The Magic of Data

Data.Journalism! Conference and Workshops – Part 1, by Andreas Sator

Great Britain is adopting a new budget? No big news for the average guy. Maybe one out of three people looking in a newspaper will read an article about it. What about the newspaper telling the average guy what this exactly means for him in Dollars and Cents? This will definitely attract his attention. But how? Well, have a look at this magnificent piece of the BBC.

What does the BBC do? They take some comprehensive data and present it simple and easy to understand. In this case, on top of that, they personalize the data. Welcome to the world of Data Journalism, you just have seen a masterpiece.

Data, what?

Data Journalism is a rather new phenomenon and outside the media industry hardly anybody will have heard about the term. But, as click rates show, the audience is using data journalism stories a lot. The morning of the first day of the Data.Journalism! Conference in Vienna was dedicated to exactly this work, offering the chance to dip into a new way of journalism with tons of new value for readers.

The audience discussed best practices with Eva Linsinger (investigative journalist at Austrian political magazine profil), Bella Hurrell (specials editor of the BBC News website), Alastair Dant (head of interactive development at The Guardian) and Sascha Venohr (editor in the development section of Zeit Online).

People dying of the increasing usage of Methadone in the USA, crash victims on the streets of Great Britain or people killed by drones: There is a lot of data out there and more and more newspapers are learning how to use it. But please mind: You can also use data of people alive.

„It’s the stories in the numbers that are interesting not the numbers themselves“, says Hurrell. Data is no end in itself. It’s just a useful tool to tell stories in a more interactive way. How many people would Germany need to evacuate in case of emergency regarding its atomic plants? Is the Deutsche Bank still financing manufacturers of cluster bombs though claiming the opposite? Those are stories and this is appropiate usage of data.

State and question your sources

Zeit Online published a population pyramid in an exciting way some time ago and stated the used numbers publicly in a Google Spreadsheet. Moments later a blogger found a mistake in the source and posted on Twitter: „@zeitonline #fail“. Sascha Venohr means: This was embarrasing. But it strengthened his believe in open and transparent Data Journalism.

It’s not only important to offer the used data for everyone. It is the duty of every journalist to question the data. Eva Linsinger, contributing to the round the views of a print journalist, knows why: Austrian newspapers once took over a story about 50% of Austrian pupils without German as their mother tongue. Then somebody discovered: The survey stated everyone with at least one foreign parent as „without German as mother tongue“. This is complete nonsense as it ignores whether children have been born or raised in Austria. „Always look how data is gathered and how to interpret it“, Linsinger concludes.

Just the beginning?

All four agreed: What we see now is just the beginning. Data Journalism will get far more important. Hurrell is speaking of a „rosy future“; Dant is seeing „a golden era“. Zeit Online-guy Venohr calls upon all: „Just try it out. Use tutorials. You will have success“. Looks like it’s up to us.

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