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The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism

Alexander Howard - The Tow Center for Journalism, June 2014.

“Journalists have been using data in their stories for as long as the profession has existed. A revolution in computing in the 20th century created opportunities for data integration into investigations, as journalists began to bring technology into their work. In the 21st century, a revolution in connectivity is leading the media toward new horizons. The Internet, cloud computing, agile development, mobile devices, and open source software have transformed the practice of journalism, leading to the emergence of a new term: data journalism. Although journalists have been using data in their stories for as long as they have been engaged in reporting, data journalism is more than traditional journalism with more data. Decades after early pioneers successfully applied computer-assisted reporting and social science to investigative journalism, journalists are creating news apps and interactive features that help people understand data, explore it, and act upon the insights derived from it. New business models are emerging in which data is a raw material for profit, impact, and insight, co-created with an audience that was formerly reduced to passive consumption. Journalists around the world are grappling with the excitement and the challenge of telling compelling stories by harnessing the vast quantity of data that our increasingly networked lives, devices, businesses, and governments produce every day. While the potential of data journalism is immense, the pitfalls and challenges to its adoption throughout the media are similarly significant, from digital literacy to competition for scarce resources in newsrooms. Global threats to press freedom, digital security, and limited access to data create difficult working conditions for journalists in many countries. A combination of peer-to-peer learning, mentorship, online training, open data initiatives, and new programs at journalism schools rising to the challenge, however, offer reasons to be optimistic about more journalists learning to treat data as a source. Following is a list of the 14 findings, recommendations and predictions explored in detail in the full reportData will become even more of a strategic resource for media; Better tools will emerge that democratize data skills; News apps will explode as a primary way for people to consume data journalism; Being digital first means being data-centric and mobile-friendly. Expect more robo-journalism, but know that human relationships and storytelling still matter. More journalists will need to study the social sciences and statistics; There will be higher standards for accuracy and corrections; Competency in security and data protection will become more important; Audiences will demand more transparency on reader data collection and use; Conflicts over public records, data scraping, and ethics will surely arise; Collaborate with libraries and universities as archives, hosts, and educators; Expect data-driven personalization and predictive news in wearable interfaces.; More diverse newsrooms will produce better data journalism; Be mindful of data-ism and bad data. Embrace skepticism.”

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