Data journalism

After having a variety of sessions on data journalism, here is a piece I wrote for Wannabe Hacks:

Some people would try to claim that journalism is dying due to the internet. Free news online is taking the industry apart piece by piece. But this isn’t true. In fact, the internet has opened up journalism and set all new boundaries. From this, data journalism has carved a whole new market.

Granted, if the editor of your local paper got up to talk about journalism, then they may think it on the chopping block. But if you get the chance to talk to someone like Paul Bradshaw, he is in a whole other world.

Bradshaw runs the Online Journalism Blog, co-founded Help Me Investigate, lectures in journalism, and was on a list of leading innovators of journalism and media in 2010. So if anyone knows what they are talking about, it’s him. But what makes him so successful?

Data journalism.

Data journalism is changing the way the industry works. More and more newspapers are getting on board with data, with the Guardian, the Telegraph and BBC leading the way. This means that if you want to get into the industry, creating data journalism is a skill you will need.

Bradshaw said: “This is an area where the media industry, and even beyond the media industry, all organisations, are really hungry for skills. If you want a job in the media industry, this is probably in one of the top skills, in order to get you into the industry.”

But what actually is data journalism? To be honest, I didn’t really know. I didn’t know how to do it, what data to look for, or even the power that data could contain. However, yesterday I was lucky enough to sit a lecture by Bradshaw as part of my course.

Within an hour, we had found data from Bristol Council, broke it down, analysed and found a whole host of potential stories. The great thing is, anyone can do this. All you need is Google and the right search terms.

That may sound easy, and it can be, as long as you know what you are doing. This is because data journalism produces huge amounts of information. So from compiling, you need to clean the information, put it into context, combine it with human sources/interests and then communicate it.

Data may be great, but what sells it is combining it with human interest stories. For instance, a big project Bradshaw worked on was who carried the Olympic torches. He discovered a great story about nominees being pushed aside in favour of corporate figures. Fascinating stuff and hundreds of stories from data.

To be able to find stories like this and pitch those to news organisations will put you leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. The possible amount of data at your finger tips is limitless. Bradshaw really helped open this up for me and I will be pursuing data journalism in the near future, especially if pitching to local news.

I wish I could give you more information about what Bradshaw taught us but it is just so complicated to explain over the internet. I would highly recommend grabbing his book and trying data journalism for yourself. By doing it more and more you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Photo courtesy of  mirkolorenzmustang.


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