Getting Started in Data Journalism

This blog will serve as my journal of exploration of the world of data journalism, also known as “data-driven journalism” or “computer-assisted reporting”. For me it’s a journey of learning and a quest to find a niche in the vast world of journalism. I want to share the journey and to offer insights how journalists can use data in their work.

Although I’m new to the journalistic profession, I’m not a newcomer to the world of data. Many years ago I worked with numerical simulations of the structure of the Universe (“N-body” simulations) and analysed their results using Bayesian statistics. More recently I worked with web analytics of online and mobile banking as a product manager in a Canadian bank, which involved visualisation of usage trends and profitability. I love numbers, charts and algorithms. I am proficient with Excel and comfortable with coding, so I will be using these tools, and others as I learn them, for this work.

There are two aspects of using data in journalism. The first, and perhaps more obvious, is visualisation of data, through attractive, informative charts, infographics, animations, interactive apps etc. This requires understanding of the information to be presented and an ability to convey it in an attractive package. You could say: a picture is worth a thousand numbers.

The other aspect of data journalism, and here the term “computer-assisted reporting” is more apt, is analysis of large databases of information, provided by (or leaked from) governments, NGOs, corporations or research institutions, in order to uncover stories worth telling. These databases tend to be enormous and their analysis far beyond human capabilities. There are, however, many tools at our disposal that help us make sense of the terabytes of data, both text-based (tweets, diplomatic cables), numbers, or so-called meta-data, like the location and the timestamp of a Facebook check-in.

Data journalism piggy-backs on the technology and methods developed for the world of Big Data. This term refers to the constant flood of information collected every second by providers of social media, cell phone service, internet and other services, about our whereabouts, actions, preferences, contacts etc. Corporations like Google, Amazon or Facebook collect and use the data to serve us better (and to make more profit) and governments do it to keep a closer eye on their citizens and on what they perceive as threats.

There are plenty of issues with privacy and control of how data are used, but I am not going to address them in this blog. (At least not now.) This endeavour will focus initially on technology and methods journalists use to benefit from the electronic information that is available to them.

Originally published on December 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm

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One thought on “Getting Started in Data Journalism

  1. I like what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work and coverage!

    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my own blogroll.

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