Heads or tails: The two sides to using anonymous sources

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The coin flip between uncovering the truth and losing credibility by using an anonymous source can be risky. Source: Nate St. Pierre (http://natestpierre.me/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/flippingCoin.jpg)

When you flip a coin, you have two possibilities: head or tails. The same can be said for using anonymous sources – you either win or you lose, based on your ethics.

Ethical conundrums in journalism is a tale as old as time. The world is sometimes evil and as a journalist, you are in a position to uncover that evil. However, such information might come from an anonymous source every once in a while. Anonymous sources can be extremely useful when reporting a controversial story, but it can also be the journalist’s downfall if the information is untrue.

The relationship between journalists and their unnamed sources can be messy. There are many hurdles to jump before publishing information provided by a masked figure: a journalist should investigate the source’s intentions, whether they are trying to blow the whistle on injustice or cause malice. Their reason for their anonymity should always be justifiable. The information they provide might be extremely far-fetched and it would then fall on the journalist to further investigate the claims. It is thus of vital importance that a journalist stand firmly behind the ethical line they, or the publication they work for, has drawn. This is where a journalist must abide to introspection and flip the coin of ethics.

As a journalist, you can decide whether to subscribe to the practice of using anonymous sources by taking an ethical point of view. A utilitarian approach would compel you to adhere to summum bonum  – a Latin phase meaning ‘the greatest good.’ Whatever you publish, you do so in public interest, whereby your information would ‘do the greatest good’ by informing the public of wrongdoings, injustice, etc. The consequences of doing so would then be calculated based on the outcome of the decision. The sole objective of publishing an anonymous source would then be the ‘greatness’ of the outcome. However, Deborah Potter states in The Handbook of Independent Journalism (2006: 57) that unlike doctors, journalists are not expected to promise to do no harm. It is thus up to the journalist to implement the ethical decision of utilitarianism to publish a story with an anonymous source to ensure that ‘the greater good’ is fulfilled towards not only the public, but the source as well.

Okay, go!

Using an anonymous source can be more easily justified if you publish in the name of public interest. The Society of Professional Journalists (SJP) mentions in an article on anonymous sources that “Anonymous sources are sometimes the only key to unlocking that big story, throwing back the curtain on corruption, fulfilling the journalistic missions of watchdog on the government and informant to the citizens. But sometimes, anonymous sources are the road to the ethical swamp.” Sometimes, they only way to uncover a scandal is by using a covered source. Practice summum bonum and you will likely publish the story with an anonymous source if you know it will benefit the public. However, with this being said, the public has the right to know as much about a story as they can and should thus be taken into consideration before promising anonymity to a source.

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A utilitarian approach allows the journalist to ask whether using an anonymous source will harm the public or contribute to ‘the greater good’. Source: Emma Grey Ellis (https://www.wired.com)

Protecting your source should be a priority. The Press Code states “the protection of sources is a basic principle in a democratic and free society.” Sometimes a source’s life could be in danger and needs to retain anonymity to ensure no harm is done to them. This is quite a feasible reason to keep a source anonymous and as a journalist you are responsible for informing your readers of such a situation.

The road not taken

Anonymous sources should be avoided if it creates a single-story narrative. According to the Press Code, an anonymous source can and should only be used when the journalist is able to corroborate the statements made/information given. In doing so, the journalist will avoid a single-story and possibly breaching the Press Code. In 2009, The Times was accused of using an anonymous source ‘recklessly’ when publishing an article pertaining to a lunchtime conversation between former presidency director general Frank Chikane and former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin at an ANC elective conference back in 2007. They were said to have been discussing Thabo Mbeki’s choice to either take himself out of running for the presidency or ‘face of open hostility by supporters of Jacob Zuma.’ This information was provided by an anonymous source, which Times Editor Ray Hartley felt to be trustworthy. The Press Ombudsman rejected the misrepresentation of the conversation as no other parties that attended the conference were asked for their opinion. If there is no other person willing to give information substantiating the anonymous source’s claims, be weary to publish.

