Data journalism: the new journalism?

Data journalism. When we think of data, the first thing that comes to mind is probably loads of numbers but is it really related to it? In Daniel Wainwright’s podcast, the data experts John Walton, Helena Bengtsson and Paul Bradshaw talk about this “data journalism” concept. We live in a society where information is moving quickly through social media and it is very easy to spread false information which is why data is helpful. Data allows us to find the truth and expose the false.

Data journalism: an approach

In Paul Bradshaw’s book The Online Journalism Handbook he has a whole chapter about data journalism. In it, he explains loads of important information but the main idea we have to keep in mind is:

Yes, data journalism can be about statistics and spreadsheets. But data journalism is also used by music journalists, entertainment reporters and new fashion publications. Sometimes the resulting story might not mention any numbers at all.

Paul Bradshaw (The Online Journalism Handbook)

The concept “data journalism” might sound new but it is not as new as we thought. In the podcast it is mentioned that it is as ancient as journalism itself; some of the first newspapers or new services were data-driven, and they dealt with commodity pricing. And, in fact, the term reporter comes from the idea of looking at reports; conversing with people is a relatively new development in journalism. What we are seeing today is a significant increase in the amount of data accessible to journalists, as well as the diversity of that data, and, more importantly, the method in which stories are communicated, because as you get onto the internet, people are supplying their own data. That means you can customise tales, make games, build tools, and communicate stories in a variety of ways. And, along with the rise of journalism itself, this is one of the key drivers.

This is an example of good data journalism, in which the narrative is explained using statistics and images: 

Coding

In the podcast Helena Bengtsson affirms that data journalism is not all about coding and being good at maths as she only codes once a month and she has a basic understanding of coding. Coding is important as it is largely used for data cleaning or scraping, which is a method of automatically getting data from the Internet. It is critical to remember that, while journalism is the buzzword in data journalism, data is simply another tool in our toolbox. 

To this John Walton adds that it is worth considering scripting as a clever method of record keeping, even though it may not appear evident at first. However, if you have got to write anything, you may demonstrate in detail how you arrived at a conclusion or a statistic. And, you know, as a journalist, that may be beneficial if you need to stand up a story. But it may also be handy as a journalist if you are forgetful, as in, remembering how you come up with a figure.

Agreeing to this, Paul Bradshaw adds that it is also worth noting that if you are creating a narrative that you plan to repeat in a year or six months, it could be a good idea to codify it so that you do not have to generate a new spreadsheet; instead, you can simply rerun the script with the updated information, which is something Helena disagrees with. From her point of view, she believes that if you do your Excel spreadsheets correctly, and retain your formulas and sheets, you would be able to go back and see how you did a certain story and stand it up.

Data journalist profile

According to John Walton, a good data journalist should have a natural curiosity and interest in the world around them, as well as the ability to think creatively about how to locate stories. And then, obviously, the data component of it is that using data is probably where they will be an expert in identifying those stories. So there must be some numeracy, as well as some knowledge or grasp of statistics. Because, clearly, if they have figures, they may struggle to put them into context, if they do not comprehend their statistical importance, or if they lack the confidence to deliver them to an audience.

Conclusion

The word “data” has a dreadful connotation. Working with it may be tedious, complicated, and tiring. However, its importance in terms of empowerment and coming closer to the truth cannot be overstated. As data journalism develops, more web engineers and data scientists will work in newsrooms, as well as more writers and journalists with strong data abilities. While data journalism is now focusing on referencing and linking to data sources, we are rapidly approaching a future in which data is such an integral part of society where it is inescapable. Data journalists play a key role in decreasing the barriers to understanding and diving into data, as well as increasing data literacy among their audience. Because as Helena states “I really hope that sometime in the future we drop the term data journalism because it is just journalism”.

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