I didn’t study journalism to do maths. No one studies journalism to do MATHS! Journalists have a passion for writing, a love for words. So when humanities students are expected to be able to collect, clean and structure data, they are bound to be a bit unhappy.
There is no one way to define data journalism (DJ). Too much falls under this heading to bag in one sentence. We could say that it is journalism done with data or numbers, but “data” is more than just numbers. Data-driven journalism has existed for as long as data has. Just because it is trending, does not mean that it is new. It is only when you give the figures that people start to take things seriously. You can not report on murder with no statistics.No one takes anything seriously with no numbers. Election results and market reports become boring without info-graphics.
Data journalists take information that ordinary citizens would not have otherwise understood and make it understandable. It’s not a replacement for “ordinary” journalism but a supporting tool. “Over R200 million in state funds misused” sounds more interesting than “State funds misused”. Without the data, stories on the Panama Papers which are renowned as the biggest data journalism investigation in history, would have been impossible to produce.
According to The Data Journalism Handbook, “Data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told or it can be both. Like any source, it should be treated with skepticism; and like any tool, we should be conscious of how it can shape and restrict the stories that are created with it.”
The data is your source just as much as that 11 am interview at the coffee shop down the street is. Steve Doig says that data is just another source and that it does not mean ignoring other ethical considerations that one has to take when compiling a news story. All the steps that go into any other story whether it is using the inverted pyramid or chronological approach, still go into(CAR) computer-assisted reporting.
This is not a new field of journalism but a skill that all journalists can acquire. If you can interrogate and interview people, you can do the same to “maths” Question it, analyze it, check it’s credibility and give your readers stories in language that they understand. It is a new way of story-telling but still just journalism.