You should also keep your credibility in mind before you publish. Deborah Potter writes in The Handbook of Independent Journalism (2006: 54) that “The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness, and objectivity.” Using anonymous sources degrades your credibility, however big or small, because the public want a name with information. If you are writing a story with your only source of information being anonymous, you’ll most likely lose the trust of your readers. Take care when sourcing information, and make sure you have other credible sources backing the anonymous one.

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Always cross-check information anonymous sources provide. Their intentions might not be as pure as you’d like to believe. Source: https://blogs.spjnetwork.org/kunkel/

Some journalist’s live for every ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ their article generates. How do they keep things interesting? Sensationalize every story. Unfortunately for them, using anonymous sources to sensationalize your story will not work in today’s age with other journalists or the public calling ‘fake news’ on dodgy information.

When using anonymous sources, you flip a coin: you set the record straight, uncover the truth and expose injustice, corruption etc., or you fall into a trap of incredibility. The only way to truly justify the use is to back your choice up with ethical principles you and/or your publication adhere to. Then and only then can you ask yourself: heads or tails?

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An anonymous source worth revealing. Source: MemeMan https://www.pinterest.co.uk/lipscombspj/journalism-memes/

(Words/ 1003)

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The Infertile Food System of Cape Town

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The children of underprivileged communities in Cape Town suffer most from food insecurity and lack of nutritious meals. Source: https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/news/sa-children-hardest-hit-by-poverty-2092671

The City of Cape Town, South Africa is like a sweet-n-sour chicken bowl: sweet views and nutritious meals for some, sour living standards and food-insecurity for others. Various communities within the city are facing extreme poverty, undernourishment and lack of basic resources while others are hooked on refined and processed foods due to fast-food chains planting itself firmly in society. Either way, the food system of Cape Town is seriously lacking in health and heartiness.

There are more than a few food-related challenges Cape Town faces, varying in scale, community, income bracket and natural causes. Cape Town is comprises of large informal communities who lack resources, service delivery and income to produce their own food. Recent reports show many such communities rely on cheap processed food such as maize meal that provides minuet nutritional value. The Food Dialogues report states an important reason why fast food brands, selling processed, refined products which can barely pass as food, is so popular amongst people: it is the face of international culture. Fast Food chains like McDonalds stand as a modern sign of wealth and globalisation. Furthermore, gardening is on the verge of becoming a crime in the Mother City: the draught and low-level dam levels discourage small-scale agriculture as people need to prepare to live on only 79kl of water a day.

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Community gardens are viable projects that could promote not only food security, but healthy living. Source: http://www.capetownpartnership.co.za/2014/06/green-ngos-leading-the-way/

We see food as our culture. It is strange for the Afrikaner people to set aside their braaied steak for broccoli, or the Xhosa community to embrace more vegetables and less starch. This is where a journalist can seize the opportunity to write from an educational point of view: expose the community to what they are eating, how it is lacking in nutritional value and what would be better to eat to sustain a healthy diet. A journalist has a powerful voice within the community and should be utilized to improve the lives of citizens by reporting on issues such as the whack food system of Cape Town. Journalists can also hold the government accountable for their lack of a national food policy that diminishes food security and further deteriorates the youth that are supposedly the future of our country, but many of them go hungry every day.

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Volunteers hard at work at the Oranjezicht City Farm, a community farm set on sharing nutritious food with all in need. Source: http://www.capetowncityguide.co.za/oranjezicht-city-farm/
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The Powerline Project, also known as SCAGA (Siyazama Community Allotment Garden Association ) is located in Nyanga and is “the leading micro-urban agriculture model in Cape Town.” Source: http://abalimi.org.za/

Recently, urban agriculture has become a trend among many in the city who have created community gardens in Nyanga and Oranjezicht where people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, gown with love for all to share. Such initiatives must be supported by journalists who have the power to communicate the importance of such gardens to the city.

