Data journalism’s commissioning problem

Square peg in a round hole

Data journalism is still a square peg in a round hole when it comes to commissioning. Image by Yoel Ben-Avraham

Peter Yeung has a good point: why is it so difficult to get editors to pay for data journalism?

In a series of tweets we tried to find some answers.

Firstly, commissioning isn’t set up for data journalism. Editors instead try to fit it into established structures for commissioning text-based news and features, with the result that:

a) The pricing doesn’t reflect the work involved; and

b) Any interactivity and visuals become incidental to the process instead of integral.

And yet the value of data journalism has been repeatedly proven, and organisations are spending money on it: just not on commissioning. As Yeung added:

“I find it strange publications invest in data editors and journalists, but not data budgets”

The FT’s Martin Stabe suspected it wasn’t just a data journalism problem:

“This probably extends to lots of digital-only content, not just data journalism.”

A related problem is the lack of standardisation in data journalism: there is no equivalent to the payment by wordcount which print journalists have so long worked by.

Instead, organisations ‘insource‘ data journalism work to internal teams, either data teams or ad hoc teams formed from existing personnel (think the MPs’ expenses or Wikileaks investigations…

…Or they ‘outsource‘ data journalism work to external agencies etc.

This is a problem also highlighted by Alfred Hermida in his research into Canadian data journalism, ‘Finding the Data Unicorn‘: only one job title showed up four times “and that was the general reporter/journalist category.”

That’s our take. What about yours? Why isn’t data journalism properly commissioned? And how do freelance data journalists get work?

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