Module JG120

Data Journalism
 

Module author

Wlodzimierz Gogolek

University of Warsaw
Poland

Learning objectives After studying this module, you will be able to:
  • Define data journalism and explain how it works;
  • Explain the technological requirements for this concept;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of the technology that established data journalism;
  • Reflect data journalism critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Data Journalism

 

Why Open School of Journalism believes that Data Journalism is important zu know

If you ever really want to make a professional journalist cringe, start a point off by saying "most people." Unless this declaration is followed by numbers, the eyes of critical readers and reporters will cloud over. Welcome to data journalism, the culture in which people must put their numbers where their mouths are.

Data journalism has been around since the early days of the newspaper publishing industry, but with the increase in visibility on data sites, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the White House site, certain statistics that used to only be accessible to people with press passes can now be seen by all. In a world of transparency, this means that bloggers, journalists and social media users are all on equal footing when it comes to getting statistics from surveys (ex. Gallup and Harris) and even soft news, such as entertainment.

The purpose of data journalism serves two purposes: to inform a reader of what all of these gathered numbers mean and to try to make the numbers make sense long enough for the readers to want to read past the statistics. Although an infographic may be much shorter on text, an infographic is a primary example of a way to get the most essential parts of a news story released to the public in the quickest format. While a reader may not want to break down every chart, box, table or study to figure out what matters to them, an infographic gives users the Cliffnotes version.

One of the biggest downsides to data journalism is it gives readers the convenient opportunity of zooming in on the bottom line without finding out how researchers came to certain results. For example, if there's a story on crime rates or employment statistics from a particular region, readers may not keep reading on to see if there are any flaws, follow-ups or timeframe issues to make the story current. Short version of data journalism in the form of infographics, blogs and blurbs won't force them to notice the small numbers next to footers, urging readers that there's a bit more they may need to know about a line.

Also, just as technology evolves everyday so do statistics. This is why today's journalists must make sure to write not just evergreen articles but breaking news, too. And whenever possible, update old statistics or cross link so readers will be able to see the updates in data journalism on a particular topic. The report that may be completely accurate one year can and probably will be outdated the year after.

Consumer companies may have made data journalism a much more popular culture although credible journalists had been following this motto throughout their entire careers. With the increase in companies wanting to know about their customers -- where they live, what they do for living, who are their friends, where do they work, what do they shop for most, what do they buy most, where do they travel -- consumers are also finding themselves somewhere between relieved to see news and consumer topics shaped to fit their interests and hesitant about how much information one is gathering.

Whereas journalists use to be solely responsible for doing the footwork to compile stats, now users can air their own thoughts for free while journalists have the option to observe from behind computer screens.

In today's world of technology, a press conference is still desirable but getting the real opinions of newspaper and magazine readers may be as simple as looking at a YouTube comment board. It is the people who embrace transparency who can become the biggest help for journalists. They're tweeting out, liking, linking, sharing and pinning their interests. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are able to use sites like bit.ly and Statistic Brain to gauge what people want to know. This means that journalists are better prepared to complete news coverage that will sell.

However, a credible journalist will be able to distinguish between realistic statistics and curious results. Just as psychology studies take into account that some interviewees and survey takers may provide the "popular" opinion instead of their real opinions, anonymity isn't always frowned upon.

An unnamed source in a news article is highly frowned upon. But data journalism that focuses on all people across the board is essentially that same "unnamed source," just without the added bias. For example, a group of unemployed people taking a survey on how they feel about their job situation in an unemployment office may not have the same results as a group of unemployed people at a job fair. Even something as small as location can make the difference between a news story and the results received.

It is up to today's journalists to take all of this information into account before releasing data-based information to the public.