked worse a year ago from the outside than it really is nowadays, and I thought about how much speculative journalism can affect the image of a nation. Not that the news were wrong, the facts were just a bit blown out of proportion. If we consider that many media groups are cutting back in correspondents, and that the international media doesn’t care for local media if they can’t understand it (i.e., speak in a foreign language) maybe they will never be able to deliver an accurate account of what is really happening. I’m not saying that I didn’t see a good coverage from some British media about the risks Portugal was facing, but I wondered how they could paint such a bad picture and how much of that was cause or effect.

Not trying to imply foreign media in Portuguese mismanagement, my idea was to have a more human approach to the subject, and turn those doom and gloom numbers into real faces and places, and share their stories of perseverance, misfortune, readjustment or evolution in a critical economical environment, and show them to an international audience by making that content available in Internet’s lingua franca, English.

But once back in Portugal and having being in touch again with the national media industry, I realized the “real” country wasn’t just misrepresented by foreign media: Portuguese newsrooms, due to their own hardships, have been concentrating their coverage on the mainframe issues and falling into the number and statistics trap. Not all, fortunately, but we are being fed the crisis every single time we look at a newsstand, or listen to the radio or watch the TV news, and sometimes it all looks like a damned math problem. Well, it is, but I hated Math. And since major news outlets are cutting back on their own local correspondents, I got that feeling that something was skewed all over again, with most of the message being conveyed from and directed to major urban areas, most specifically Lisbon, which does not reflect the realities of the rest of the country.

In my research for outliers from this type of coverage, I came across with an initiative by Público, one of Portugal’s leading newspapers, that developed an interesting approach to depict the effects of the crisis in regular people. Their approach is to follow five different families from different parts of the country. Called “A year in the crisis“, their goal is to have first person accounts using dynamic languages like video, set against background analysis provided by data and critical reports. It’s a very solid concept, and that meets many of the ideas I have for my own project. They are trying to figure out what has changed in these people’s lives and how they are adjusting to cope with all the setbacks created by an economical downturn, while keeping the stories human.

My idea is a bit more broad though. These families are sharing their experience, but I also care about the young graduates who are thinking about leaving the country because they can’t find a job, or those who are going back to their hometowns since they can’t afford living in great urban areas although the job offers are even more scarce. Or how some are demonstrating their discontentment through urban art, or how they are helping others in more dire situations. And I also want to know how life is for those who have always lived through their own crisis, that this one will only aggravate. Others are creating new opportunities reinventing their own life and career options, and many are trying to keep doing the same things they always did before: there weren’t any big losses in the Summer music festivals that happened all over the country, for example.

This would be complemented by a comprehensive set of data visualizations that would show how the situation has evolved, how it has its toll in different parts of the country (I’ve been trying to create a map of unemployment by municipality), and provide tools so each user could relate to specific data sets, using calculators or queries. I’ve been playing with some data viz tools and the only thing I can show now is a sunburst graph depicting the money the government has spent in its executive responsibilities. It has no framing or further explanations, it’s just a technical experiment.

A set of production guidelines still has to be established, but these depend on the range of the content, how it will be produced, and under which business model it will fall under. But business models will soon be discussed here too.

I have been trying to establish partnerships with other people and organizations – some related to independent media – especially aiming at the non-profit model, but I’m open to suggestions. And if you feel you have what it takes to be a part of it, registrations are open. Well, not real registrations, just send me an email if you’re interested.

What do you make of this? Would foreign media be interested in a coverage “from the ground”, and would Portuguese media  also be available to work in the production of this type of contents and use them in their own platforms? What flaws do you see in this concept?

I’m all eyes and ears.



Breadth Portfolio: Part 2 – Flash Package

The second part of my Breadth Portfolio series, in this one i briefly explain how the Moseley Road Baths Flash package was made.


Moseley Road Baths

I’ve wanted to use Flash to create a multimedia package or to aggregate different types of content in one same product. Recycling the contents I had produced previously for HashBrum, I made a serious attempt to build one: “Moseley Road Baths- Pool of Affection[i].

I’ll avoid commenting on the content of the piece, because all the questions are related to the construction process. First of all, Flash is an almost exclusive of Adobe, and its complexity make it hard to use, but in the right hands it can deliver amazing works. This is not the case, and there are many reasons for it.

First of all, Flash evolved into Actionscript 3.0 which is much harder to use than the previous 2.0 version that I was familiarized with. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t have planned to use features that will only work with the 3.0 version, like mapping components. So I had to give up on my initial plan of incorporating a map into the piece, if I was to do it in AS2, although I searched intensively Google for solutions. But choosing which script language is used to build a work with Flash it’s just the beginning. We have to decide what contents are going to be featured, which technical specificities they demand, how are we supposed to navigate through them and which aesthetic options we will take. The most interesting part is that it is truly an interdisciplinary experience: I used video, and had to go through the options to embed it, and pick the best format (FLV) and size to convert it to; I had to create a look for the project, and I used image editors to edit pictures and small graphic elements; besides, flash is based in animation principles, so some notions on the subject will help.

Non-linearity is an important factor to this kind of work, and since I had divided the main video to small, independent bits it wasn’t hard to do. When I first started shooting this story, I had the notion I would use it for something like this, so I wasn’t that worried about creating a narrative chain throughout the filming, but just keeping it visually coherent, which under personal limitations is not that difficult.

