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City journalism academics to lead European big data and fake news project

Tom Felle will lead a team of City researchers to create an app with the help of a £300,000 Google grant

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

City, University of London journalism researchers will lead a major European push to combat ‘fake news’ after being awarded a new grant by the Google Digital News Initiative (DNI) to help journalists find and verify information in big data.

A team of researchers at City have been given £300,000 by Google to build a web-based app called DMINR. The app combines machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to help journalists fact check, make sense of data and verify information. It also has applications for investigative journalism by sorting and finding connections in so-called ‘big data’ such as police, government and environmental data, and company records.

City’s researchers will work with test users in up to 30 European newsrooms, including the data teams at the Telegraph media group and the Guardian in the UK, and the Investigations Unit at Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE, to build the web-based software tool.

A new tool for investigative journalism

The project aims to develop a “technological solution to a growing problem in journalism – how to conduct public interest journalism in a news ecosystem where resources are shrinking and, more starkly, newsrooms are closing down,” according to project lead and Senior Lecturer in Digital Journalism at City, Tom Felle (right).

He said: As more and more information is stored and made available electronically – by governments; public bodies; supra-national organisations and others – sifting through mass data has become increasingly difficult.

“Few newsrooms have the capacity to undertake digital investigative journalism because of a lack of skills, resources and access to digital tools, yet this sort of accountability and public service journalism is vitally important for democracy.”

Tackling fake news

The project is one of a number of initiatives aimed at tackling the proliferation of so-called ‘fake news’ and will revolutionise investigative journalism in the digital era, according to the academic.

Tom Felle added: "Separating the news from the noise is key to the verification of digital information. DMINR serves to empower journalists by supporting them in identifying and making sense of connections in large, complex datasets.

“It will allow journalists to take the lead in breaking original news, build trust and engagement with audiences, combat false information and provide a counter-balance to infotainment and so-called ‘churnalism’.”

The City team

The DMINR team is led by Tom Felle, a data journalism expert and Senior Lecturer in Digital Journalism at City. Tom is a former career journalist and foreign correspondent and has co-edited three books, including best-selling Data Journalism: Mapping the Future. He is author of a dozen chapters and journal articles. He has given expert testimony to international governments on open data, including to the UK Independent Commission in 2015.

The City journalism experts involved in the DMINR project are: Dr Glenda Cooper (right), a Lecturer in Journalism; Professor George Brock (below right), a world-renowned expert on journalism; Vincent Ryan, a digital media entrepreneur and Visiting Lecturer in Financial Journalism.

The City technical experts, from the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, are: Dr Stephann Makri, a Senior Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction; Dr Andrew MacFarlane, a Reader in Information Retrieval.

The Department of Journalism at City, University of London is a global centre of excellence for journalism education and innovation.


Technical note

The tool will utilise lateral search and application programme interface (API) aggregation to find connections in big data and multiple lateral search locations. It will incorporate a highly-advanced search capability, artificial intelligence markup language (AIML) and a visual connection finder interface to then make sense, verify and visualise those connections. It will be designed and evaluated from a user-centred perspective to ensure it delivers a high-quality user experience.

The team was one of a small number chosen from applications from all over Europe. The grant awarded to City is the biggest single grant to a university of its kind and is one of the largest grants awarded in Europe to a single institution by the DNI fund in 2017.

The project is expected to begin in September and take two years to complete.

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