Read & Respond week 7: Data

This week we delve into data. You’re surrounded by it, but do you know how to use it as a blogger? As a journalist? As we discussed in our Mobility week, we’re increasingly devoted to technologies that track our movements, habits, and preferences; these trackers produce a wealth of data.

Consider Wikileaks, arguably “The game-changer in data journalism.” Approached with this massive wealth of data, The Guardian compiled phenomenally complex accounts of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a collection of cables (communication dispatches) from the U.S. Embassy. Not only this, they made the data itself available to readers to make their own stories out of it.

Oh, and also the guy who gave them the data threatened to sue them.

What can you do with data in your own writing? What, if anything, have you done already? Here are a few more supplements to give you some ideas:

  • SKIM the Data Journalism Handbook, paying particular attention to the Introduction and Case Studies (I use this in my data visualization class – offered this fall!).
  • Poynter offers a “getting started in data journalism” guide with some good links and examples.
  • Have a look at the sample version of Paul Bradshaw’s Scraping for Journalists (free PDF) for some ideas on gathering data (Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog is a good resource too!)

Be sure to post your response to Briggs and the readings as a comment to this post by 10a Monday, February 23.


17 Responses to Read & Respond week 7: Data

  1. When I hear the word ‘data’, I think of numbers and complicated math. As a journalist, those are the last two words that most of us in the field want to hear. However, after reading the links above, I realized I have been incorporating data journalism into my stories for quite some time. Infographics are one of my favorite tools to use and create. I believe they can add so much to a story and help viewers understand the information in a more visual way. I love when newspapers or magazines use graphics of any sorts to help break down numbers in a story.

    As the Data Journalism Handbook stated, “Using data transforms something abstract into something everyone can understand and relate to.” I find this to be very true and once you develop the skills necessary for this type of work, you are bound to be an asset to any newsroom.

    As the Poynter article mentioned, there is no clear definition as to what data journalism really is. In a way, nearly all journalism uses a computer or some type of technology, which makes the argument that all journalism is data journalism. Of course, learning to code and attending hackathons are a few good options to help build your skills.

    The data complied from Wikileaks really did change the landscape of data journalism. How the Guardian handled this massive set of numbers and databases is really amazing. Their final product is clear, concise, and adds depth to the story. The maps and polls give readers a good understanding of how the wars unfolded.

    Lastly, as Briggs mentioned, “Using these storytelling tools is all about bringing the story to viewers through multiple senses and, hopefully, bringing viewers into stories-the experience of other folks- in ways that increase understanding.” The traditional styles of reporting do not go away, but rather they are complimented by new digital platforms and technology. I hope to incorporate more data journalism into my blog in the future. I would like to make infographics to help tell my stories and start using polls more often.

  2. Sara Wells says:

    “The best journalism isn’t judged by form or medium, but by its effect on reader’s lives,“ Ryan Pitts from the Spokesman-Review said. Data is an example of this.

    I think Poynter summed up data the best, while Bradshaw explained it the best. Data seems like such a broad subject. It doesn’t go with one medium. A lot of the ways we make data our coworkers don’t even understand.

    Briggs makes a lot of good points about data, including organizing emails and contacts, using apps to keep organized (Dropbox and Instapage are my two favorites out of Briggs’s suggestions) and repeating the tasks a lot to make sure that you’re not only using them right, but using them to their full capability. I love that he’s all about the free stuff, too, because who really buys online apps anymore?

    My final favorite thought from him- you can make your website a destination, not just an article! Data can include so much multimedia and even interactive maps to tell stories. I thought maybe I’d try to do that on my blog.

    However, I do disagree with Briggs’s thought that online is more efficient than pen and paper when keeping track of to-do lists. While it is nice to have online, I keep pen and paper as well. Something about the information overload makes it easier to just have a pen and paper planner.

    Poynter talks about developing your sources and making the data projects you want to see! If you want to see something, odds are your readers want to, too. The organization also says that while we still need good writers, journalists must do so much more now. I agree that they should change our title. I don’t know what that title would be, but we do it all.

    Finally, I really loved Paul Bradshaw’s “Scraping for Journalists”. I’d be really interested in reading the rest of it, and I think it’s a lot less confusing than any of the other sources that try to explain it. The blog is cool, too.

    It looks like you should be careful where you get your data, and who you get it from. While you can scrape like Bradshaw, you run into things like the Guardian getting sued for one of the best data projects of all time. Not like there’s been a lot of time, but data can be confusing and rewarding despite the short time it’s been around.

  3. sjl0693 says:

    Using data in my writing is something that I don’t do often enough and something that I need to work on because it adds so much to what you post, not just visually, but in the way it helps break down the information as well.

