knight chess
Credit: By Marlon E on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Collaborative work in data journalism and verification got two new allies this week as platforms Swarmize and Checkdesk received grants from the Knights News Challenge. They both hope to create new opportunities for journalists to use available data and user-generated content to its full potential.

In March, The Knight News Challenge asked how the internet can be strengthened "for free expression and innovation" in exchange for a total of $3.4million in grants.

The thought behind Swarmize is to create a tool that improves data collection and analysis for journalists, researchers, and the public to collaborate.
Matt McAlister, the Guardian's general manager of new digital businesses, came up with the idea for Swarmize when his team realised that "data journalism has gotten much more sophisticated in recent months and that editors need much more powerful tools for doing the kind of research and investigations that they want to do".

"Data seems to die after a news report," McAlister told, "and the only archive or living remnant of a data journalism project is often an infographic."

The plan is to build and test Swarmize at the Guardian, said McAlister, although the details are still being fleshed out since the recent announcement of funding.

"We're going to look at how you open up a platform like this so that it can be used in an ongoing way, and grow as more studies are done, more research projects are developed using the platform."

McAlister said the internet is very good at creating connections and there are not enough examples of journalism behaving in a way that emulates the internet.

"If more platforms like the one we're proposing start to take on the characteristics of the internet – that they are connected, that they are linked to things, that they evolve and change as people use them – then journalism will start to have a different kind of shape and use to it," he said.

The Swarmize team is still white-boarding ideas, but Tom Trewinnard, research and communications manager at Meedan, has been working on another Knight Foundation-funded project for two years.

Checkdesk, another project for collaborative journalism to receive Knight Foundation funding, has been running in the Middle East for two years.

Trewinnard launched Checkdesk toolkit helps journalists verify emerging online media during breaking news situations. expalins how Checkdesk works in practice

Trewinnard said verification is still an emerging topic for newsrooms. "We found that a lot of journalists needed specific training, there are some still developing best practices around how to verify content online."

He said there was no well documented resource that journalists could reference when dealing with such content in breaking news situations before the Verification Handbook was published.

Trewinnard told that verification is a global challenge for journalism and that he wants to make Checkdesk more open.

"What we wanted to do is enable newsrooms to leverage their communities of readers and the expertise that those readers have to better check media that's emerging."

Collaboration is feasible in Checkdesk and Trewinnard said it is going to be an increasing opportunity, especially for newsrooms with big reader followings and particularly as newsrooms expand their presence online.

Some newsrooms however prefer to keep their checking process internal, and Trewinnard is aware of their concerns.

"In certain circumstances newsrooms do not want to publish something that they have not already checked," he said. "The thing about collaborative verification is that it is going to be post-publishing verification."

Checkdesk will use its newly acquired funding to test some of their "assumptions" and work with journalists outside of the Middle East.

"We really wanted to enable a discussion and, I guess, a collaboration around verification," said Trewinnard.

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