Data journalism: an invitation?

Data journalism can be summed up in three steps: finding the data (more and more publicly available these days), finding a way to read all the data comprehensively (using algorithms, graphics, interactive charts, tagging etc) and publishing what the data reveals.

Over the past few years, several big breakthrough stories have been the result of strenuous data investigations. In July and October 2010, the whistleblower site Wikileaks published a total of nearly 500,000 documents relating to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

News organisations like the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel are sifting through Assange’s data.

In 2008, the Daily Telegraph set off the MPs’ expenses scandal by looking at data (receipts, expense forms from the computer disks) and finding the news story worth telling.

Martin Moore writes about this on the group blog ‘Idea Lab.’ He says the Daily Telegraph ‘secreted half a dozen reporters in a room for nine days with about 4 million records of politicians’ expenses. They were hidden away even from the paper’s own employees.’

Once the expenses story broke, I think data journalism became a more open process and this is what interests me.

The Guardian unlocked the extensive expenses data to the public, by creating the ‘Investigate your MP’s expenses’ page. Soon, it went further, by allowing users to add data of their own. So in a way it invites the public to be data journalists. As Martin Moore puts it, the newspaper ‘helped nurture a community of citizen scrutineers.’

I found the video of a talk given by Guardian Datablog editor Simon Rogers the Frontline Club on 22nd September 2010 really insightful – he explains this whole idea of an invitation to take part in data journalism in more detail. He talks about the Guardian’s decision to launch the Datablog and the response the venture has received. The Datablog is popular not just amongst journalists – working with data also appeals to ‘real people’, as Simon Rogers calls them.

He thinks it’s because the Datablog helped upturn the reputation of journalism as a ‘closed profession’ and encourages a ‘community’ of data contributors to grow.

Claire Gilmore (@ClaireEGilmore)

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