    I like when Briggs talked about how the use of data gives information to the readers through multiple senses and lets them experience the stories of others with a greater understanding.

    The crazy thing about Wikileaks is that they released so much information about the wars using the data and scaled it down in a way that people could understand using the maps and and polls.

    I believe that we will start to see data being used more and more in writing pieces on the internet because readers love looking at visuals when they are reading and it only helps to further increase the understanding for the reader.

  4. dillondurst says:

    I’d like to think I integrate meaningful data into my writing, but not to the scale explained in both Briggs and the readings. As someone said earlier, I think Briggs summed up how data is used in journalism, how it affected journalism and what’s to be expected in the future. I thought Bradshaw did a good job of showing exactly how it works. I thought Bradshaw’s short tutorial on how to “scrape” data was very interesting, and could be very beneficial is the time is taken to learn how to do it.

    As for the Wikileaks, I think this almost revolutionized journalism. I know when I’m reading a print or online article, I like to see some sort of visual breakdown when data or numbers are used/presented. This makes it much easier to make sense of, in my opinion. The problem is there’s so much data floating around out there, and it’s almost now up to journalists to harness it and produce it in an understandable and meaningful way to the public.

    Briggs used an example of the L.I.R.R. and how its 97 percent of its employees filed for some sort of disabilities claim after working. If it weren’t for journalists sifting through data, this “slam dunk” of a story would never even have happened because it’s so much data to pick up on. Same goes for the Wikileaks piece about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  5. chadkriss55 says:

    The weakest point in my repertoire is math. Working on the simplest equations makes me cringe, but conducting data is necessary for the journalism world. Briggs mentioned how with new technology we are surrounded with masses of data and must be able to interpret this information for our audience. If we can’t figure out what the most important information to tell is, then we are doing an injustice to the public.

    When I took a look at the case studies in the Data Journalism Handbook, I noticed myself trying to figure out what the graph was instead of reading the print. The colors attracted my eyes to the info-graphic making me want to read the article if I found the data interesting.

    Poynter had many good steps to becoming a data journalist, but what hit me was the last step. Be the data project you want to see on the Web. With this step in mind, it makes people strive to make their blog, story, etc. the best of their subject. That means taking into account all of the other steps even if it takes a lot of work to successfully complete the step.

  6. Karly Marie says:

    I believe data is one of those words that make journalists squeal. Numbers are scary, I’ll be the first to admit, but as journalists, it is our job to understand them and explain them to our audience.

    In this chapter, Briggs gave numerous examples of different types of data. Journalists can use spreadsheets, maps, ect. to organize all the information. Visuals can be great learning tools, as well.

    Poynter stated “Be the data project you want to see on the Web.” I think that is a great way to think about what way data should be explained. A journalist should think how they would need it to be explained to them, would they need it compared to something or would a visual best explain it?

    Paul Bradshaw explain scraping, I’ve also heard it referred to as harvesting. It is a great technique for a journalist. However, as we all saw with what happened to The Guardian, we must tread lightly.

  7. When rebranding or developing a campaign or event, PR professionals report a current situation analysis and secondary/primary research. These reports include extreme data collection and infrographics featuring geographics, demographics product evaluation, consumer evaluation, ect. After reading Briggs’ and the following links, I noticed that much of my PR practices are similar to data journalism. Data journalism help us access information and breakdown and analyze the data. According to Poynter, successful data projects don’t begin with a great data set. It begins with research questions. In the PR profession, we apply this method to qualitative and quantitative research for rebranding, marketing, event planning and campaigns.

    Briggs’ reading got me thinking about how much information goes through a news organization a day…the number has to be infinite. I can see why it is important to organize the information electronically into fields in a spreadsheet or database.

    Wikileak’s data collection is a perfect example of why newsrooms should adopt computer assisted reporting. Their projects are easy to use for investigating reporting and simple enough for readers. They are the perfect combination of traditional journalism and the power of technology.

