Tag Archives: objectivity

10 principles for data journalism in its second decade

10 principles Data journalism

In 2007 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel published The Elements of Journalism. With the concept of ‘journalism’ increasingly challenged by the fact that anyone could now publish to mass audiences, their principles represented a welcome platform-neutral attempt to articulate exactly how journalism could be untangled from the vehicles that carried it and the audiences it commanded.

In this extract from a forthcoming book chapter* I attempt to use Kovach and Rosenstiel’s principles (outlined in part 1 here) as the basis for a set that might form a basis for (modern) data journalism as it enters its second and third decades.

Principle 1: Data journalists should strive to interrogate data as a power in its own right

When data journalist Jean-Marc Manach set out to find out how many people had died while migrating to Europe he discovered that no EU member state held any data on migrants’ deaths. As one public official put it, dead migrants “aren’t migrating anymore, so why care?

Similarly, when the BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to mental health trusts about their use of face-down restraint, six replied saying they could not say how often any form of restraint was used — despite being statutorily obliged to “document and review every episode of physical restraint which should include a detailed account of the restraint” under the Mental Health Act 1983.

The collection of data, the definitions used, and the ways that data informs decision making, are all exercises of power in their own right. The availability, accuracy and employment should all be particular focuses for data journalism as we see the expansion of smart cities and wearable technology. Continue reading

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FAQ: Does data journalism subvert the norm of objectivity?

Here are another set of questions from a student as part of the FAQ section – the last one is a goodie.

Question 1: Do you think data journalism can reduce the cost of investigative journalism?

Yes. It reduces the cost of collecting information, certainly: scrapers for example can automate the collection and combination of hundreds of documents; other tools can automate cleaning, combining, comparing or checking information. But it also offers opportunities in reducing the cost of distribution (for example automation and personalisation), collaboration, and even visual treatments. Continue reading

FAQ: Online journalism ethics, accuracy, transparency and objectivity

Answers to another set of questions around ethics and online journalism, posed by a UK student, and reproduced here as part of the FAQ series:

Do you believe online journalism presents new ethical dilemmas and should have standards of its own?

Yes, I think any changing situation – whether technological or cultural – presents new ethical dilemmas.

But should ‘online journalism’ have a separate code? I don’t see how it can. Where would you draw the line when most journalists work online? Ethical standards are relatively platform-agnostic, but journalists do have to revisit those when they’re working in new environments. Continue reading

Comment call: Objectivity and impartiality – a newsroom policy for student projects

I’ve been updating a newsroom policy guide for a project some of my students will be working on, with a particular section on objectivity and impartiality. As this has coincided with the debate on fact-checking stirred by the New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, I thought I would reproduce the guidelines here, and invite comments on whether you think it hits the right note:

Objectivity and impartiality: newsroom policy

Objectivity is a method, not an element of style. In other words:

  • Do not write stories that give equal weight to each ‘side’ of an argument if the evidence behind each side of the argument is not equal. Doing so misrepresents the balance of opinions or facts. Your obligation is to those facts, not to the different camps whose claims may be false.
  • Do not simply report the assertions of different camps. As a journalist your responsibility is to check those assertions. If someone misrepresents the facts, do not simply say someone else disagrees, make a statement along the lines of “However, the actual wording of the report…” or “The official statistics do not support her argument” or “Research into X contradict this.” And of course, link to that evidence and keep a copy for yourself (which is where transparency comes in).

Lazy reporting of assertions without evidence is called the ‘View From Nowhere’ – you can read Jay Rosen’s Q&A or the Wikipedia entry, which includes this useful explanation:

“A journalist who strives for objectivity may fail to exclude popular and/or widespread untrue claims and beliefs from the set of true facts. A journalist who has done this has taken The View From Nowhere. This harms the audience by allowing them to draw conclusions from a set of data that includes untrue possiblities. It can create confusion where none would otherwise exist.”

Impartiality is dependent on objectivity. It is not (as subjects of your stories may argue) giving equal coverage to all sides, but rather promising to tell the story based on objective evidence rather than based on your own bias or prejudice. All journalists will have opinions and preconceived ideas of what a story might be, but an impartial journalist is prepared to change those opinions, and change the angle of the story. In the process they might challenge strongly-held biases of the society they report on – but that’s your job.

The concept of objectivity comes from the sciences, and this provides a useful guideline: scientists don’t sit between two camps and repeat assertions without evaluating them. They identify a claim (hypothesis) and gather the evidence behind it – both primary and secondary.

Claims may, however, already be in the public domain and attracting a lot of attention and support. In those situations reporting should be open about the information the journalist does not have. For example:

  • “His office, however, were unable to direct us to the evidence quoted”, or
  • “As the report is yet to be published, it is not possible to evaluate the accuracy of these claims”, or
  • “When pushed, X could not provide any documentation to back up her claims”.

Thoughts?

Magazine editing: social media policies

In the first of three extracts from the 3rd edition of Magazine Editing, published by Routledge, I talk about some basic considerations in drawing up social media policies. If you are aware of any particularly good or bad examples of social media policies in the magazine industry, I’d love to know.

Social media policies

A policy need not be particularly restrictive – the key is that everyone is clear what is acceptable (and in some cases, what is encouraged, or ‘best practice’), as well as what to do in particular situations (such as when they receive abusive or offensive messages).