Journalists can fertilize the soil by reporting, exposing and suggesting what needs to be done in order for all Capetownians to eat well.

 

‘Bad Blood’ Boiled Down To a Masterpiece

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In the month of November, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko walked into a hotel to have a drink with two fellow Russians. They ordered drinks, he ordered radioactive tea. More than two weeks later, his heart stopped. The puzzling and tragic death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko made headlines around the world and six years after, the renowned investigative journalist William Storr takes the reader on a fantastical literary journey from which they may never return: the life and poisonous times of Alexander Litvinenko.

The story Storr aims to tell is one of empathy. His intricate storytelling achieves the impossible: he makes the reader care. Storr sets the reader up to develop empathy for Litvinenko, his life, his work, his wife, and his ultimate tragic death. Although the details surrounding Litvinenko’s death is murky, his life journey is not. Storr shows the reader how Litvinenko lived as a young man, joining the army at seventeen and later becoming part of the KGB. However, Litvinenko soon realised he distrusted the Russian government as it became a warped, corrupt organisation where individual interest were served. Litvinenko became a known dissident and whistle-blower, choosing to stand against certain decisions made by government organisations. Ultimately, many believed he was poisoned to be silenced. Storr takes the reader even further by laying out the labyrinthine surrounding Litvinenko’s death, and the lethal poison used to ensure it. After Litvinenko became violently sick and was hospitalised, Polonium-210 was found in his bloodstream, turning his blood ‘bad’ and causing him to die an agonising death.

Storr turned a mysterious and tragic case into a fantastic piece of literature. He kept the story human, and brought the reader to the experiences of Litvinenko – the outward struggle he felt between justice and patriotism, and the inward struggle he went through as poison tore his body apart. The in-depth research Storr did and the people he spoke with gave the article a much-needed soft side, balancing fact with emotion. The combination of journalism and storytelling is clearly visible and makes for an engaging and thought-provoking piece that will definitely stay with readers.

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Will Storr is an award-winning investigative journalist and lietrary magican.

Hell hath no fury like a god scorned

I have fond memories of growing up with a wild imagination. Daydreams of clouds, castles and talking animals were my friends and marveled in the glow of the silly, impractical and odd stories I would come up with. Add about 10 years to those daydreams and stories, and here I am, a 20-something writer with an unencumbered taste for imaginative stories and surreal beliefs that television could come close to depicting the magic of words and imagination. Luckily, American Gods has not disappointed me.

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Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) make an unlikely duo

Based on the brilliant and eerily foreseeing novel by Neil Gaiman of the same name, Starz’s American Gods is a TV series that depicts the complex relationship between people and what they choose to believe in, in an extremely violent, sexual and satirical manner that translates into stunning imagery and impactful critique on the world.

The show visualizes the impending war between the world’s old gods and the new, showcasing their different ideologies and following the character Shadow Moon as he gets caught in-between the gods. The show’s creators, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, encapsulates the novel’s visual dreamland of historical and modern day deities perfectly, and brings the novel, which was written in 2001, to today by tweaking certain characters and their mannerisms. It seems to be an almost seamless transition from novel to script.

The show places emphasis on a lot of controversial topics, such as the destruction of religion, homosexuality, racism and cultural shocks. Each scene dealing with these issues was expertly shot by veteran director David Slade, and had a fantasy and satirical approach to heavy topics. That, I believe, is one of the many successes of the show.

Let’s delve deeper into the story line. American Gods follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-convict recently released, as he makes his way home after finding out his beloved wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning), passed in a car accident. On his way home to Indiana, he meets a man, his first words to Shadow being: “This must be your lucky day, huh?” Upon engaging with him, he introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday (played by the incredible Ian McShane), his personality as odd as his name. He offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard, and soon the pair becomes entangled in the bizarre world of the gods.

