The following is an unedited version of an article written for the International Press Institute report ‘Brave News Worlds (PDF)‘
For the past two centuries journalists have dealt in the currency of information: we transmuted base metals into narrative gold. But information is changing.
At first, the base metals were eye witness accounts, and interviews. Later we learned to melt down official reports, research papers, and balance sheets. And most recently our alloys have been diluted by statements and press releases.
But now journalists are having to get to grips with a new type of information: data. And this is a very rich seam indeed.
Data: what, how and why
Data is a broad term so I should define it here: I am not talking here about statistics or numbers in general, because those are nothing new to journalists. When I talk about data I mean information that can be processed by computers.
This is a crucial distinction: it is one thing for a journalist to look at a balance sheet on paper; it is quite another to be able to dig through those figures on a spreadsheet, or to write a programming script to analyse that data, and match it to other sources of information. We can also more easily analyse new types of data, such as live data, large amounts of text, user behaviour patterns, and network connections.
And that, for me, is hugely important. Indeed, it is potentially transformational. Adding computer processing power to our journalistic arsenal allows us to do more, faster, more accurately, and with others. All of which opens up new opportunities – and new dangers. Things are going to change. Continue reading