2014: The Year in Data Journalism
Originally published at journalism.co.uk. Republished with permission.
This report summarises notes from the first panel session of the School of Data Journalism, organised by the European Journalism Centre, Open Knowledge Foundation, and the International Journalism Festival. This session presented a round up of data journalism trends and developments from around the world.
For more information and to view the session in its entirety, scroll to the recorded video below.
Leading the Field
Aron Pilhofer, the New York Times's director of digital strategy, opened the session by giving three examples of where data journalism should be heading. His first came from the Guardian, where the NSA: Files Decoded multimedia interactive brought together a number of different strands from the newsroom. "What I really loved was what I thought I was going to hate," Pilhofer said, "the video." "Reading is interrupted with video, infographics, and interactives that you can play with," he said, that makes the reading experience an "organic whole" without separating the different elements of multimedia.
At the New York Times, a guide to understanding wearable activity trackers and an immersive feature on skier Ted Legity were similar examples, giving the reader data animations, video, and text in "a single piece of journalism," he said, "not just the story, then the multimedia."
"It's about integrating data, graphics, and video in a seamless whole," he said, "and this is the direction we need to be thinking about." "Data journalism is considered a speciality of journalism, which can be helpful in building it as a discipline, an idea, but good journalism needs to be brought back in." The idea of data journalism as a "team sport" is integral, Pilhofer said, in bringing journalists with different skills together to tell a story in the most effective manner.
Developments in Africa
Justin Arenstein, who works largely with the African Media Initiative, told delegates how journalism in Africa was "five years behind" trends in the "global North," but they were using this lag to their advantage. "Print and advertising is still healthy," he said, "so newsrooms are using this lag to prepare and 'leapfrog' themselves, overcoming the disruption."
The African Media Initiative is involved in helping newsrooms across the continent prepare, with news labs established in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana and five more planned to open soon. "A continental community of enthusiasts" is also growing through Hacks/Hackers chapters, he said, and aiming to build data journalism projects that readers can be actively involved in via SMS, giving them a real insight into stories in their communities.
One project in Ghana, in which the public were able to see how much money was owed to their community in by mining companies, cost $250 [£148] to build, but had users actively engaged in questioning their local leaders and demanding change. Another addressed the problem of 'dodgy doctors' in Kenya – individuals treating people for a range of medical issues where they may only be qualified as a dentist or veterinarian. Here, users could enter the name of their doctor while in the waiting room and receice an SMS as to whether they were properly qualified.
The use of SMS is central to how African digital journalism will develop, Arenstein said, but the lack of digitised information is still a large hurdle to overcome. The fact that many news organisations are actively turning paper records into online databases is a key factor into how the digital news space will develop across the continent, he said.
Segregation in the Newsroom
In Latin America, interactive developer at La Nacion, Mariana Santos, hopes to bring more women into data journalism through her project Chicas Poderosas, or 'powerful women'. Again, Hacks/Hackers has been integral in helping the data journalism field grow, but "95 percent" of attendees are men, she said, a figure that is not representative of the newsroom.
"In Latin America, print is still very strong, and the mindset of journalists working with designers and developers is not there yet," Santos told delegates. "Some managerial levels do not see that as a goal in future." Hackathons and projects like Hacks/Hackers are bringing different elements of the newsroom together, she said, while Chicas Poderosas hopes to bring more women into the process.
There are still obstacles, however. At a three-day hackathon in Venezuela, attendees undertook an investigation into the relationships between local business and politicians. Despite completing the project, the journalists involved feared for the lives and their families if they published the controversial findings.
In Italy, Wired magazine's business and data editor, Guido Romeo, said legislatitive problems in the country, as well as institutional resistance to change in the news industry, were still hampering the development of digital journalism. "Freelancers are the ones investing in this," he said, "but they have low resources, have to manage time ,and don't have a newsroom to back them up."
The fact that Italy does not yet have a Freedom of Information act was a major impediment to the progress of data journalism. There have been some "good signs" from bigger outlets though, he said, where La Stampa and Reppublica are making headway. La Stampa in particular have a community of around 1,000 individuals who the outlet engages with and awards grants for good ideas.
And even though data from government institutions is a problem, the country is facing a "unique moment" with President Giorgio Napolitano talking about greater access to information. "There is a lot of progress in Italy but still some to be made," said Romeo.
Watch the Panel Discussion Below: