Data Journalism: “Adapt or Die”

The Information Society Project at Yale Law School held its “first annual conference on the state of data journalism” in New Haven and drew an eclectic crowd of journalists, editors, students, writers and others.

This post will share some of the key themes of the day. (And random points I liked)

The message?

Made clear in this tweet:

LNdata: RT @shujianbu: @stiles Very exciting speech @Yale #ispdjc “Adapt or Die!!!” – time for DataJournalism

Is it a tough road to data ahead?

Maybe, but according to Amanda Cox, graphics guru at the New York Times, “If it’s good do you need the (data) adjective?”

Demonstrating some of what is good about data journalism; Cox shared some of the NYT’s work, including an interactive feature that showed destruction in Haiti after the earthquake.

In part, this is the experience of showing, that is different than it would be with just words, Cox said.

An important element, she said, is context, and remembering how we learn things. “We connect things to our own experience,” she said.

“Data journalism is real journalism.”

Random point: “It is difficult to change your newsroom but it’s essential,” Katharine Jarmul.

An interesting point Cox made? Online data presentations can gain important context by adding a place for a response.

“Anyone who is sufficiently evolved should understand that reporting can be a spreadsheet,” she said.

Some key points shared by Reginald Chua, editor, data and innovation at Thomson Reuters.

Think: We can be held back by mindset and culture built around what journalism has traditionally been. But data means: think about things differently. Visualization, simulation, personalization

Simulation lets you learn in a different way

Consider this: Who runs Hong Kong?

Random point: “All of our data visualizations…They go with the reporting,” Hannah Fairfield, graphis editor at the Washington Post. (Formerly NYT)

Telling great stories at this point in time: Data is essential to story.

Katharine Jarmul, (@kjam) lead developer at Loud3r, a “a real-time content discovery, curation and publishing platform” noted: “great journalism is great data journalism” but let’s keep in mind we need diversity of backgrounds to have diversity of ideas.

Further, she noted, and an important point to newsroom: unorganized sharing of ideas can mean unorganized sharing of data. Point? Communication.

And, when everybody is used as the utmost resource in data journalism = better stories. But she also noted, and a word to the wise and those of new to this data gig: “Unorganized sharing of ideas can mean unorganized sharing of data.”
Almost if she were talking to us, she encouraged: Find manageable data, timelines, noting “There are a lot of opportunities here that don’t require a lot of time and effort.”

But time and effort also pay off in a big way. Dafna Linzer, a senior investigative reporter at ProPublica worked more than a year on an extraordinary piece on the U.S. Justice Department, pardons and race. Each layer of data they peeled away revealed nuances that led to a conclusion: In federal pardons, “the results often diverge along racial lines.”

All of the data came from open sources, she said.

Her editors “really believed in the project and really believed something was there.”

Lest you have doubts so far that data serves journalism, consider the words shared by Matt Stiles @stiles, of NPR, in bringing the “Moneyball” analogy.

“It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” (And yes, borrowed, from The Mick)

His point: Reporters covering beats do not understand data that is driving their beat, – especially in goventment and polititcs.

They are scribbling in notebooks not collecting data and looking at larger trends, he said.

How do we fight above our weight? Data journalism. (Here’s a post he did about tools you can use for data.

And make useful data, said Brian Boyer, (@brianboyer) of the Chicago Tribune.

And for the love the word: “Show your work.”

Random point: Journalists need to demand data and in the right formats, Steven Waldman, journalist, author, FCC advisor.

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