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“This must be your lucky day, huh?” Ian McShane shines as the scorned god Mr. Wednesday

Throughout the series, the audience meets seemingly average people, who are in fact old-world deities living as ordinary citizens in modern America. What I found interesting is how they are all portrayed as powerless individuals living in a world where they have become mere myths, and how they seek to either regain power, or cause general chaos. (I had to read up on each of the gods as I had no idea who they were, which just shows one of the points the series tries to make.)

Bilqius, the Queen of Sheba, is a seductive, beautiful woman who indulges in sexual pleasures with men and women, and swallows them whole through her genitals to gain power and restore her greatness as it once was. Interestingly enough, she uses the power of social media to find partners though dating apps. Anansi, also known as Mr. Nancy, is a stylish, retro jazz man who is also a spider, who comes to the aid of slavers on a Dutch ship, and delivers one of the best speeches on the injustice of black men and women over 300 years I have ever heard. (Emmy-nomination, anyone?) He still keeps it light though, as he is a god who likes to make fun of people for their stupidity, by biding the black slavers to take swimming lessons, adding “this is how we get stereotypes.” Mad Sweeney, a king from Irish folklore, is a red-haired happy-go-lucky guy who refers to himself as a ‘leprechaun’, perhaps to indicate how the world sees Irishmen: foul-mouthed, frequent drinkers, small and rich in gold. The most controversial of spiritual deities is Ifrit, a variation of a dijjn, with pre-Islamic Middle Eastern roots. He engages in a passionate homosexual love scene with an Omani-salesman. Like I said before, this show tackles A LOT of topics.

The audience will also get to meet the new gods of the world. Techno Boy (Bruce Langley), embodies the young millennial: he vapes, wears odd fashions and curses repeatedly. He represents people’s obsession with technology, and how the smartphone has become the new bible. In a conversation with Shadow, Techno Boy states the hard truth of today’s world: technology has taken over.  “..We have reprogrammed reality. Language is a virus, religion an operation system and prayer is just so much f*cking spam.” Media (Gillian Anderson) comes to shadow in the form of Lucy Ricardo, a fictional character from the television show ‘I Love Lucy’, and explains to Shadow how she came to become a god. “…The screens the altar, and I’m the one they sacrifice to, golden age to golden age. They sit side by side, ignore each other and give it up to me. Time and attention, better than lamb’s blood.”

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Techno Boy (Bruce Langley) is the youngest, most powerful god with a vape and cornrows

Technology and media have become the religion of the new world, while old ones are forgotten. Being able to hear, see and touch these new gods is what drives people to believe in them – technology is inviting and media is so accessible, it’s easy to consider the old gods, well, old. As man progresses, so does his god. What people want, what they need and what they find comfort in has changed, and it is much more rewarding to be retweeted or liked on social media than to have a conversation with a god today. The show calls out the entire world on their bull, and I absolutely love it.

The show has only aired three episodes, and many old and new gods are still to come. Based on the novel, the story will show the development of each character, particularly that of Shadow, and the dark secrets Mr. Wednesday hides. I am giddy with excitement to watch the plot thicken even more and watch the battle of the gods unfold.

The themes American Gods showcase are relevant if not super important. It shows how people need to believe in something in order to thrive, whether it be a god, religion, or even love. The acting is absolutely brilliant and the director, David Slade, must be a mad genius, for he has pulled off some hardcore scenes and made the whole show, which is based on myth and fantasy, believable.

I think what is the most shocking and most truthful part of the show is the opening credits. It shows colorful images of old religious icons being violated by the new icons of today that people worship, such as the Buddha, surrounded by drugs, and the Hindu god Ganesha on a platform of weapons. The haunting images provoke morbid feelings of irony and a sad truth that encapsulates the point of the show: the deterioration of religion from the past, and the worship of new, seemingly better, icons of today. Whether American Gods shows progress, destruction or sheer fantasy, each individual takes something different from it. If you’re not inclined to do that, merely enjoy an imaginative, surreal and surprisingly spot-on show depicting the idiocy of the world. I personally  marvel at the irony.