  8. Renata Di Gregorio says:

    I think Wikileaks’ use of data journalism in displaying facts about war is proof that using data as graphics in this way is necessary to understand certain concepts. You can list large numbers of US Embassy cables, but without a graphic it would be hard to understand or visualize. Something about data journalism I kept thinking of that no one really brought up is that people are lazy. Someone would much rather look at a picture to understand a concept than read a full article. Using data visually also increases your credibility and shows your creativity in a competitive area, as Briggs and Troy Thibodeaux said in the Poynter article.
    I think the most difficult part would be actually creating the graph. Briggs explains ways to do it in the chapter and has also convinced me I should learn so I don’t end up being the boiled frog. I also researched “yak shaving,” as Thibodeaux mentioned because something with a name that random and ridiculous must be interesting. I think I do a lot of yak shaving when doing research for my blog posts, but Thibodeaux said you have to do it sometimes to develop a concept so I feel better about that.
    Briggs says that “Every story is a field of data,” and Thibodeaux says that “Anything countable can count as data,” so I think we should look at that as a challenge. Developing data into stories seems like an innovative step in journalism that may be necessary because the field is competitive. But more than that it helps tell stories and perhaps the more data becomes widely-used, the more people will be able to understand.
    Perhaps we can take Gandhi’s advice “Be the change you want to see in the world,” by starting smaller and doing as Thibodeaux said: “Be the data project you want to see on the Web.”

  9. Data is scary, and I’ll be the first one to say that I hate math. One of my journalism professors said that journalists need to be proficient in math. That is definitely a setback, because I am not. The problem I have is translating the information into something that I can understand.

    Wikileaks helped to do this. Journalists took the 92,201 rows of data and compiled and presented it in a way in which the general public was able to understand. The is the cornerstone of data journalism and I believe this is an aspect of journalism that is widely overlooked in many ways. A journalists job is to tell the story, they are charged to educate and teach the public. They are often tasked with taking something hard to understand and making it understandable to the general public. This is also something that the Data Journalism Handbook agrees with.

    Briggs talked about the use of apps and software to make data collection and organization easier for the masses. I liked his discussion of dropbox, because I use the app religiously. I didn’t realize all of it’s capabilities, and think that it is an underrated aspect of the view of apps. We don’t use them to their full potential, which can be especially dangerous if you are using apps which cost money.

    Briggs also mentioned that “Stories are collections of data”. I tend to disagree with this statement because I believe that personal insight makes a story more relatable. However, good data is imperative to good journalism.

  10. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some minor hands-on experience with the good, bad and ugly of data driven journalism. Briggs has a lot of great examples on the power of data-rich stories, but big data comes with big responsibility. Personal experience has led me to be cautious when it comes to searching for stories within data. As journalists, we have to remember that correlation does not always equal causation.

    With that being said, it’s also interesting to me that Briggs was so supportive of posting raw data and inviting users to share stories. The Guardian’s choice to pose the Wikileaks data had its own pitfalls. The datablog article even quotes,

    “The casualties data brought its own challenges, repeated again when we dealt with the Iraq data. It was often inaccurately compiled and incomplete – we compared Nato-recorded casualties too, to test the veracity of the data, and the results varied.”

    I fully support access for journalists and public alike, but we need to understand what we’re looking at before we tear through every expense ledger of every politician. Even in the small experience I had, we realized we had flawed and skewed data. What was on our paper was not an accurate portrayal of our subject. So while I know data is powerful and important, and I can’t wait to see how we better utilize it, we need to be smart about it, and never forget that careful and diligent reporting can’t be replaced by a spreadsheet.

  11. paigeczyzewski says:

    In a class last semester, we covered visual journalism in the form of data and info graphics. Maybe it was because the original example given was about baseball stats, but I found that I enjoyed the colors and the visuals (I’m a child, we know this). It wasn’t until I looked at more visuals that I really understood the impact: there was one interactive chart, and it was about gun violence. White lines were stretched from one side of the blackened screen to the other faster than my eyes could follow and a number counted silently at the bottom. It was the number of children dying on a daily basis from guns, and it was rising quicker by the moment it seemed. Though it sounds odd, I really understood and appreciated the data for that.

    As for this class, I can’t tell whether I enjoyed this Briggs’ chapter or not. On the one hand, numbers are a hard pass for me. Hard. Pass. Sure, I enjoy making the data charts and graphs because it’s meticulous and fun in that crazy “I’m a type A psychopath who creates spread sheets in her down time” kind of way, but if I have a choice to avoid numbers, I will. However, I see the importance behind data. Briggs’ is right to say that paper can’t grab the full potential of a story when data can hold so much impact. I also like his information on map mashups, something I was completely unaware of, but the chapter really began with electronic organization. I’m great with organization and alright with electronics, but I actually hate the phone. And texting. And email. Electronics, really. Therefore getting that organized will be… so much fun. Yet it all makes sense. The world of journalism is truly headed towards technology. Being talented with coding and data is going to be valuable, which means that I agree with Thibodeaux’s article on Poynter in which he suggest becoming the resident expert with tech skills. May just save your job one day.

  12. ctomes says:

    Data is something that some journalists fear because all they think of is math, although they may not know that use data all the time. Infographs are something many journalists use to show what is going on in a story and will help some people even understand what its about. Data can also help to tell a story when words simply cant they can also be a huge tool when it comes to showing examples and really helping people grasp how severe a story can be with numbers.

