Public Lab Research note

Sensor Journalism Reflection

by melaniescobar | February 24, 2016 16:25 24 Feb 16:25 | #12740 | #12740

Sensor Journalism is a newer form of collecting data for reporting news. Pretty much what happens is people use sensors of some sort to collect data and use it in their reports. For example, there are sensors when it comes to collecting data for the weather; we use sensors to collect data on the environment to understand levels of contamination or pollution in areas, etc. 
Before the past couple weeks I never knew sensor journalism was and how it could be so beneficial to us today. I think there are a lot of opportunities to expose many truths with sensor data especially if the sensors are accurate by the way they’re made, calibrated, etc. For example, in our water conductivity workshop we brought in several different types of water in each group and a lot more as a whole class and it was really interesting listening to which waters were most conductive. When the Evian water out of all the water bottles was one of the very highest conductive that made me curious to want to know why that is, is that a good bottle of water to buy? Should I steer away from that type of water? You could easily write up a news article about testing different water bottles and doing a bit more research and exposing, which water is safe to drink and which is not. Especially with the situation going on in Flint, Michigan with there lack of safe drinking water. 
This is only one type of sensor journalism, which is top up when an individual collects data on their own using sensors and reports it. There are other types of sensor journalism as well, which is top down and hybrid. Top down is what weather stations use; it’s when data comes from an organization/higher up. That’s how they collect information for the weather and report on it. Whenever we used City of Boston data to make charts, filter data, investigate and report on that information we were using top down sensor journalism. Then there’s hybrid, which is using a mix of top up, and top down.
I think there are some pitfalls to sensor journalism. Technologically speaking, there are some issues in that department. Like I said above, if the sensors aren’t made correctly, or if there’s just issues with the sensors in general then there will be inaccurate information and as a journalist we want to be the ones that report the most accurate and truthful stories possible. The other issue is that we don’t know if these sensors are correct unless we make them ourselves and doing that takes time. When we made the sensor for our water conductivity workshop it took us about an hour and a half to create a sensor. Not only that but there was also trouble with our equipment sometimes the wires wouldn’t work or someone was struggling with a battery shortage, etc. That was also us just going through the motions without us understanding what we were actually doing to make this sensor. I’m sure if we actually went step by step learning about why one part goes there and what one part does if you do this that it would take much, much longer to actually to build and understand and make sure it is completely accurate to test things with.  With reading the Tow Center Report I think there’s another issue as well. As sensor journalism is increasing the report says from the second half of 2013 and the start of 2014 they’re using drones to carry sensors to report, record, and observe the world. I think there’s an ethical dilemma with that because they can be going over private property, they can be in areas they’re not allowed to be. Drones are already a topic of discussion in the US right now so for journalists to be able to use them to collect information, it’s kind of “Big Brother” like looking over you to get information. 
At the same time, is the cost of being exposed worth it if the information is beneficial to society as a whole? Like when we had that presentation with the man from the Water Conservation who’s working on the Mystic River they collected data in all areas of the Mystic River and it exposed areas of the river that are dirty in areas where towns are. I’m not sure how the towns reacted about them collecting samples from their area but they certainly aren’t happy about the precautions that are going to be taken if it means they can’t do the things they want to do in that river whether it be recreation or livelihood. At the same time, if the conservation man wrote a story collecting the data from the river as well as the pictures he showed as well as telling us the story about the man that was cleaning up the pollution of the water by dumping a large tub of Clorox into the river then maybe people will see what’s happening to this river and that we need to take action now. 
I’m minoring in environmental studies and I have done a little environmental reporting in college and I think sensor journalism can be a huge helping hand when it comes to reporting on the environment. Like when reporters from the Associated Press had sensors testing the air quality at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 that is just one example how this can make a big difference on environmental reporting if we can accurately make and report this data. It helped make a difference because the Chinese government worked on improving the air quality; it held them accountable to make a change. I think it can do for environmental news, especially when it’s so relevant now with global warming and climate change. People who don’t believe that it’s a real thing can see it when there’s all this data being physically collected by reporters. 
Sensor journalism has a lot of potential to make reporting easier, have more information than before, as well as explore a whole new way of storytelling in this form. While there are issues in this area, I think there is overall more of a benefit to this type of journalism and I hope it can expand and become more accurate and more beneficial in the future. 


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