Data Journalism, the essential spanner in a journalists toolkit.

1524024221_2c719afee2_z.jpgThe new hype term in the journalism industry is ‘data journalism’. It is about way more than just analyzing or visualizing data rather it is about using data as a tool to enhance the story telling of worldly events. The ability to interpret and analyse data has become an essential part of the journalistic practice. Journalism or the ‘reporting’ aspect of journalism has taken new shapes and forms and the use of data in telling the story has become an integral part of good reporting.

“Data journalism is another way to scrutinize the world and hold the powers that be to account. With increasing amount of data available, now more than ever it is important that journalists are aware of data journalism techniques.”

Data journalism is a new skill set for journalists to have. It involves the ‘understanding and visualising of digital sources.

This is particularly useful when traditional journalism practices simply are not enough to rely on. In no way is data journalism replacing the traditional practices, rather the use of data acts to enhancement to these traditional practices.

“Becoming knowledgeable in searching, cleaning, and visualizing data is transformative for the profession of information gathering, too. Journalists who master this will experience that building articles on facts and insights is a relief.”

Data can be used to pin point areas of interest, outlying information and terrainial facts which all contribute to a story, it is important to note however that the practice is not about just reporting the facts but also about reporting and explaining what the different data means. The use of data allows the user to tell more enhanced stories using the digital trail left behind from sets of information. These can be cloud stored and disseminated with greater ease of access. Ranging from companies coming up with new metrics to analyse their performance to politicians bragging about the increase in the GDP, the insight of journalists in using and analysing data has re-established the critical sense of the journalist. It allows the journalist to perform efficiently in their job as storyteller and public informer as it increases their skill to qualify and quantify truth in relation to information. The knowledge and use of data and data analysing is a skill every journalist ought to be proficient in.

A fabulous example of data journalism is in Jonathan Stray and Julian Burgess’ work on Iraq War Logs. This work encapsulates the very essences of text analysis and visualisation using experimental techniques and algorithms. The approach to the works, its visualisation as well as in-textual analytical interpretation are ac for an experimental work.

The primary premise of the work is to present all the findings of all logs and group them accourding to key words of interest. This prevents the writer having to search and read all files with a preconceived notion of what they would like find/ what ought to be found but rather reviews information output by calculating and visualising keywords and topics of relevance to the writer and their audience.

Admittedly working with data at first can be quite a daunting task. It needs commitment and a basic understanding if coding skills to be able to work with confusing sets of raw data. Once the skill is acclimatised though data use in writing becomes and indispensable part of the story telling process. It becomes a rare art form which deserves recognition for its ability to change so many parts of the media. Using data journalism a new form of media communication arises: the audience is confronted with the completed analysed and visualised data so that they may be able to form their own opinion. They are given the tools to understand the story process and other outlying but relevant vectors contributed to an event happening. Data journalism is a critical and key part of the journalistic process and a tool which every new journalist should employ in their writing.

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