In a Data-state-of-mind

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

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