In this edited extract from the forthcoming third edition of the Online Journalism Handbook I look at how a ‘triangulation’ approach to sourcing can help broaden story research and improve reporting.
Two centuries ago journalists were called reporters because they drew their information from official reports — documents.
Then in the late 19th century a new source became part of journalistic practice: people, as interviews and eyewitness accounts were added to news articles.
The late 20th century saw reporting undergo another expansion in sourcing, as digital data was added to the journalist’s toolkit.
Although reports had included tables and other sources of data, the properties of digital data — filterable, sortable and searchable — have been significant, and make data a qualitatively different type of source.
How documents, people and data all lead to each other
Considering sourcing along those three dimensions — people, documents, and data — can be particularly useful when planning sourcing.
In the summer of last year ProPublica published a major investigation into air pollution in Florida, and its connection to the sugar industry. The story itself, Black Snow, is an inspiring example of scrollytelling — but equally instructive is the methodology article which accompanies it, responding to criticisms from the sugar industry.
Not only does it demonstrate how to respond when large organisations attack a piece of journalism — it also provides a great lesson on the tactics that are adopted by organisations when attacking data-driven stories.
In this post I want to break down the three most common attack tactics, how ProPublica deal with two of those, and how to use the same tactics during planning to ensure your project design isn’t flawed.
The article explains what APIs are and how they differ from other data sources; the basic principles of how they work and how they can be used for stories; some of the jargon to expect — and where to find them. Read the article here.