Everybody has a mouthpiece now and the social media are facilitating this. News is everywhere and breaking news on the front page becomes obsolete, because the news is already out on social media like Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Is this also the end of journalism as far as we know it? (http://memeburn.com/2012/08/will-the-real-journalists-please-stand-up/)
Tweeps, bloggers and Facebook adapts are taking over the role of journalists, but is it quality reporting and professional journalism? