What is Data Journalism?

Through all my searches for graduate jobs and post-graduate study, there has been one job which has stuck in my head. Data Journalist. But, what is data journalism? Simply put data journalism is “just” journalism done with data.

There is often a misconception of what data is. A few decades ago, data was thought a collection of numbers on a spreadsheet. This, however, is far from the truth. We are in the digital age where data is found in many forms.  Medical records, how much activity your FitBit has picked up and your employment history are all data and can be represented by zeroes and ones. The photos which you take from your smartphone: zeroes and ones. Your voice messages which you send on WhatsApp: zeroes and ones.

What makes data journalism different to journalism? Perhaps it is the way that we allow data to tell a story instead of trying to shape the data to create a story. And in the new age of technology the forms which data can be found is rapidly growing.

Data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data-savvy. 

(Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web )

Being a data journalist does not just include the ability to write well and tell a compelling story; but also the ability to programme and automate the process of collecting the data from sources or make connections through thousands of documents.

Gapminder 2013, Hans Rosling. Click on image to go to the gapminder website

Gapminder 2013, Hans Rosling. Click on image to go to the gapminder website

Data journalism can help a journalist create new and exciting infographics, for example Hans Rosling’s Gapminder Visualisations. It is almost like an umbrella term which includes the quickly growing tools, techniques and approaches for storytelling. It includes everything from the traditional data analysis techniques to the latest way to visualise data. It is a new skill set which is needed for understanding and visualising data from the digital era where “traditional” journalism techniques are no longer enough.

The goal is no different to the goal of journalism, which is “to help inform us of the global problems happening today.”

Data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told — or it can be both.  Like any source, it should be treated with scepticism; and like any tool, we should be conscious of how it can shape and restrict the stories that are created with it. 

(Paul Bradshaw, Birmingham City University)

Data journalism is where journalism will eventually go; it will not replace journalism but add to it. It is bridging the gap between mathematicians and word-smiths.

Data journalists include: Adrian Holovaty, Hans Rosling, David McCandless