Category Archives: data journalism

A journalist’s introduction to network analysis

David Cameron's network

Channel 4’s Who Knows Who project was an early adopter of network analysis

Network analysis offers enormous potential for journalism: able to tease out controversial connections and curious clusters, and to make visible that which we could not otherwise see, it’s also often about relationships and power.

It is both a data journalism technique and an open source intelligence (OSINT) technique — and yet it is relatively underused in both, most likely because the tools to do network analysis have only become accessible in the last few years.

Here, then, is an introduction for journalists, adapted from my lectures on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University.

How network analysis is used in journalism

Network analysis is, simply, a way of making relationships between entities visible.

It might be used in journalism to generate or check leads (by showing unusual patterns), to communicate the story itself (i.e. to show those patterns to others) or to allow readers to explore a system. Continue reading

Coronavirus: 3 ways journalists need to get to grips with uncertainty during the pandemic

R number ranges in different UK regions

R number ranges shown by the FT

Journalism doesn’t like uncertainty: editors are trained to cut out vagueness and journalists taught to be as concrete as possible in their reporting. In most cases it compels reporters to ensure they have a firm grip on the details and are confident in the story they are reporting.

But with coronavirus, this discipline becomes a systemic blind spot.

From prevalence to testing, and from deaths to infection rates, the story of this pandemic is full of uncertainty. Here, then, are 3 ways that journalists need to understand — and better communicate — the things that we don’t know, and won’t know, about it. Continue reading

How to brainstorm COVID-19 data story ideas

Reporting beyond the case numbers: How to brainstorm COVID-19 data story ideas

I’ve written a piece for DataJournalism.com on covering the societal impact of a pandemic with data — it covers:

  • Stories to report in the short term
  • Moving beyond health stories
  • Looking for stories about changing behaviour
  • Thinking creatively about data
  • Stories from historical data
  • Interactivity as a data angle
  • Looking and planning ahead

It’s not all about numbers: 6 ways that data can give you a story lead

Changing figures: 'New data says X' Data leads to an interview feature or profile Data leads to reaction/action story Explainers, infographics + 'in numbers': topical context Explorers: interactives, 'mapped', 'you draw it' A story about the lack of data, or concerns over quality

It’s a common misconception of data journalism that the resulting stories will be all about numbers. In fact, the data is often just a stepping stone — it might take you to interviews, or help you find case studies; it might give you the spark for a feature idea without a single number.

Recently I was asked about these alternatives to ‘number stories’ by one of my part time PGCert Data Journalism students — so here are the 6 tips I shared with them:
Continue reading

How to: plan a journalism project that needs data entry

Panorama source: FOI sent to 144 councils

This Panorama investigation involved entering data from 144 FOI responses

Data-driven reporting regularly involves some form of data entry — some of the stories I’ve been involved with, for example, have included entering information from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, compiling data from documents such as companies’ accounts, or working with partners to collect information from a range of sources.

But you’ll rarely hear the challenges of managing these projects discussed in resources on data journalism.

Last week I delivered a session on exactly those challenges to a factchecking team in Albania, so I thought it might be useful to share the tips from that session here.

They include some steps to take to reduce the likelihood of problems arising, while also helping to ensure a data entry project takes as little time as possible. Continue reading

Sigma Awards: new data journalism competition launched

Sigma awards

Data journalists are being invited to enter a new data journalism award, launched to “celebrate the best data journalism around the world [and] to empower, elevate and enlighten the global community of data journalists.”

The Sigma Awards were created by Aron Pilhofer and Reginald Chua, with support from Marianne Bouchart and Google’s Simon Rogers. Bouchart managed the Data Journalism Awards organised by the Global Editors Network, which closed last year.

There are nine awards across six categories:

  • Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
  • Best visualisation (small and large newsrooms)
  • Innovation (small and large newsrooms)
  • Young journalist
  • Open data; and
  • Best news application

Aside from a trophy, up to two people from each winning project will receive an all-expenses-covered trip to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia on 1–5 April 2020 where the awards will be celebrated.

The organisers hope that winners will “participate in and lead data journalism panels, discussions and workshops” at the festival.

Entries to the competition are open until 3 February 2020 at 11:59 pm ET via an online form.

FAQ: How can journalism lecturers keep up with a fast-changing industry?

Abigail Edge teaching at BCU

Abigail Edge teaches a guest workshop on advanced Google tools in BCU’s newsroom

The latest frequently asked questions post is an answer to Ian Silvera who asks a number of questions about teaching journalism within the context a fast-changing industry. You can read his post here.

How do you think journalism lecturers should keep up with the fast-changing industry?

Following the industry press is pretty essential for anyone teaching in the field. Sites like Journalism.co.uk and Niemanlab are especially good at covering developments, but there’s also InPublishing and HoldtheFrontPage who cover it more broadly including new technologies and issues. And tons of email newsletters.

It’s easier than ever to follow individuals inside the industry, too – on Twitter as well as professional blogs, Medium.com and anywhere else. I maintain Twitter lists of people reporting in particular fields or in particular roles, for example, and generate Nuzzel newsletters for those lists so I’m up to date with what they’re sharing. Continue reading

How to search for information in data black holes: Barbara Maseda and the Inventario project

Barbara Maseda

Image from Knight Center

Ahead of a Global Investigative Journalism Conference panel on reporting in countries without press freedom, Liana Bravo spoke to Cuban data journalist Barbara Maseda about launching a data portal for journalists in an environment where no official data is published.

Bárbara Maseda has dedicated the last four years to publishing data where none exists. “In Cuba we use investigative journalism tools to search for information that elsewhere in the world would be in a press release,” she says. Other journalists’ data problems, such as receiving data in formats that are difficult to analyse, “are my highest aspirations”.

In 2018 she created Inventario’, an open data project for Cuba. “In Cuba data is treated as confidential information. The government does not give data — or when it does, they are not disaggregated,” she says. Continue reading

FAQ: Books to read in preparation for doing a data journalism course

This is what you’ll look like after reading all of these books… (“Study of a Man Reading” by Alphonse Legros)

This latest in the frequently asked questions series is an answer to an aspiring data journalism student who asks “Would you be able to direct me to any resources or text books that might help [prepare]?” Here are some recommendations I give to students on my MA in Data Journalism

Books on data journalism as a profession

Data journalism isn’t just the application of a practical skill, but a profession with a culture, a history, and non-technical practices.

For that reason probably the first thing to recommend is not a book, but just general reading (and listening and watching) as much data journalism, and journalism generally, as possible. These mailing lists (and these) are a good start, and following data journalists on Twitter, and the hashtag #ddj, will expose you to the debates taking place in the industry. Continue reading

When you get data in sentences: how to use a spreadsheet to extract numbers from phrases

Unduly lenient sentences review scheme inadequate

This BBC story involved converting phrases into numbers that could be used in calculations

Earlier this month the BBC Data Unit published a story on unduly lenient sentences which involved working with data that was trapped in phrases.

We needed to be able to take a collection of words such as “11 years and 5 months’ imprisonment” and convert that into something that could be used in spreadsheet calculations (specifically, comparing the lengths of time represented by two different phrases).

It’s a problem you come across every so often as a journalist — especially with FOI requests — so in this post — taken from the book Finding Stories in Spreadsheets — I’ll explain how to do that. Continue reading