This latest post in the FAQ series answers questions posed by a student in Belgium regarding ethics and data journalism.
Q: Do ethical issues in the practice of computational journalism differ from those of “traditional” journalism?
No, I don’t think they do particularly – any more than ethics in journalism differ from ethics in life in general. However, as in journalism versus life, there are areas which attract more attention because they are the places we find the most conflict between different ethical demands.
For example, the tension between public interest and an individual’s right to privacy is a general ethical issue in journalism but which has particular salience in data journalism, when you’re dealing with data which names individuals.
I come upon examples of bad practice in publishing government data on a regular basis, but the Universal Jobmatch tool is an example so bad I just had to write about it. In fact, it’s worse than the old-fashioned data service that preceded it.
“The reporters then did something remarkable. They made a decision to cooperate among all the news organizations and to save first and report later.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. But it was clear that if they didn’t act, critical records of their own country’s history could be lost. The scene was already filling with other reporters eager to grab what stories they could and leave. In contrast, the group was joined by a handful of other like-minded journalists: Anna Babinets of Slidstvo/TV Hromadske; Oleksandr Akymenko, formerly of Forbes; Katya Gorchinska and Vlad Lavrov of the Kyiv Post. Radio Free Europe reporter Natalie Sedletska returned from Prague so she could help, and others came, too.
“… In the tense situation that characterizes Ukraine, conspiracies form quickly. To demonstrate their transparency, the organizers quickly moved to get documents up. By early Tuesday, nearly 400 documents, a fraction of the estimated 20,000 to 50,000 documents, had been posted. Dozens more are being added by the hour.”
How can data journalists make sense of such quantities of data and filter out what’s meaningful?
In the same way they always have. Journalists’ role has always been to make choices about which information to prioritise, what extra information they need, and what information to include in the story they communicate. Continue reading →