Data-driven journalism, explained
The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas will offer from May 13 to June 16 its second Massive Open Online Course in Spanish, "Introduction to Data Journalism," with with journalist Sandra Crucianelli, an expert in the field. Click here to register.
The five-week course will cover the basic concepts of data journalism, an overview of the current state of the practice around the world, new digital tools for searching and data mining, an introduction to math and statistics for journalists, visual information handling techniques, and best practices in the development of news apps.
In the following text, Crucianelli explains what data journalism is and its importance in the management and presentation of large volumes of information.
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By Sandra Crucianelli *
Data journalism is important because it filters and visualizes what the human eye would be unable to see in plain sight.
But it's more important for journalists and news organizations because it's a natural source of scoops. After reading an abundant number of texts on the topic, including the Data Journalism Handbook, which was recently translated into Spanish, I've arrived to the following conclusions that I believe should be underscored.
- Anything said about Data Journalism today is not definitive. It's an evolving discipline.
- Every genre of journalism today is pieced together with data. True. The type of journalism that is produced with large volumes of data is the one we call data journalism or database journalism.
- Why is it a different thing? Journalism as a practice didn't use to be associated with numbers. In today's digital world, almost everything can be expressed using numbers.
- The numbers are often there... we just need to go find and "rescue" them. Examples:
- The news apps on sworn statements from Argentine public officials on their assets, produced by newspaper La Nación.
- Using software to find connections within hundreds of documents, like La Nación's package on the Argentine Senate's expenses since 2004.
- In other occasions sources will provide the raw data, like a digital archive, a CD or a Pen-drive.
- Data can also be "assembled" collaboratively, like in the cases of Every Block, Mi Panamá Transparente, Monitor de Corrupción, etc.
- Visualizations help tell the story, but they are not the story.
- Data give us an opportunity: Through search, filtering, analysis and visualizations, they can reveal things, transform the abstract into something concrete that people can understand with ease.
- Data journalists or scientists are not limited to work in media outlets or in the communications field. Today's largest companies are also looking for people who know how to produce something tangible out of abstract data: a new type of reporter is born.
- In all of the cases mentioned above, journalists recorded their methods and shared the processed and unprocessed documents, in a way that they can be downloaded by any user (open data culture). Then, the user can follow the same route used by the reporter and reach the same conclusions, refute them or find new ones.
- Data journalism doesn't replace traditional journalism; it gives it added value.
- For news organizations, data journalism serves two important functions: it helps them produce stories that no one else has and helps it keep its role as society's watchdog.
* Sandra Crucianelli is a journalist who specializes in investigative and precision journalism, with an emphasis in digital sources and data-driven journalism. Since 2004 she has taught several courses through the Knight Center's Distance Learning program. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
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