 

New age Journo students: Blogging their way forward

The modern day journalism student must have various skills, attributes and tools in their arsenal in order to become a successful journalist.  One of the most important tools is an effective blog.

The key to developing your writing skills and adding your unique voice to a sea of others is to establish your ‘brand’ and niche on an interesting, informative and unique blog. Blogging is the best platform for journo students looking to explore their views, develop researching abilities and get a feel of what the rest of the journalism world is up to. With a blog, you are able to share your informed opinions and views in a space where other bloggers can read and comment on your writing, enabling you to improve in areas you didn’t know you were lacking. Blogging also helps build your portfolio. These days, every news agency wants to see what you’ve written, and what better way to showcase your skills than on your blog? Journalists are their work, and blogging is a super effective way to sell your unique writing and persona.

Journalism students who are looking to go far in the field need to start blogging – it’s the best thing you can do for your career!

As a student journalist, I know how important it is to build your brand and create a unique opinion that will attract the right people. On that note, here is an introduction to my blog, myself and what I would like to accomplish with FreshMind365.

Student Foodie Fuel On Roeland

The East precinct of Cape Town, South Africa consists of many amazing streets, each offering a mix of culture, great food and interesting heritage. One of these streets is Roeland Street, tucked neatly under the splendid view of Table Mountain.

Walking down the street, you realize that it is home to two colleges – at the top of the street is the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where students studying photography, journalism and public relations attend classes. At the bottom of the street is City Varsity, a private institute that caters to students studying photography, graphic design, film, art and sound.

Roeland Street is always bustling with students in search of relaxation and the most important element of any day, food. For a student, especially a budgeting one, it can be hard to find places with affordable, yet nutritious and delicious food. That is why I, a student myself, decided to visit each and every restaurant or café that Roeland Street has to offer. After looking at their prices, sourcing some of their food and getting a feel of the vibe of the place, I listed the best restaurants and cafes for the Student Foodie on a budget in Roeland Street:

Design Garage

Established in 2015, the Design Garage doubles as an art shop and coffee pit-stop. It was founded by students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and boasts with a variety of arts and an impressive coffee selection. Their coffee starts at R15 and with the artsy vibe and great services it provides, what’s not to love? Tamlyn Christians, a journalism student from CPUT, enjoys the comfort of the shop. “It’s right next to my class, so it’s easy to pop in for a quick hot chocolate – they make the best ones. It’s also a great place to hang out before or after class.”

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The entrance to the Design Garage off Roeland Street
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Tamlyn Christians enjoying her famously favorite hot chocolate from the Design Garage

Food Lovers Market/Fruit and Veg City

This franchise food store offers a wide variety of food – it houses a bakery, grill shack, fruit stand and other convenient foods. The outside of the building has a dated feel, but the store itself looks appealing and welcoming. Tried and tested recommendations are their freshly made pizza, fruit salad and muffins. Foodies and students should definitely make a stop here, as it serves really great food at reasonable prices. It’s the all-in-one stop for a hungry, budgeting student.

Vida e Café

Vida is a popular franchise café found around South Africa. They have a wide variety of coffee available, as well as delicious teas and smoothies. Their food menu includes yummy-looking sandwiches, croissants and bagels. Having personally tried their muffins, they come highly recommended. Jarita Kritzinger, a trained chef from Cape Town, enjoys the vibe of Vida. “I personally love the music they play, and I always feel amped to buy from them. What I also love is that they offer a ‘babychino’, which is like a cappuccino for babies – it’s made with milk froth and hot chocolate, and it’s adorable.” The café itself has an awesome vibe, and with friendly staff blasting groovy tunes you can’t help but feel transported to a tropical paradise, coffee and muffin in hand.

