Public Lab Research note

Reflection Salty Scandal

by vvincent | February 23, 2015 19:07 23 Feb 19:07 | #11630 | #11630

Virginia Vincent

The idea of sensor journalism was initially a waste of time to me. I didn’t understand why journalists would take public health and safety into their own hands. I assumed that only scientists or local public health officers would make it a priority to annually check our water systems and journalist would just report their findings. When the assignment to test the salinity in our water systems was given, my thoughts initially began to change.

I looked at the assignment like an undercover reporter might. I knew that my groups findings may be shocking and probably disturbing but in the end, would be beneficial for people to know. Just like in the Tow Report reading, the three themes that Fergus Pitt refers to rang true while conducting the tests on our samples. The results of the samples will affect the surrounding community, journalists using sensors should know that there is a trial and error process ( My group definitely found that out while testing our samples, but I will get into that soon) and finally that using sensors does not mean that the traditional way of reporting on a story does not change.

Our guest speakers Lily Bui and Patrick Herron pointed out the importance of sensors being used to help the greater public. I also forgot the fact that there are a number of sensors around us on a daily basis, which made me question, why are we just getting into sensor journalism now if sensors have been in our cellphones, light switches and in numerous other objects that we use daily?

My group collected samples from three completely different areas within Massachusetts. We collected snow and river samples in Sherborn, Waltham and Mission Hill and we received completely different readings and a few no response readings. To put the sensors together was pretty interesting. To intricately put wires in certain areas of the boards was probably the more interesting part of the whole assignment and most enjoyable for me.

When we hooked up all the wires correctly, our water samples really shocked us. We used a sensor app( that was made only a few weeks before the testing) It was used to generate the sounds we heard into a number in Hertz. When we tested the Sherborn sample that was collected from a brook, the reading was 3257 Hz. That was a pretty normal read, the sound was a mild high pitched humming sound as opposed to the samples from Waltham. The Waltham were completely different, One sample was fresh snow that had fallen the night before collected on top of a car. When we tested that water the app jumped from a 3000Hz read to a 6000 Hz read. Now the number did not stay the same it eventually fell back down to 0 and did not jump anymore. So that was pretty interesting, that’s when I thought of Pitts original thought of a trial and error period. The other Waltham sample was taken from the side of the road that had just recently been plowed and heavily salted. That reading was also all over the place, but the difference between the first Waltham sample was the sound generated from the Coqui was a very dull shriek. This sample was extremely high in volume and was very dirty. Our third set of samples came from Mission Hill, a pond sample and dirty snow. The pond sample from Mission Hill gave a read of 3773 Hz, the dirty snow on the other hand did the same as the dirty snow from Waltham. There was no clear reading because the numbers jumped and eventually just fell to 0Hz. I found this interesting but then found it frustrating and I thought of all the people that do this constantly for the safety of the public like theMystic River Watershed Association. It reminded me why I disliked science so much! Only because, if something didn’t work with an experiment you had to test it multiple times until you either get a different response or ruled it un-usable.

The challenges of sensor journalism is their isn’t enough time to continue going back and forth with testing when you may have a deadline for a story. Not all journalist who use sensors are experts on them, so there could be areas of the testing that may fall to the wayside because the reporter may not be fully educated about sensors. Another challenge could be reporting the wrong information. Just like Lily Bui said in her presentation, not everyone agrees with sensors because your only testing a small percentage of a larger portion. The findings especially in this case of the water system, can cause a community to be worried about more than they probably would need to be. Even though, the benefits of a journalist using sensors can be the process of investigative journalism, from beginning to end, find or be aware of a problem and investigate it until the end to eventually fins a solution. In this case, I'm not sure how a solution would be gained because we use salt as our main defense against the slippery winter roads. There is also a downside to being the person who is writing the report and gathering the data for that story. It may cause people to speculate if these are actual facts and not something that the reporter just made up.

The way I see it, journalism is evolving year by year and sensor journalism is a form of new journalism. To make it relevant and necessary to stay ,there would probably have to be the quality of sensors that are in cellphones used to test the salinity. The way I see it the information would have to be collected by an assistant and checked on by a professional because what does a journalist really know about collecting the right type of data? The other option is to collect the samples and let a computer collect the data. Then again, there is also a risk relying on technology. I am not sure what would need to be done for journalists to be able to use sensors in their stories. The only idea I can think of is the way to have proof of their findings. As a journalist it’s all about citing sources and letting people know where the information came from and I believe that would be the hardest part of sensor journalism, showing proof of their findings.


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