Alexander Howard has been writing about all things technology for years – whether it be in its intersection with society, how it’s used to solve problems, in issues of open data, and in examining how social media and digital journalism have changed the business world today. While he now works as the Washington correspondent for O’Reilly Media, his previous endeavors include contributing to National Journal, Forbes, Huffington Post, Mashable, and many more. Mostly, he’s just interested in “understanding the world and how it’s changing – as driven by technology.”
After exploring different aspects of both writing and technology in his 20s, Howard landed his current position as a technology writer and editor at O’Reilly where he contributes to Radar and the Strata Blog, which is dedicated to all things data. He says that he is effectively the first person on their staff to be doing journalism full-time.
Of course, journalists are huge consumers of data and are key intermediaries in terms of explaining what’s happening, using different investigative work, using stories to visualize and mashing it up, and increasingly creating it as part for the business models for what the 21st century media will look like.
Howard says that technology has dramatically changed the way that we treat data, especially in looking at the evolution of journalism. Reporting on and correcting statistics has been a part of journalism for centuries, the key difference now is the move from analog to digital, according to Howard. He says that data has now become more scalable, able to be understood and distributed quickly, and can be:
used in a much more sophisticated way from making predictions to analyzing patterns to all kinds of other analytics or techniques that can offer us insight into the classic questions that journalists ask: How, where, when, why, and who.
And these techniques are some that Howard expects to be advanced in the coming years. He says that the technical skills needed to analyze really huge datasets are of the highest demand both in the private sector and other parts of society…
The number of journalists who can do so-called computational journalism is pretty small, the number who can do data journalism is a bit bigger and growing – but the difference between this need and demand is dramatic And given that data has become a part of so many more stories in new ways… there’s never been a time when there’s so much opportunity for people who have those kinds of skills.
In an article where Howard talks about using public data to track Hurricane Sandy as it pummelled through the east coast, he points to different mapping services as examples of serving the public by providing them with data. Weather Underground’s interactive map (as shown below) visualizes only one of the ways that the media, government, and U.S. citizens came together in sharing information about this storm.
As an avid Twitter user, Howard acknowledges that it’s difficult to provide full context in only 140 characters, but also that the ability to do this is simply another fashion of journalism. His impressive number of Twitter followers – over 177,000 – keep track of what he has to say on his profile @digiphile. The reason for his high following? He figures that he’s merely giving people that thing that they’re looking for because of the considerable amount of diversity in social media today.
In the end, people are going to stick around after they’re chosen to follow you because you’re adding something to their news diet – or their information diet – that they can’t get somewhere else.
Ultimately, he says that it’s up to where the people are that you want to reach.
When he’s not speaking at O’Reilly Media conferences or contributing to their blog, Howard writes about another one of his passions: Food, at The Epicureanist, which features recipes and restaurant reviews. You can also follow Howard on Google+, Facbeook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn to keep up with other insight from the tech journalist, and be sure to keep an eye our for our next spotlight interview.