GIJN Top 10 – Data Journalism
Data journalism is a form of news reporting that uses data to present stories in an accessible and meaningful way. It requires a special set of skills to turn raw data into an engaging story for the public.
Some examples of data journalism include the analysis of murders by gender and location, and maps that show trends in contraceptive use.
1. The Guardian’s ‘Leafy Suburbs’
From a map showing the distribution of tree cover across Aotearoa to an investigation into the demographics of Germany’s Bundestag, this month’s GIJN top 10 features a range of projects that tackle complex data sets using a combination of reporting and data visualization. The work is both precise and predictive, allowing journalists to uncover the forces driving social change, and to present this information in the most pedagogical way possible.
In China, where structural media bias is pervasive, data journalism creates a “fuzzy region” within which non-official media organizations can engage in news production through the selection, analysis and visualization of open data and statistics. This emerging journalistic genre, however, does not necessarily fulfil the watchdog function of journalism. Instead, it enables a form of conditional unbias by facilitating democracy.
2. Medicamentalia’s ‘Contraceptive Practices’
Rather than simply reporting what happened overnight, data journalism (also called data-driven or digitally augmented reporting) uses filters and analyses to elevate the news to something that is a little bit more interesting. The result can be a static graphic, an interactive feature or just a little extra analysis to offer context to breaking news reports.
This in-depth article from Medicamentalia investigates access to contraceptive medication worldwide. It features a scrollytelling design and lots of inventive data visualisations to make a very sobering point.
Using new technology to find and examine large data sets is a huge part of what makes up data journalism. However, a lot of it still relies on traditional journalistic methods, including examining the quality and availability of the data itself.
3. The Pudding’s ‘Music Royalties’
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, a saying that’s been shortened to the more familiar “the proof is in the pudding.” But the term actually has deeper roots.
Data-driven journalism involves using a variety of resources and tools to combine research and analysis with storytelling. These tools can include web scraping and APIs, data cleaning and organization, as well as programming languages like Python and R.
The result is news media that’s both more informative and visually appealing. It’s also more likely to be accurate. To be a successful data journalist, it’s important to have proficiency in multiple disciplines, or what career counselors refer to as “T-shaped skills.” GIJN’s top picks this week take on a range of topics, from pollution in Paris subway stations to US laws expanding gun access.
4. The Financial Times’ ‘Space Debris’
This piece from The Financial Times uses data visualizations to illustrate just how dangerous space debris is. A somber tone and sharp visuals allow readers to understand this issue in a very compelling way.
Data journalism involves a workflow that includes collecting data, cleaning and structuring it, filtering to mine for specific information, and visualizing to create an informative narrative for the public interest. As a result, the skills needed for this type of reporting include knowledge of web scraping tools, APIs, programming languages (such as Python and R) and basic data visualization software.
Cairo believes that all journalists should have a solid grounding in data journalism, even if they don’t plan to become full-time researchers or work for a major news organization with dedicated teams of experts. He calls this “Journalism 2.0,” which he describes as a skill set for critical thinking that allows one to spot facts, gather them, double-check them and transmit them to the audience.
5. The Waiting Game
Amidst the flurry of hype surrounding data journalism, it is easy to forget that at its core, this reporting style is just good old-fashioned storytelling. The best data stories highlight important issues with a powerful narrative.
For example, GapMinder uses the world’s population to tell a story about inequality and economic disparity, explaining that 35% of Australia’s population lives in childcare ‘deserts,’ leading to lower social and financial outcomes for women and families.
Using creative visuals and information design, these reporters sift through numbers to find a compelling story. They use tools for data collection, data cleaning and analysis, and programming languages like Python to transform raw metrics into a narrative that readers can relate to.