Data Journalism

What makes data journalism different to the rest of journalism? Perhaps it is the new possibilities that open up when you combine the traditional ‘nose for news’ and ability to tell a compelling story, with the sheer scale and range of digital information now available.

And those possibilities can come at any stage of the journalist’s process: using programming to automate the process of gathering and combining information from local government, police, and other civic sources, as Adrian Holovaty did with ChicagoCrime and then EveryBlock. Or using software to find connections between hundreds of thousands of documents, as The Telegraph did with MPs’ expenses.

Data journalism can help a journalist tell a complex story through engaging infographics. Hans Rosling’s spectacular talks on visualizing world poverty with Gapminder, for example, have attracted millions of views across the world. And David McCandless’s popular work in distilling big numbers — such as putting public spending into context, or the pollution generated and prevented by the Icelandic volcano — shows the importance of clear design at Information is Beautiful.

Or it can help explain how a story relates to an individual, as the BBC and the Financial Times now routinely do with their budget interactives (where you can find out how the budget affects you, rather than ‘Joe Public’). And it can open up the news gathering process itself, as The Guardian do so successfully in sharing data, context, and questions with their Datablog.

Data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told — or it can be both. Like any source, it should be treated with scepticism; and like any tool, we should be conscious of how it can shape and restrict the stories that are created with it.

From the introduction to The Data Journalism Handbook, available here.  I think Gene Giannotta for the pointer, who notes this could be an avenue for cross-pollination between journalism and social science.

2 Responses to Data Journalism

  1. Marshall Kirkpatrick May 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    For more examples of data journalism in action, see the Twitter List of almost 200 top data journalists I’ve assembled (using the same data analysis software that pointe me to The Monkey Cage as the #1 source on political science) here:

  2. Steve Smith May 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    There is some pro-active cross-pollination going on. The Weidenbaum Center at Wash U has had a “media retreat” on the use of numbers, statistics, and probability for several years. About 150 journalists, editors, etc., have attended, most from major media organizations have attended in sizable numbers. For example, Lori Montgomery (economic reporter, Washington Post), Catherine Rampell (NYT Economix), and Kevin Hall (national econ correspondent, McClatchy) attended in the last few years.
    For info, go here: