Data Journalism is Revolutionising Local News

Data journalism will play a growing role in contemporary society, according to experts at The Media Society's data journalism event yesterday.

On the panel were Google Lab Data Editor and City University graduate Simon Rogers, Rachel Oldroyd, Managing Editor for The Bureau for Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and Cultural Commentator Peter York. Jonathan Hewett of City University completed the line-up.

As well as stressing the importance of data journalism generally, the panel also highlighted it as an essential skill for modern journalists, and one which was revolutionising news on a local level.

'There has to be a degree of data literacy'

"If you are thinking or training to become a journalist, you should think seriously about adding data to your toolkit," said Rachel Oldroyd. "There has to be a degree of data literacy."

Discussing The Bureau's relationship with news at a local level, she detailed the unique way in which they were able to collect and share data between small news establishments which often lacked investigative resources.

One recent example saw TBIJ collaborate with 60 local journalists in the run up to the recent snap election. With The Bureau doing the legwork to create a huge and complex data set, they were able to successfully predict huge losses in Tory seats across Britain.

Adding weight to the idea of sharing data, Simon Rogers added: "You need to make data open to enable collaboration."

'It's not about having a tonne of money, it's about telling stories'

TBIJ is just one example of allowing small newsrooms to use data on a limited budget - something the panel were keen to stress is possible.

Simon Rogers, who set up the Guardian's Datablog - the first of its kind in the UK - before becoming Twitter's first Data Editor, has undeniably been at the heart of data journalism's rise.

"Data journalism has seen global growth, which can be seen through the diversity of the Data Journalism Awards.

"This year's website of the year was won by Colombia's Rutas del Conflicto, which was run by just three journalists on a limited budget. It's not about having a tonne of money, it's about ability to tell stories."

Making something readers can understand

Simon also impressed the importance of making the data something readers can easily understand. "Visuals and GIFs on social media are just as effective as huge 1,000 word epic pieces," he explained.

"Making data human and fun is a means to be accessible," he added, noting that humans are engaged by pictures long before they can read.

However, Peter York was quick to remind the audience "it's not just about pretty graphics, you need to have that editorial skill".

He continued that data journalism was just one aspect of a successful journalist's arsenal, alongside a sense of currency, a moral imagination and an ability to explain things easily.

The ugly side of data journalism 

It wasn't all good news though, with Rachel Oldroyd claiming she could "no longer do my job properly, as I can no longer guarantee data source protection."

Peter York also highlighted the misuse of data for immoral causes. He cited companies using complex methods such as micro targeting to push the personal beliefs of their owners into reality.

For example, it was Cambridge Analyticia's partial owner Ruper Mercer who supported both Trump and the Leave.EU campaign which backed Brexit, and they are now being investigated for their involvement in the campaign.

Featured Image: Kaitlin Ramby / Twitter 
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