The Rise of the IoT and the Impact on Content

May 10, 2016

May 2016 Issue

BEST PRACTICES SERIES

The Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015 caused a seismic shift in many areas, including media discussions of Big Data, which now focus on the Internet of Things (IoT). At first, it may seem difficult to understand how the IoT and terrorism are related, but security involves both a nation's borders and its data. These concerns are prompting new conversations about the IoT's role in the future of the Big Data landscape.

IoT sensors create a massive amount of data that is collected, stored, and often analyzed. When we talk about data, security concerns inevitably arise. Google's Physical Web plan-which would assign URL-type classifications to all sensors-allows for interaction with a device without an app download. The healthcare industry could see major advantages from this, since IOT sensors are on everything from medical equipment to drug storage cabinets.

Google's Physical Web would provide an additional security layer by adding information about the locator to the hospitals' private servers. This makes it easier to ensure that only authorized personnel have access. The same is true of electronic health records, whose widespread adoption was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

As cybersecurity continues to dominate the Big Data debate and the IoT becomes the most prominent type of Big Data that is discussed, what will be the impact of IoT data on content?

Often, when journalists have an idea for a story, evidence for the phenomena on which they are reporting is anecdotal, and it is difficult to find hard data to prove what everyone seems to believe is true. For instance, citizens of Chicago often gripe about the machine politics and patronage system that shape the backbone of "The City That Works." When winter storms hit, it seems that streets aren't plowed fast enough. Residents often quip, "I bet Mayor Emanuel's street is cleared." ClearStreets is an app that analyzes real-time Chicago snow plow data from the city's Plow Tracker system to document which streets have been cleared.

The commonly felt sentiment that plows go first to clout-heavy neighborhoods led Chicago Sun-Times reporters to use ClearStreets data to investigate this belief. That led to the story, "The Snowplows Hit Alderman Burke's Street-Five Times" and, a few weeks later, "City Inspector General Investigates Early-and-Often Snow Plowing on Ald. Ed Burke's Street." ClearStreets data was also used by NBC 5 Chicago for its story, "Chicago Block Has Not Been Plowed This Winter."

IoT data not only helps to substantiate or debunk conventional wisdom, but also prompts others to create similar data. For example, when Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne wanted to investigate complaints about fumes and exhaust seeping into commuter trains at Chicago's Union Station, he could have simply taken photos of blue diesel exhaust and soot-covered air vents. Instead, he and the Tribune rented handheld devices to measure soot on train platforms at various times of day.

Hawthorne's reporting then prompted CBS 2 Chicago reporter Dave Savini to go a step further and partner with the Illinois Institute of Technology to install monitors for field testing. After Savini reported his results on air, the EPA took action and conducted its own studies. Fergus Pitt, of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, discusses best practices for use of IoT data in reporting in an extensive study, "Sensors and Journalism." He includes strategic recommendations such as identifying and cultivating IoT sources for beats covered and practitioner recommendations such as "before sensing, articulate your hypothesis" and "combine sensing with traditional reporting." He also makes recommendations for the journalism profession at large, such as lobbying for access to data from publicly funded sources.

Although pitfalls abound, with careful attention to detail and fact-checking, the advantages of using IoT data in reporting far outweigh the peril of ignoring it.