by Shubha Bala, on July 12, 2012
Data journalism is one of the hottest topics in our industry right now, and news organisations are moving quickly to improve their use of data in their coverage. When done well, data journalism helps simplify complex subjects and encourage audiences to explore topics more deeply with new forms of interactive information graphics and data visualisations. No less than the creator of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called on journalists to learn more about how to use data more effectively:
Journalists need to be data-savvy… [it's] going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country
Building on this trend, MIT and the Knight Foundation recently held their annual Civic Media conference, and this time the theme was “the story and the algorithm” – the place where data meets narrative. From the conference website:
Data, shared by governments, corporations, researchers, and increasingly by the public, is changing the ways we report and share news. We are developing new techniques to navigate this data and transform it into visualizations and insights that reveal unexpected truths about our society. But data alone isn’t always enough to make complex issues understandable. As data proliferates, the ability to present a clear story becomes even more crucial.
Attendee Ben Colmery, Deputy Director of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship, blogged about some of the news apps to help journalists engage with data and fact checking. Here’s a few of the ten that caught his eye:
• LazyTruth and TruthGoggles are both apps that bring fact-checking straight to the reader. LazyTruth is a ‘widget’, or small application, that works with Google’s webmail service, Gmail, to automatically fact-check content received in e-mail. In a similar vein, TruthGoggles “will alert online readers to suspicious claims in posts that fact checkers like PolitiFact have examined”.
PolitiFact is a Pulitzer Prize winning project in the United States that checks the accuracy of statements made by politicians. It grades the statements on a scale, from ranging from true all the way to “pants on fire”, (from the English childhood phrase, “liar, liar, pants on fire”).
• The technology magazine Wired has created a plugin for the popular blogging content-management system WordPress that connects it to GitHub, a system used by software developers host code to allow collaboration with others. GitHub allows for software versioning, allowing changes to be made to software that preserves previous versions.
For writers and journalists, you can think of it much like track changes in word processing software like Microsoft’s Word. WordPress already tracks changes made to articles internally, but the plugin is being created by journalists at Wired magazine to allow readers, not just their own journalists and editors, to correct typos, fact-check, and translate articles. It raises interesting questions for how journalistic integrity will remain, but it is exciting as it “engages people in the process of generating truth”.
• Data Therapy is a project to build the data capacity of small community groups. This could be useful for many local media outlets in developing countries that have an interest in enabling their audience be able to be more engaged with the data that surrounds them, especially as more and more governments become willing to open up their data.
What data tools and apps do you think will be game changers, positively or negatively, for your news outlets?