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Patrons enjoying coffee at the Vida cafe

The Raptor Room

This quirky restaurant is a hipster’s paradise. Although an average meal would cost more than the average prices, an ice cream float is the ideal student fuel. The staff is really friendly and the overall feel is hip and retro. Caylen Barendilla, a photography student from City Varisity, loves going to the Raptor Room. “It feels like it belongs in Jurassic Park, it’s awesome.”

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The pink neon sign of The Raptor Room is unmissable from the street
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The Raptor Room offers a variety of retro-inspired eats and drinks

East City Eatery

The East City Eatery is a great place to relax and unwind after a hard day at collage. They offer yummy-looking sandwiches and hot-dogs at reasonable prices, as well as a great breakfast special, and gluten-free pizza. It has a cosy, modern feel to it and seems to be a great place to relax with friends after a hard day at collage.

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The view of the East City Eatery from the street
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The East City Eatery has a laid-back vibe and is a great place for socialising

Franchise 9

On the corner of the street, this restaurant sells Chinese cuisine at affordable prices. They have great specials on sushi and other foods. It is a good place to spend your afternoon studying, taking advantage of their free WiFi and enjoying an affordable meal.

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Franchise 9 is located on the corner of Roeland and Buitekant Street

Grabbing a bite on Roeland has never been easier, or more affordable. Whatever your budget, and whatever your fancy, Roeland Street’s got what you’re looking for.

Whenever you find yourself in Cape Town, head over to Roeland Street for affordable meals that foodies, students on a budget and travellers alike will approve of.

In a Data-state-of-mind

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An open mind leads to a Data-state-of-mind. Source: http://siliconangle.com/files/2014/12/Open-Your-Mind-to-All-The-Data-1080×675.jpg

The human mind is a beautiful thing. Every day, we are able to analyse and process a huge amount of data. As modern-day technology and the digital world evolved, so did journalism – hence “data-driven journalism”.

Data-what?

Data-driven journalism is traditional journalism working with data to produce a story. It combines three aspects – sourcing data, using statistics to interrogate this data, and then presenting the data. Data-journos can quickly access a range of digital tools to collect, edit and publish data on all platforms.  Data of all kinds can be used in reporting – statistics, spread sheets, records, documents, even algorithms and programming. The goal of using data in reporting is to add important perspective to stories, back up claims, verify facts and make connections between various sources of information to best inform the public.

A practical example of data journalism would be:  An American newspaper, The Las Vegas Sun, did a piece in 2010 on hospital care in Las Vegas. They analysed over 2.9 million hospital billing records, and revealed that more than 3600 preventable injuries, infections and surgical mistakes were made. They then identified more than 300 cases where patients died because of preventable mistakes. Adding data to a story not only enhances it, but has the power to add more perspective to your story. You are interpreting data and discovering a story that you wouldn’t have found otherwise. A one-dimensional story can thus be taken to another level with data sources.

The demand of technological data-journos is increasing in the industry. Their skill to think more analytical and reach a wider variety of audiences is now more sought after then ever, especially those who are equipped with digital skills. Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, believes that data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data-savvy, and although sourcing stories used to be just about talking to people, journalists can now take a different approach. They can pour over data and equip themselves with tools to analyse what’s needed for the story. Chris Taggart, from OpenCorporates, is of the opinion that good data journalism is hard, because good journalism is hard! It is important to figure out how to get and process data to find the story. If it was about just pressing the right button, it wouldn’t be good journalism. Our lives are increasingly becoming more data driven – journalists should too.

So should the next generation of journos be studying maths?

No! There’s no need to add maths to the journo equation – all a  journo needs is keen insights and training to develop the skills required to become a good data journalist. Journalists should see data as an opportunity – they have the power to turn something abstract (like data) into something your audience can understand. You don’t need to be a math genius or scientific hero to practice data-driven journalism. Equip your beautiful mind with the right tools, and you will be fast on your way to entering a data-state-of-mind.

For more information on modern data-driven journalism, watch The Age of Insight: Telling Stories with Data