Archive for May, 2011

Data Journalism: News:Rewired

May 28, 2011

Data journalist James Ball speaking at News:Rewired

Data Journalism: A Way To Get Hired

It would’ve been rude NOT to use a phone, laptop and tablet (preferably all at the same time) at the latest News:Rewired conference. Even the speakers sent tweets while fellow panellists presented at the fast paced, energetic event. 

Data Journalism was one of the hot topics discussed, debated and dissected during the day by industry experts. Freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke, key note speaker, called for a continuing campaign to get more data into the public domain.

Compared to the US, Brooke said the UK had a long way to go, particularly in the field of crime reporting. She argued police control the agenda here about how the public perceive crime and that on many levels bureaucracy should be challenged.

In the digital age of citizen journalism and blogging Brooke said professional journalism still had a place. She said people would always come to professionals because of their unique selling point – their training and expertise to sift through information to uncover what is important and true.

And so to Data Journalism – analysing numbers and making a story out of them. Nothing new in that for the seasoned journalists at the conference – including Greg Hadfield, director of strategic projects, Cogapp, who refused to call it data, preferring the word “stuff”.

There was much talk of “drilling down” numbers and putting them in context but journalists (or “curators” as they seem to be referred to these days) have always known the end result of most investigations is to workout out how much it’s going to cost the reader.

What is new though, is how journalists crunch the numbers: how they “scrape” the web for data with simple and usually free tools such as Google Docs, Google Refine, ArcView and other stats packages, advanced searches and Google fusion tables.

And then there are the tools for presenting those facts to the readers – sophisticated graphics, charts, representations and the incorporation of interactivity for the user. A word of warning though, from James Ball, data journalist with the Guardian investigations team, not to “kill the audience” with incorrect stats. He gave examples of national newspapers getting their numbers spectacularly wrong and Ball appealed to journalists working on numbers always to ask themselves, “does this make sense?”

Chris Taggart, founder of OpenlyLocal said there has been no better time in this country to get data from councils and there are tremendous opportunities out there for the taking to investigate and use freedom of information requests.

Philip John, director of Lichfield Blog showed how he made the most of the data produced by his local council Lichfield and sites such as Data.gov.uk, WhatDoTheyKnow? and ScraperWiki.

Building open-data cities was the focus for Greg Hadfield who said councils, organisations and local groups should work together to share data to help improve communities and “give the voiceless a voice.”

Powerful stuff and food for thought for trainee journalists, particularly as one speaker admitted, many established journalists are scared of data and so trainees should get into data journalism as a way to get hired.