There’s no such thing as data journalism

Hands up if you use data on a daily basis.

Hands up if know exactly what to do with it.

Hands up if you love it.

It’s OK to admit if your last two answers were a nervous cough or a resounding “heck, no” - we’re not judging. The proliferation of big data has forced journalists and other news professionals out of their natural habitat: a love of storytelling and the traditional culture of news sourcing. As the human element of a story is increasingly parsed into a quantifiable format that has demanded that we view stories through a new lens, the expectation on journalists has shifted from finding our beat on the street to looking for it on a spreadsheet.

Everyone is data-driven — it’s in the very nature of our job as journalists to distinguish fact vs fiction. Data is how we prove a point.

The term “data journalism” as a distinction from journalism implies that only a certain subsection of journalists are data-driven in their approach to journalism, and use data to illustrate their point. As many of you who aren’t data scientists but who answered “yes” to the first question will know, this isn’t true. It’s simply that journalists who don’t consider themselves “data journalists” don’t have the tools or skillset to optimize their analyses. In fact, everyone is data-driven — it’s in the very nature of our job as journalists to distinguish fact vs fiction. Data is how we prove a point.

There’s no getting away from the importance of data-driven journalism. Our news comes from information, and big data has generated more information than many of us know what to do with. If you’re lucky, then data excites you - knowing how to parse, analyze and disseminate data gives you a huge advantage in creating compelling stories of the kind that are rapidly becoming the standard. The more digitized media gets, the greater the need for adapting our practices to keep up with an increasingly metric-oriented journalistic culture.

Data.Tron by Ryoji Ikeda

But not everyone is a born data scientist. As it is, journalists and PRs alike suffer too easily from information asymmetry - finding sense in the vast amounts of information we already receive is a challenge we face every day when we look at our inboxes. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the relevant data, presented correctly, can alleviate the overload that plagues us on a daily basis.

Reporters who aren’t already well-versed in data are faced with technical barriers from the outset. This is why we’ve created Disclose, to enable information-rich story telling by breaking data down into manageable, bitesize chunks that can be filed, reused, and visualized by you at any time.

At Disclose, we view data not as an overwhelmingly number-driven mathematical model, but as factual components of a bigger picture that are essential to creating a story. We like what Matthew Jones has to say about data: “Data science depends utterly on algorithms but does not reduce to those algorithms. The use of those algorithms rests fundamentally on what sociologists of science call ‘tacit knowledge’ — practical knowledge not easily reducable to articulated rules — or perhaps impossible to reduce to rules.”

What is journalism if not the ability to surface and disseminate facts that weren’t previously known to the public; the ability to disclose information?

“Data journalism” - the term separates data from journalism, but these aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s no wonder that journalists don’t like data if they don’t know where the data stops and journalism starts. As the role of a journalist increasingly requires keeping up to date with an infinity of databases, we need periodic reminders that it takes just as much, if not more, human rationale and intuition to see a story in a single piece of information as it does relying on algorithms. For example:

Data: Whatsapp acquired by Facebook for $19 Billion

Journalism: Facebook has more money than sense

What is journalism if not the ability to surface and disseminate facts that weren’t previously known to the public; the ability to disclose information? By making it more accessible, Disclose democratizes data - whether you want to reference it, create a data visualization or share it. We’re committed to putting news back in your hands the way you want it, even if it means repackaging data so there’s not a spreadsheet in sight.