The web data revolution – a new future for journalism

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Data Journalism, Events, My Data Journey
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

This event hosted by The Guardian. They say:

“The web not only gives easy access to billions of statistics on every matter – from MP’s expenses to the location of every public convenience in the UK – but also provides the tools to visualise said information, giving a clarity of voice and an equality of access to stories that pre-web could never have been told on such a scale.

But the data revolution has also brought with it the risk of confusion, misinterpretation and inaccessibility. How do you know where to look? What is credible or up to date? Official documents are often published as uneditable pdf files for example – useless for analysis except in ways already done by the organisation itself.”

This discussion will be chaired by an expert panel (people I know) consisting of David McCandless of ‘Information is Beautiful’ fame, Heather Brooke of FOI fame, Simon Rogers of Guardian DataBlog fame and Richard Pope of ScraperWiki fame.

Data journalism: our five point guide – Simon Rogers

None of this is new – need to visualize data to make a point. Table in the Guardian in May 1981 – data has always been around and needed to know the truth. If you don’t know what’s going on how can you change things in society.

Now, public spending visualizations. Beautiful but a lot of work. But then government requests it. Now we all have the tools. A lot doesn’t even involve hard core programming. Need to be inspired by telling stories. Story needs to drive the editorial need to use data.

Only computers will know what to ask e.g. Wikileaks data. Technical skills and design needed but can be built upon. Not all data is interesting. Need to have a nose for data to learn what will be good for a data driven story. Raw data is just numbers without the design to make it beautiful.

It’s about sharing. Data needs to be made as open as possible! People out there have much better knowledge than journalists sitting in the office. We need to harness that knowledge.

Information is Beautiful – David McCandless

You need to see patterns and connections that matter in the data. That is data journalism. You need to orientate your audience, take them on a journey.

Data is abstract. You need to contextualize to understand what it means. Need to make it relevant. If you make it beautiful/interesting everyone will love it. Looking at graph of most common break up time according to Facebook.

We’re saturated with data. Data is the new soil. Visualizations are the earthy blossoms!

We are saturated by data but if we use the right journalistic inkling we can grow beautiful stories. Our fears visualized using Google Insights. Check it out at http://www.informationisbeautiful.net. Columbine shooting and violent video games co-dependent?

Data as a prism – use it to correct your vision. Can take all the other top ten military budgets and fit it into America’s. But it’s a vastly rich country it can fit in all the other four top economies. So military budget as % of GDP? Myanmar is the biggest. Biggest arny = China. But as % population = North Korea.

The internet is a visualization design medium. we’ve been drenched in it. We’re constantly hunting for patterns in a sea of information. We’ve all been trained by our use of the web. We’re all information curious.

Heather Brooke

“The only way I could get answers to my questions to public bodies was through data”. Police in her local area were not turning up, she wanted to know was it just her. Only way you could tell was through officials logs and not their word.

Once you ask data starts trickling out. But needed around 50 requests! And in the form of a complex spreadsheet. Riven with factual inaccuracies. Data is only as good and usable as the person who gathers/inputs it. The pubic can’t be trusted with the raw data – attitude got from public bodies. Need Freedom of Information Act.

Open data needs to start from the top – MPs expenses. A democratic state has a right to openness. We need true open data.

MPs expenses shifted everyone’s notion of who the government were actually working for. MPs felt their expenses were their data, not ours.

Simon Jefferies

Different structured forms are needed for different data. The structure gives in power. Data within data within context. Very rich stories. A new way of journalism. All users to interrogate data themselves. Information architecture!

You have to be sure your fact is right!

Richard Pope – ScraperWiki

Data is rarely useable for journalists. Data is collected with journalists or the public interest in mind. ScraperWiki wants to make data useable and collaborative.

There’s a blending of skills needed to do datajournalism. We need to democratise these skills to break a story.

These are early days but we can see that journalism is changing. A computer is another tool. When a journalist makes a call it’s not called ‘telephone-assisted-reporting’. It’s not new, we just need to learn to use more and more data. And we need to understand it.

This will not be a specialised area, it will just be reporting! It all comes down to asking the right questions.

Questions being tossed around panel. Will go to twitter and throw them out. Join in.


Comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s