Why the future of news relies on data journalism

By Lyndsey • NewsCred Blog

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As election season heats up and Americans are being hit with the barrage of approval rating meters, bailout numbers, and unemployment data. In the era of rapid communication and an excess of information, technology has played a critical role in sorting, sifting, and analyzing information data into digestible portions.

Behind the stories, statistics, and infographics, are journalists. Traditionally, journalists were responsible for unearthing information and weaving the facts together to tell an accurate ‘who, what, where, when why, and how.’ In today’s complex world where information is no longer a scarce commodity, the journalist’s role as an aggregator, filter, and fact-checker has become more difficult and even more critical.

Amid information overload—millions of web pages, tweets, blog posts, and confounding stories-- journalists are still responsible for sorting through the facts and then verifying them. This is where data-driven journalism comes in.

Data journalism is obtaining, reporting on, curating, and publishing data in the public interest. Blending publicly-available data with strict rules of ethics journalists set themselves, journalists set themselves apart from the millions of other content creators on the web.

Below are three reasons why the future of news relies on data journalism:

1. Adds credibility to a story -- The hardest part of consuming content today is sifting through information in order to determine the truth. According to a online poll of 7,087 adults and 1,787 teenagers released Sept. 5, more than 50 percent of adults and teens say they feel overwhelmed by information. The various interests, sources, and mediums have left audiences in a chronic state of distrust.

But data journalism restores an element of credibility to news stories. Data taken from credible sources and interpreted in a simple, straightforward way provides the extra evidence that readers require to buy into a story. ProPublica, a public interest news site, does an excellent job of bolstering its stories with data. The Pulitzer Prize-winning non-profit, supplemented its coverage of the bailout with a bailout tracker database, sortable by state, number of recipients, and amount of money committed. Now readers can truly analyze the bailout themselves using cold hard facts.

2. Allows for visualization-- Numbers and computers go hand and hand. Data journalism lends itself to computer manipulation and visualization. Considering thathalf of the human brain is wired for vision, it seems only obvious that journalists would manipulate data and present it in attractive visualizations.USA Todaydid just that with its unemployment claims interactive line graph. When rolled over with a cursor, the graph lists weekly jobless claims from March-September 2012. Using visualization tools, audiences can better see, digest, and draw conclusions about the facts presented before them.

3. Assists human reporting -- Some journalists are taking data a step further. Not only are they using it to bolster their own stories but they are also using data to find trends worthy of stories. By analyzing sets of data, journalists may be able to identify patterns that wouldn’t be obviously recognized by humans alone. For example, the New York Times campaign finance API led reporter Derek Willis to the conclusion that fewer big donors were contributing to the Obama campaign than they did during 2008 election.

As the traditional news industry declines in favor of new media and data journalism takes its place in the newsroom, many fear the end of human journalism. But data journalism doesn’t do away with humans. After all, editorial judgments cannot be replicated by robots. Rather, data introduces a new role for the journalist to play.

In the evolving future, journalists will need to learn new skill sets—more analytical, quantitative, even programming-heavy. After all, the one thing that hasn’t changed through the decades of reporting is that the best journalists are the ones who can adapt to anything.

Image: Jonathan Gray/Flickr

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