Data Journalism Can Give Us A Unique Story Which Nobody Has, Says Guardian’s Data Projects Editor, Caelainn Barr
Sangram Aglave, Contributing Editor, Technology at BW Businessworld caught up with her through an audio conference to capture her thought leadership on the topic of Data Journalism
Caelainn Barr is an award-winning data journalist at The Guardian and is its Data Projects Editor. Sangram Aglave, Contributing Editor, Technology at BW Businessworld caught up with her through an audio conference to capture her thought leadership on the topic of Data Journalism. Edited excerpts from the interview below
What is Data Journalism?
Data journalism is using data to inform an audience. The story could be both visual or textual. Data Journalism is not all that different from any other form of journalism. The only thing that varies is that the source of your information is data which can be structured or unstructured. Everything else remains the same.
Is Data Journalism new?
Data Journalism is new in some regards, but it has been around for a while. People were using social science methods to understand how society works in newsrooms back in the ’60s and ’70s; Philip Meyer was an early pioneer of data and computing-based Journalism. But yes, it has grown massively in the last few years.
Will data replace opinion?
I don’t think Data will replace opinion. There is excitement around Data Journalism through this idea that data can provide us with a set of facts which would form an empirical basis for a story, but the reality is that no matter what the basis of the story is, people will always debate it or have different political and philosophical viewpoints on the way the world should be. Data can certainly help us to be more informed about how we talk about specific social issues for e.g. adoption, sexual abuse or crime. A lot of time we use data to inform our decision making and as journalists, we should also do the same to better inform our audiences.
Can data be neutral?
Data is only ever as good as the process by which it is collected. Like anything else, it gives us a snapshot of life or a situation and is not necessarily neutral. One example is crime figures if in crime statistics we only gather information about people’s age and not their ethnicity we may be missing the full picture of how crime impacts one section of society more than another. As a society, we often make political decisions in how we gather data. And therefore, not all data is neutral. As journalists, we should try to gather all types of information and understand it and present it in an accurate and balanced way. Data is not infallible by any means.
Has the Open data movement led to secular data access?
As taxpayers and citizens, we pay money to governments to provide services. This often involves gathering information about us, which is interpreted to develop evidence-based policies. The idea behind open data is that we should have a right to access, use and share the data collected by Government agencies to query and understand our society better. It is not just journalists who should have access to this data but also citizens and academics. Open Data can allow us to have a much more informed discussion about the current state of society and how we want it to be.
What makes a good data journalist?
Caelainn: Most of the journalists I work with come from an Arts background and have taught themselves Excel and how to code in languages including R and Python. What’s more important for me as an Editor is somebody who can see a story. You can have lots of technical skills, you could be an amazing coder, but if you cannot get your head around what makes a story, then the analysis may miss the point. Primarily what I look for when hiring people into my data team is somebody who has a journalistic nose, somebody who can spot a story, someone who knows what makes a story, someone with a journalist’s sense of enquiry. Data skills move on all the time and can be learnt and developed but the sense of what makes a story remains constant regardless of time.
How to fund data journalism projects?
Caelainn: Data Journalism is not the cheapest way of producing journalism. The time it takes to produce a story is often longer which means the team may not produce a story every day but the content is unique. So, Data journalism does require investment, but it also pays off in the long run as it can give us a story no one else has and build trust in our journalism.
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