FAQ: 24 questions about data journalism

The latest in the FAQ series is a whopper: a PhD researcher from Iran asks 24 questions about data journalism. I’ve actually only shown 22 below. (Only).

What are the most common definitions of data journalism? What is your definition?

I had a stab at this in the introduction to The Data Journalism Handbook, and Tony Hirst has a good overview of three different ways of defining it.

More recently, here’s a definition from the forthcoming second edition of my Online Journalism Handbook:

“Data journalism is, basically, any journalism that involves structured data. And when everything is online – from government spending and last month’s weather to music sales, fashion gossip, social network connections and sports performances – that basically means the world is your oyster.”

What are the different types of data journalism?

There are all sorts, from short simple pieces that only fill a few paragraphs to longform investigative pieces or interactive tools. It can relate to getting the data, analysing it, telling the story or making that interactive.

My Inverted Pyramid of Data Journalism tries to break those down further.

What is the background of the formation of data journalism?

You’ll find various histories of data journalism (I’ve bookmarked a few useful links here), and all of them have their flaws and blind spots. On the whole for example I think they ignore the role that movements outside journalism have played – particularly civic data movements and those outside the US (this Tow Center report makes a valiant attempt but it is very US-biased). In the UK for example MySociety has played a major role, influencing BBC developers and their Backstage project who in turn influenced Adrian Holovaty in the US.

In 2014 I tried to identify some of the ‘canonical’ examples of data journalism that make up some sort of history, but these things will always be subjective and incomplete.

Many histories start with either Holovaty or the earlier movement of Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) for which Philip Meyer is the major (journalistic) pioneer, but the key thing is that neither was a formal ‘movement’ but rather a method of journalism which sought to identify or describe itself.

Could you please introduce some useful resources about data journalism?

Too many! I bookmark any research I find on the subject at https://pinboard.in/u:paulbradshaw/t:dj+research

Which media and websites use data journalism more than others?

The Guardian is obviously widely known as a large user of data journalism, and the BBC historically has pioneered in some areas (for example the Backstage project mentioned above).

More recently the BBC has become active again with its Interactives team and now a data hub in Birmingham. The FT have strong use of data obviously, The Times have a good digital team, and I have been spending 3 days with trainees at the Telegraph for 4 or 5 years now so that’s around 30-40 journalists there who aren’t specifically .

Buzzfeed are investing in this, recruiting a number of investigative reporters from the Guardian. Outside the nationals Trinity Mirror have a data hub which serves all their publications. And then there’s specialist media and magazines like Health Service Journal – I could go on… and that’s not including the US with sites like FiveThirtyEight etc etc

What were the objectives behind the formation of data journalism?

No one decided to ‘form’ data journalism but I think many people started to practise it because they saw the potential to do more investigative, more factual, and more interactive and engaging reporting for a wider audience. Certainly that’s what appealed to me.

To what extent has data journalism affected the perception of information by the audience?

You’d have to look to the research above to get a good answer on that. Certainly there’s some literature on perception of charts which has implications for data visualisation.

How are data journalism, visual journalism and infographics connected?

There’s a very strong connection between all three. Data journalism often gives you a lot of ‘facts’ and a good way to present that is visually, using infographics or charts and maps. But of course you can do visual journalism without data and vice versa.

How many people are there in data journalism teams around the world?

It varies enormously. The New York Times has a massive team covering data and interactivity etc. Other orgs have one person, or it’s only part of one role, or not at all. It is difficult to say in many cases because the ‘data journalism’ role is often mixed with others such as investigations more broadly, visualisation, interactivity, and so on.

What is the cost of creating such a team?

Like any team, the cost of the wages plus overheads. Specifically developers are often involved and tend to be more expensive than journalists. But you’ll have to ask the employers!

What expertise and experiences are the team members required to have?

Again, this varies enormously. Excel skills are pretty standard but beyond that you might have some teams which require SQL, or R, others that require knowledge of languages like JavaScript, Python, etc, or particular tools.

Some require visual design skills, some don’t. Some programming, some not. Some require newsroom experience, some not. Statistical knowledge and tools, data cleaning might be required, I could go on. And of course an ability to spot stories and think editorially.

Currently, which media have a specialized data journalism team?

I’ve seen them in national newspapers, local newspapers, magazines, broadcast and online only. Basically every medium.

Is there a specific framework or design for data journalism around the world?

No.

What is the average time needed to create data journalism? (considering the urgency of story)

Anything from 1 minute to months. As you say it depends on the urgency.

Who are the well-known designers of data journalism?

David McCandless is well known, as are people like Nathan Yau and Andy Kirk. Caroline Beavon is a former student of mine from the MA in Online Journalism Birmingham City University who does a lot of work for news organisations and nonprofits. If you asked one of those they could probably list far more.

Which countries are leading in this field?

The US has a long history thanks to CAR. The UK has done a lot too thanks to a healthy civic coding movement and the ‘open’ work of the BBC and Guardian with that. There are some impressive projects in South America and in parts of Europe.

But it’s difficult to put one above another given that I’m clearly going to be more aware of the English speaking world.

The best in infographics are selected annually. Will there be a similar procedure for data journalism?

There are data journalism awards already. The GEN awards is just one international one but you also get local ones – for example The Guardian had a category in 2013 for student data interactive journalist of the year. There’s the Online Media Awards too.

Which types of media have used data journalism more successfully?

It’s a difficult question to answer. All types have used it successfully – how you quantify ‘more’ depends on what you consider most important. The BBC’s One in 7 Billion interactive was a massive hit in terms of page views for example; likewise New York Times ‘How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk’. Others have had major impacts on government policy or lots of engagement, which you might argue is more important.

How about the future of data journalism? Is there a positive or negative outlook?

Both, as with everything!

Do agree that the future world is a visual one? Should we expect the development of data journalism or different types of visualization of content?

I agree that visual journalism has already become much more important than it ever was, largely because of the rise of mobile consumption patterns (and data which shows people engage more with visual information) and the ease with which it can be created now.

We’re still in the early days of this realisation so I expect organisations to work out the most effective forms and to make those easier to produce, leading to more standardised visual journalism.

Are there universities in your countries presenting the required knowledge for data journalism?

My own MA in Online Journalism obviously does! Elsewhere at City University the MA in Interactive Journalism includes data journalism, which I used to teach on. Cardiff’s MSc in Computational Journalism also covers this. I’m sure a lot of other courses also have elements of data journalism too.

Are there any academic conferences for data journalism? If there are, would you name some of them?

Lots. This year there’s been the Future of Journalism Conference at Cardiff University; Data Power in Sheffield; and the Data-Psst seminar series (which I’m at right now!).

There are also conferences for practitioners like the NICAR conference in the US, the CIJ conference in the UK and similar events across Europe like Dataharvest in Brussels, the Nordic Data Journalism Conference, Balkan Investigative Journalists Summer School and others.

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2 thoughts on “FAQ: 24 questions about data journalism

  1. Pingback: FAQ: How has working online changed how you write? | Online Journalism Blog

  2. Pingback: 5 great data visualisation pieces outside newsrooms | dinfografia

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