Monday, May 2, 2016

Telling Stories With Data

Topic: How can big data help and hinder journalism

In the internet age information has exploded, in fact every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, that’s a 1 followed by eighteen zeros. With that much data being created on a daily basis its no surprise that using this data to tell stories has become central to creating engaging stories that resonate with your audience.

Unlike the internet data journalism isn’t a new phenomenon, there has been data journalism as long as there has been data to report on. Certainly as far back as Florence Nightingales famous graphics about the mortality rates and causes of death faced by British soldiers in 1858. The very first edition of the guardian newspaper published in 1821 contained data, albeit merely a table clumsily presented between walls of text. Data journalism has changed significantly since then, and can now be interactive and engage readers in ways never before possible.

So What is Data Journalism?
Essentially data journalism is using data to tell stories, or creating visual representations of data points, often times the two go hand-in-hand. Data isn’t just things like census information or what policies candidates for congress have supported in the past. You can have data on anything, for instance how many people roll the toilet paper over the top, and how many opt for the under method. Data about complicated subjects can be difficult for the average person to sift through, and it is the role of journalists to collect, and understand data so that they can relay it to people in ways that make sense, and that are engaging and visually appealing

Why is it Important to Know How To Work With Data?
Take for instance the recent revelations about the Panama Papers. This would not have been possible if 100’s of journalists had not gone through every bit of information to find not only what was relevant to the world, but why it was relevant and what it could mean for their countries and individual lives.
·      When information was scarce, before the internet, efforts were concentrated around finding and gathering data. Now that information is abundant processing data is significantly more important. There are two levels to processing data, the first is analysis, making sense of and creating structure from mass amounts of data. The second is figuring out how to convey the important and relevant information to the consumer/audiences head. Journalists used to be able to pick up stories by talking to people in bars, having close contacts in the government, or just getting tips by phone from the public. Now it is much more common to be sent encrypted files chock full of data that require technological savvy to sift through.

How Can Data Help Journalists?
·      It can provide concrete information of problems, and wrongdoings and can be encrypted so that it is un interceptable, and the source of the information is hidden.
·      It can be searched through quickly to find answers when input into a computer. For example the above graphic which breakdowns neighborhoods voting in the NYC democratic primary by race/ethnicity
·      It can make a story more engaging, using data effectively can captivate your readers in ways that passive experiences like video and photos cannot
·      It can add another dimension to storytelling, for instance telling me that major cities like New York and D.C. are self segregated by race is one thing. But showing the reader and allowing them to interact with the data adds more to the story

How Can Data Hinder Journalists?
·      Incriminating data about advertisers or governments where publications are headquartered can get journalists and their employers into trouble, for example the guardians destruction of the Snowden data.
·      At the local level data can be hard to access, this is especially true at the hyperlocal level. For instance if you wanted to know how income levels in the wash park area have changed over the past 50 years, that data is not easily available.
·      Funding can be hard to get for large projects. In a journalism world where profits are harder and harder to come by it is increasingly difficult for reporters to get the ok to tackle large scale projects that require a lot of man hours and potentially a lot of money to report on
·      Data that is poorly displayed can turn users off of stories or websites, and on the internet where many people compete for the limited attention span of users in order to succeed the way data is displayed must be engaging and informative.


Do you notice data journalism, and does it make you more likely to read a story when there are features you can interact with?

How do you think journalists can make mundane information appeal to a younger audience?


What is Data Journalism
Data Journalism at The Guardian
Why is Data Journalism Important
Data Journalism Meets UK Hyperlocal Media

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