Journalism schools are known for producing writers. They’re known for different types of narratives. They are not necessarily lauded for producing math or computer science majors. That has to change.
I didn’t see participants wringing their hands and worrying about the future of journalism. They’re too busy building it.
The event is well-summarized by another conference attendee, Anthony DeBarros, senior database editor at USA Today:
The conference is a place where news nerds can gather and remind themselves that they’re not alone in their love of numbers, data analysis, writing code and finding great stories by poring over columns in a spreadsheet. It serves as an important training vehicle for journalists getting started with data in the newsroom, and it’s always kept journalists apprised of technological developments that offer new ways of finding and telling stories. At the same time, its connection to IRE keeps it firmly rooted in the best aspects of investigative reporting — digging up stories that serve the public good.
Read the full conference report here, and check out the first two interviews in Alex Howard’s new series profiling data journalists.
The Long Form Developer: Originally an aspiring long form writer, Pro Publica’s Dan Nguyen says,
With data journalism techniques, there are countless new angles to important issues, and countless new and interesting ways to tell their stories… It just happens that programming also provides even more ways to present a story when narrative isn’t the only (or the ideal) way to do so.
The Elections Developer: the New York Times’ Derek Willis emphasizes how data can help journalism fulfill its promise of public services. He says,
We live in an age where information is plentiful. Tools that can help distill and make sense of it are valuable. They save time and convey important insights. News organizations can’t afford to cede that role. [Data journalism and news apps] really force you to think about how the reader/user is getting this information and why. I think news apps demand that you don’t just build something because you like it; you build it so that others might find it useful.
Really good data journalism will help us untangle the truth from… prejudiced assumptions.
But this is data journalism that needs to stay the course, and seems like an ideal opportunity to do “long-form data journalism”. How long will these looters serve? What is the ethnic make-up and age range of those convicted? How many other criminals will get an early release because our jails are newly full of looters? How many people convicted this week will go on to re-offend?
Martin Belam, Currybet.net, “Riots are an opportunity for long-form data journalism”
Belam writes that England’s riots are an important opportunity for data journalism to prove its worth over the long term.
That said, he cautions that data gathered from and during the riots will skew overall numbers because of the spasm of activity which, in turn, could lead to more problems:
There can be genuine social consequences to the misinterpretation of data. If the postcodes in Enfield become marked as a place where crime is now more likely as a result of one night of violence, then house prices could be depressed and insurance costs will rise, meaning the effects of the riots will still be felt long after broken windows are replaced.
The head of DV has the unique opportunity to develop the global leadership of Bloomberg in the area of data visualization. The successful applicant must be a recognized industry leader, have strong creative, editorial and technology experience, clear vision and a commitment to help Bloomberg become the most trusted name in news. In addition to a thorough grounding in graphic design and the aesthetics of data visualization, the head of DV must have the necessary mathematical / statistical skill set to identify, manage, and build data visualizations from the huge data sets available to Bloomberg. The successful applicant must have the potential to understand and embrace Bloomberg’s unique culture - a culture that, as our founder Mike Bloomberg has written, venerates openness, dedication, cooperation, performance, growth and fanatical service to customers. The head of Data Visualization will have operational and strategic responsibilities. We aren’t a think tank. We move quickly and we produce great results.
Back when software came on 5.25-inch floppy disks, or maybe before then, the idea of using a PC to “crunch numbers” was christened “computer-assisted reporting.” These days, we call it data journalism because, along the way, it became obvious the old name was anachronistic. As Phil Meyer once said, we don’t talk about telephone-assisted reporting, do we?
The big challenge for news organizations isn’t just how to better ingest, analyze, and present extant external (if sometimes hard-to-access) data sets. Inculcating a new skill set industrywide may be non-trivial as a matter of scale and institutional-cultural inertia, but at least that skill set is pretty well defined.
Rather, the trickier and less-addressed challenge for news organizations is how to turn the raw materials and finished products of non-database journalism into data.