First European Data and Computational Journalism Conference — Quick Review

Conference lanyard (Jennifer A. Stark)

Earlier this month I presented at the first ever European Data and Computational Journalism Conference (on twitter: @DataJConf, #datajconf), hosted this time in Dublin, Ireland. Next year it will be in Cardiff, Wales, and perhaps longer than 1.5 days. Being relatively new to data journalism — and only from the US side — I am unfamiliar with what is already available in Europe as far as conferences go. But this one addresses what was apparently lacking: getting academic and industry people together!

The academic contributions were topically diverse. All the mini-papers for academic talks are available here. Tomas Petricek showcased an exploratory data visualization tool; Bahareh Heravi addressed the state of data journalism around the world; Colin Scott promoted the new Data Journalism program at University College Dublin; Martin Chorley and Glyn Mottershead described creating their Computation and Data Journalism program at Cardiff University. I spoke about the use of baselines to provide context that makes the story: without context, your data might be just a bunch of observations that mean nothing on their own (GitHub repo and slides here); and Marc Esteve del Valle discussed the application of machine learning to understand communication styles of politicians and journalists on Twitter.

From practitioners, Kathryn Torney from The Detail Data talked about their investigative data journalism work in Northern Ireland; Marianne Bouchart gave a comprehensive overview of winning data journalism stories around the world, and Eva Constantaras spoke about the amazing work she and Internews USA does training new data journalists in places you would probably not go on vacation.

We also heard from three invited speakers: how data has been applied to investigative journalism in the Republic of Ireland from Conor Ryan of RTÉ Investigations; Google News Lab data journalist Clara Guibourg expounded on the use of Google Trends as a tool for uncovering public interest — what do people want to know about? What are communities concerned about that journalists could investigate? Finally, The Bureau Local Director Megan Lucero introduced us to their collaborative journalism initiative working with local reporters on local stories across the UK.

Some numbers of note:

  • There were over 100 registrants (~40 were expected);
  • Registration was €10–35. The fee was waived for speakers.
  • Seven of 12 speakers were women;
  • The submission acceptance rate was 35%.

Day two was just a half day, and consisted of an unconference track and an Introduction to Data Journalism Workshop track. For those of you new to the term, an unconference is a meeting of minds where there is no pre-specified agenda. Instead, discussion topics emerge, and break-out groups may form. All the notes from the unconference are available in a GitHub repo here. So many pertinent discussions, including on the need for better communication of uncertainty, how we can be more transparent in our methods, and the barriers associated with these challenges like deadlines, formats, and privacy.

Workshop materials can be found here. R was the data tool the organizers opted for. Personally, I’m biased toward Python, but I started in R, and really liked it — it’s actually what got me into coding in the first place! Everyone has their preference in how they work and think about data and computation. I find it fascinating how people can get territorial about programming or scripting languages, so I might have to explore this topic for a separate post!

All in all, I really enjoyed the conference, and was able to meet some awesome people who I hope to run into again or work with in the future. I’m confident this meeting will be even bigger and better in the years to come.

I will be facilitating a session on code review strategies at OpenNews’ SRCCON in Minneapolis next week. Hopefully, I’ll manage to write up something about that sooner!