    Stories sometimes need that visual data like the WikiLeaks example to just help people understand the significance but sometimes they also need the information put into a way that everyone can understand it. With the WikiLeaks they scaled everything down so that people could really understand the data, this is helpful because then everyone can read the story and understand it. Briggs builds on this talking about how data and data collection can make things easier for the masses.

    I think all of this is true, in my personal experience data can only help improve a story. If you are for example talking about prison overcrowding a story can be brought to life if you give it data and show how this is a problem. If you give numbers and also show how more people in cells can lead to deaths then it will help to improve your story.

    In the end I think the Data Journalism Handbook says it best when it says, “Using data transforms something abstract into something everyone can understand and relate to.” I think this is a perfect statement when it comes to data in journalism.

  13. cposey32014 says:

    If I understand correctly I think being a data journalist is kind of similar to being a multimedia journalist. Poynter describes it as being able to make graphics and include additional content into your journalism. I think back on my experience and WVU News was really something that dealt with this subject for me. You had to do some digging to find the information you wanted and needed, and it also required you to make some graphics for the news packages.

    Briggs recommends for data journalist that you have apps to keep all of your content and in the past I have dealt with drop box. It makes it easy to know where your content is but also allows you to share it with others.

    I also think about all the stories that could be complicated to understand and how if you add a simple graphic or are able to be that data journalist your viewers will thank you in the long run.

  14. Data is obviously very important when it comes to journalism. Data can make or break a story. Often times the numbers are a crucial component to a story.

    For example, data in terms of numbers can be very important for someone in investigative journalism because clearly sorting out numerical data can show a reader that the journalist has done his or homework. Data is often compared in stories. I recently did a story in class comparing tax numbers in the city of Morgantown.

    Briggs mentions dropbox and this a useful tool. In that same class I mentioned, we work in groups and we keep a lot of our data/interview and other material organized by keeping in a drop box.

    Data is usually an essential piece to a story. It can enhance a story and give the numbers so that readers can see the difference in something.

  15. Mike Marsh says:

    When I think of data what comes to mind first is statistics. In journalism data is required to compile different stats to use in your stories. Once data is collected or achieved somewhere it is then available to be used by journalists to enhance what they are reporting on.

    In the chapter Briggs makes some important points about data journalism. He discussed how data driven journalism is made easier when easier when journalists take advantage of shared databases and online spreadsheets. A good example that Briggs uses is a USA Today database that contains payrolls and salaries of different MLB teams. Having these types of databases available to for the public to look at gives more depth to any journalism website and provides an opportunity for the viewer to find more specific information on a specific story. In this USA Today example this database is a good supplement to any baseball story talking about payrolls or player contracts.

    Briggs also discusses how to create spreadsheets to organize data in an easy to read format. I have had some experience with excel CS101 and also was introduced to the google spread sheets in JRL215, so I have some experience with creating spreadsheets and I agree that it is certainly an efficient way to present data.

    The article on Poynter that talked about how to get started with data journalism made a really good point saying that developing as many sources as possible is an important aspect of data journalism. Signing up for email lists to get informed about any new information about a specific group or attending meetings and conventions to personally meet people in a field that you are collecting data on can be very beneficial. The more connections the better! Also, having a big network of people that you can go to for information is always helpful.

  16. abdulazizq8 says:

    Having access to a large amount of data could be a good and a bad thing at the same time. It could be a good thing because journalists need to know everything that is going on. Having huge databases and other sources of data would help their purpose. On the other hand, it could be a bad thing because we could get lost in this large amount of data. Most of the data are not important to that important to the public. Journalist will put a lot of time and effort to dig in the data and take what they need.

    Briggs talks about this situation in his book. He said that news organizations have a lot of data but only little of it is accessible to its journalists. The only way to fix this problem is by uploading all the data to the Internet and creating search engines. This would make it easier to find the important information.

    Searching online does not always work well. Wikileakes uploaded thousands of documents online with unclear titles. It would be difficult to find a particular document among thousands of others. This problem could be solved if Wikileakes organizes its website, so that normal receivers gain easy access to the information they need.

  17. Collen Lewis says:

    Data journalism isn’t anything new, but the things being done with it are. Wikileaks was what finally made everyone realize how important data can be. With this data governments have realized they need to be more transparent because the data will eventually get our there if it exists.

    I use Pew Research Center to find data for most of my blog posts and tweets if they are relevant. Data is the new quote, it gives you more information than an entire day out on the street or making phone calls could.

    Just as Briggs has suggested with every new media source we must adopt data in order to further the field of journalism.

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