Nowadays in the digital era, journalism is no longer about a simple interview, a report, or a witness. The practice of using numerical data to assist in journalism is nothing new, and this is known to the public as ‘data journalism’. Professional Alex Howard gives a detailed definition of data journalism in his Tow Center paper: “gathering, cleaning, organising, analysing, visualising and publishing data to support the creation of acts of journalism.”
Gathering data from websites/downloading a spreadsheet; Analysing and doing calculations on the gathered data to look for stories or clues; Publishing stories created by data in an interactive and readable way.
All of the above features might not ‘fit a strict definition of reporting while they all contribute significantly in journalism,’ said Sarah Cohen, the leader of a data team at The New York Times.
One famous example is the “Murder Mysteries” project by Tom Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service. Tom sourced from the government data and public records ( demographically-detailed database) for over 185,000 unsolved murders. And then he used an algorithm to find out the hidden patterns of the possible presence of serial killers. In this project, the power and role of data are obvious: gathering sources from databases, analysing data by social science techniques, and readable and interactive presentation of the data.
Data enable journalism to achieve a lot of things that are difficult or even impossible in traditional journalism.
To journalists, they can now easily find a news story by finding ‘suss out patterns and follow up on leads’ from a global database. Besides, they can use the computer and intelligent software to assist their analysis and calculation.
To the audience, the real data and facts make the ‘stories’ much reliable. In the digital era where fake news is rampant in news media and social, this feature is rare and valuable. Another new opportunity is transparency. As reporters can now publish not only the raw data but the related analysis and calculations they’d done to reach their opinion, readers can now participate in analysing and form their own conclusion.
Jeremy Singer-Vine, the data editor from BuzzFeed, said, “Data is another skill that helps reporters tell stories.“