Flash projects are also all about functionality (the way buttons are placed) and details (the way buttons move). To improve these two factors you must have a deeper knowledge of Flash (beyond button level), which is hard to acquire on your own. Though the web is filled with video tutorials and great websites on the matter, Flash is mostly about a logical process that it is hard to grasp on your own. But I fear the approach I took using AS2 is rendered obsolete, since AS3 is more powerful, albeit more difficult to use. This raises questions about how specialized a journalist’s skills can be, since it takes time to learn these new procedures, and which alternatives are there to Flash packages.

[i] Online

Moseley Road Baths: Flash Multimedia Package | Trabalho Flash Multimedia

click image | cliquem na imagem

I had a go with Flash for my assignment for the Multimedia Journalism module of the MA. I recycled some work i had done before for HashBrum, and did what i had planned from the start, though not the way i intended. It is an experiment, and i had to do it in ActionScript 2 instead of 3, because i didn’t have time to learn how to work with Flash all over again.

Anyway here it is, comments and ideas are appreciated.

Fiz um trabalho em Flash para o módulo de Jornalismo Multimédia do mestrado. Reciclei algum trabalho anterior que já tinha sido usado para o HashBrum, e fiz o que tinha planeado fazer desde o início, mas não da maneira que queria. É uma experiência, e tive que fazer tudo em ActionScript 2 em vez de 3, porque não tinha tempo para voltar a aprender a trabalhar com Flash outra vez.

De qualquer forma, aqui está, ideias e comentários são bem-vindos.

Top Posts: February | Fevereiro

The posts that got more attention last month. If you missed them, find out why they were so popular. Os posts que tiveram mais visitas no mês passado. Se não os viram, descubram porque é que foram tão populares.

Building a hyperlocal website: final thoughts

Keywords for hyperlocal

This is the final post about hyperlocal websites, that started with my own experience with HashBrum, as described in onetwo, three posts, and with the  special contribution of five sapient minds that work on hyperlocal endeavors. I learned a lot from my own efforts  – mine and the rest of the team’s – and also from  this reflection. It was interesting to analyze the list of characteristics presented by different people for hyperlocal websites and find common terms, common ideas, a common ground, even in the choice of words. Here’s what i learned, organized around a few main concepts. To understand them better, you should have read the previous posts of this series, but i think this will be quite clear and straight to the point.


Why are hyperlocal news websites important? Why do people feel inclined to “backyard news”? Precisely. Proximity is the keyword here, and it’s not only a geographical concept, it’s also about the relationships that a hyperlocal blogger/journalist must have with the community (s)he covers. You have to live there, be a part of it, like Will Perrin said. You’ll beat any other local newspaper because of your knowledge, you know the ground better than them, the real problems, because they are your problems too. And since you are there, you can get to the news faster, and stay on them for a longer period of time, without deadline constraints: you have availability. And will the local media send a reporter for every story you find interesting? Not really, no. Your broken streetlight is not an issue for the general audience, but it is for the people who live in that street: granularity, or , it’s the small stuff that counts.


Another good thing that hyperlocal websites are good at is by providing a better user experience. Innovation and experimentation in storytelling, using maps, multimedia, different ways to look at and navigate through the news. And without  the need for a huge investment, because most of the tools to create a website like this are free and open source, so only a small financial investment is required, the real expense here is time. But to be effective, the hyperlocal website’s technology must promote participation, allow people to offer their input, and  the users should be able to conform their experience through customization, getting the information they want, the way they want.


At the core of hyperlocal behavior is passion. It’s your reality, or at least a reality that is right outside your front door. The level of engagement and commitment hyperlocal news websites have are huge, compared to the average reporter, who is assigned for a story and educated to be detached. Hyperlocal reporters are involved in the story and they can afford to be critical and assertive close to the local authorities,  and use their work to improve their community’s living standards and environment. It’s what matters to a few, that becomes really important.

Another relevant characteristic is adaptability. A good hyperlocal website is aware of it’s shortcomings and is constantly looking for new ways to do their work, something quite impossible to do in the bigger, slower structures of traditional media, and their sluggish procedures and bureaucracies. They can be built and developed fast, and still bring added value.

A new market is open for these projects: since it’s about and for the local community, it is also an advertising opportunity for local businesses, who can’t afford ads in the pages of a newspaper. If instructed to develop interaction and user experience like the hyperlocal website should do, there is a lot to get out of this, for local businesses.

The bottom line is, your neighborhood news matter, whether it’s a poorly made manhole, or a broken streetlight, or crime. It’s these bits of information that become important when you are living – or wanting to live – in a neighborhood. And if there’s a way to connect us back to our neighbors, whom we usually don’t know, and  join efforts to improve our real, every day life experience, it was well worth it. And if you want to do it, there isn’t much stopping you. All you have  to do is to talk to people who live next to you, see what is already being discussed online, and build a space to host the information that matters. All it takes is time, and quick thinking.

When we first thought about HashBrum, we believed we could create a small network of street level information, and let the different communities take part in the process. In the end we leaned towards reporting specific issues neglected by the local media, who didn’t have room in their agendas or the resources to cover them, or do comprehensive follow ups on the developments. It’s the idea that a brief article in local media can be a huge story for a community/hyperlocal website. And do you know what?, sometimes they’re huge for other communities too, that have the same problems, and what seemed to be an isolated event might be a more general issue within society.

With the fragmentation brought by the internet, the rule is no longer defined by the majority. It”s the individual’s rules and needs that matter, and we can customize them in size, subject and location. With all this power, citizens can start improving the world, starting at their doorsteps. Or just have their garbage collected more often. If you have your own ideas on this, please, do share them in the comment box below. If you aren’t already starting to build your own hyperlocal news thing…