There are plenty of examples to look at online, including a database of social media policies at socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php – key issues for you as a publication are making all journalists aware of legal risks such as defamation, contempt and copyright (which they might normally otherwise think sub-editors are covering) and professionalism (for example, posting inappropriate images on an account they used for professional purposes).

Also worth considering carefully are the areas of objectivity and impartiality. US publications are a lot more anxious about their journalists being perceived to be anything but completely neutral in all affairs, leading to some policies that would appear draconian to the more opinionated Brits.

Neutrality, however, is different to objectivity (which is rather more complicated but comes down to a process based on facts rather than simply creating an appearance of balance through presenting conflicting beliefs), and well informed opinion is a key feature in most magazines.

You want to allow your writers to play to their strengths and find their natural ‘voice’ on social media platforms (institutional voices do not work well here), while also guarding against ill-considered comments that might be used against the publication.

What other issues should a social media policy cover? And why should a magazine have one?

Magazine Editing – 3rd edition now out (disclosure: I edited it)

Magazine Editing 3rd edition

UPDATE: Readers of this blog can now get a 20% discount off the book by using the code ME1211 when ordering on the Routledge site.

Magazine Editing is one of those books that I’ve used for years in my teaching. Unlike most books in the field, it has a healthy focus on the less glamorous aspects of running magazines, such as managing teams and budgets, editorial strategy, and the significant proportion of the industry – B2B, contract publishing, controlled-circulation, subscription-based – that you don’t see on supermarket shelves.

For the third edition, publishers Routledge approached me to update the book for a multiplatform age. That work is now done – and the new edition is now out.

Although it now has my name on it, the book remains primarily the work of John Morrish, who wrote the first two editions of the book. Editing his work gave me a fresh appreciation of just what a timeless job he has done in identifying the skills needed by magazine editors – as I write in the introduction:

“It is striking how much of the advice in the book is more important than ever. In a period of enormous change it is key to focus on the core skills of magazine editing: clear leadership, effective management, people skills and creative thinking around what exactly it is that your readers are buying into – whether that’s printed on paper, pixels on a screen, or something intangible like a sense of community and belonging.”

So if you can find one of the older editions cheap, you’ll still find it useful.

So what did I add to the new edition of Magazine Editing? It goes without saying that digital magazines (web-only, apps) are now covered. The diversification of revenue models – the increased importance of events, merchandising, data, mobile and apps – is now explored, as well as how online advertising works, and how it differs from traditional advertising. How to use online resources, including web analytics, to better understand your audience and inform your editorial strategy; and how magazine campaigns are changed by the dynamics of the web.

The chapter on leading and managing now includes sections on managing information overload, social bookmarking and social media policies, and there’s a new section on legal guidance on placements and internships. The budgeting sections now include online considerations, and there’s an exploration of the pros and cons of using free or minimal cost third party services against building tools in-house. A passage from the section on ‘Making money online’ is illustrative of the shifts facing the industry:

“Like so much else on the web, it is becoming difficult to see where content ends and commerce begins. The concept of a ‘magazine’ blurs when, online, it can also be a shop, a game, or a tool. It helps to think of how the business model of magazines has traditionally worked: gathering a community of people in the same place (on your pages) where companies can then advertise their products and services. The same principle applies now, but the barriers to selling products and services yourself have been significantly lowered, just as the barriers to publishing content have been significantly lowered for those companies whose advertising used to fund print publishing. Integrity is no less important in this context: users will desert your website if your content is only concerned with selling them your products, just as they will desert if your events are badly organised, your merchandise poor quality, or your service shoddy. Publishers increasingly talk of a ‘brand experience’ of which the content is just one part. In many ways this makes the reader – as they also become a consumer – more powerful, and the advertiser less so. Your insights into what they are talking and reading about may be of increasing interest to those who are searching for new revenue streams.”

The chapter on writing covers considerations in evaluating online sources of information and the debates in online journalism around objectivity versus transparency, and the values of a ‘web-first’ strategy. I also cover online tools for organising diaries and monitoring social media. There’s an exploration of best practice guidelines in writing for the web, and when multimedia is appropriate or preferable.

The chapter on pictures and design now includes advice on dealing with web designers and developers, multiplatform design and branding, sourcing video for the web, copyright and Creative Commons, infographics, and image considerations for online publication. And ‘Managing Production’ covers search engine optimisation, scheduling online production, and online distribution. The penultimate chapter on legal considerations adds data protection, the role of archives in contempt of court, and website terms and conditions.

I end the book with a list of tools that allows the reader to get publishing right now. And aside from the legal developments, the new considerations, roles and stages in the production cycle, this is perhaps the most important change from previous editions: a student reading this book is no longer waiting for their first job in publishing: they should be creating it.

If you have read the book and want to receive updates on developments in the magazine industry, please Like the book’s Facebook page. I’d also welcome any comments on areas you think are well covered – or need to be covered further.

Culture Clash: Journalism’s ideology vs blog culture

CultureClash
If you read the literature on journalism’s professional ideology – or just follow any argument about journalists-versus-the-rest-of-the-world – you’ll notice particular themes recurring.

Like any profession, journalism separates itself from other fields of work through articulating how it is different. Reading Mark Deuze’s book Media Work recently I was struck by how a similar, parallel, ideology is increasingly articulated by bloggers. And I wanted to sketch that out. Continue reading