Posted by: structureofnews | October 4, 2010

Data Journalism

An excellent how-to post from Paul Bradshaw on the nuts and bolts of being a “data journalist,” someone who knows how to get, understand, explore, interpret, visualize and communicate data and what it means.  All part of the brave new world we’re in, where data is increasingly abundant but expertise to understand it is scarce.

It’s a very detailed, user-friendly post that should offer some help to everyone, whether you’re just starting out on this path or are already a veteran.

And beyond the nuts-and-bolts, he also offers a simple framing in terms of getting going:

So where does a budding data journalist start? An obvious answer would be “with the data” – but there’s a second answer too: “With a question”.

I’d push hard for the latter rather than the former; not that we can’t get great stories out of having a ton of data. That’s like getting a good story out of lots of access to important people.  But it’s better to have a question – a thesis – in your mind before simply rummaging through lots of data.  Otherwise it’s like interviewing a lot of people without an idea what your story is about.  Data is, after all, just one element in conveying information and insight to people.

So I’d emphasize a different part of the framing: Whenever you’re working on any story, it’s useful to think about what might prove or disprove it.  Numbers should be a key part of that – and when you’ve come up with the ideal, or near-ideal statistic you want, you can then figure out how to find or calculate it.

It’s getting easier to find data – there’s not only a flood of it now, but increasing pressure for even more to be released.  Beyond the expansion in freedom of information laws globally – more than 80 countries at last count – there’s also a movement for freedom of data as well.   That’s all a good thing; but we need to keep from being drowned in it.  And so figuring out what we need before diving into it is a good idea.

(Thanks to Yolanda for pointing out the post)


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