Rethinking Metropolitan journalism

The "Urban Storytelling Lab"

Project lead: Dr. Leif Kramp (ZeMKI Lab "Mediatization and Globalization")

Research association/cooperation: Hamburg Media School (Prof. Dr. Stephan Weichert), WeBuildCity (Timo Lundelius), Funke Mediengruppee/Hamburger Abendblatt, NDR/Norddeutscher Rundfunk

Funding institution: Google Digital News Initiative

Against the background of societal trends like demographic change, urbanisation, gentrification or commercialisation, urban development and planning has become a highly controversial and conflictual public issue with political implications. The public availability of information on building projects, construction sites, administrative measures and infrastructural management has already been enforced in some regions with respect to the overall orientation towards a transparent public administration. However, availability of open data seldomly means an easy accessibility of the information connected to the data in terms of comprehensibility. Nowadays, the only chance to get aware of changing development plans for a district, a neighbourhood or a street, for instance, in German cities is to consult municipal reports published by the local government that provide plain administrative information. As these official announcements are not likely to reach and attract a broad audience, data-driven methods in urban local journalism might enlighten a critical understanding of urban planning and promote public discourse on political topics that concern urban life. Journalism can therefore take advantage of an open source technology in order to create an easily understandable visualization of local construction planning and transfer it to local issues, debates and stories. This might bear potential to inject public participation into the process of city development than administrative reports and political communication alone.

This scheme sheds light on the theoretical assumption that digital media technologies both provide instruments and support discursive dynamics to participate in public discourse deliberatively. Research on the role of data-driven journalism to contribute to the public good has evolved quite rapidly on an international level in recent years. However, in journalism research, beside a strong focus on news innovations, a main interest is on ways and modes of how data-driven journalism keeps up or complements the tradition of computer-assisted reporting to enhance the disclosure and explanation of public and political issues. Another discussion in media and communication as well as political research is concerned with the communicative relationship between the newsroom and the audience with a focus on political participation and civic empowerment through participatory elements of journalistic work with or without social media on the one side or the availability of open data on the other – stressing the magnitude of factors and complex sets of conditions that have to be taken into account when trying to determine participatory potentials. Empirical research that tries to connect the aspects of public participation through open data and the role that is or can be played by data-driven journalism to enhance participation and critical public discourse on political issues – specifically with a local municipal focus – is rare and has not yet produced satisfactory results. Studies show that it is highly significant for the orientation of reader comments and discussions how the readers are engaged in the design thinking process of a data-driven news platform and which issues are highlighted by the data visualization and accompanying reporting.

The research project analyses the development processes in the "Urban Storytelling Lab", a Hamburg based collaborative project of journalists and software engineers to develop innovative journalistic formats for urban environments, focussing on aspects of urban development and the transformation of metropolitan areas. Involved cooperation partners are the Hamburg Media School (Prof. Dr. Stephan Weichert), WeBuildCity (Timo Lundelius), Funke Mediengruppe/Hamburger Abendblatt and the NDR/Norddeutscher Rundfunk. The "Urban Storytelling Lab" is funded by the Google Digital News Initiative.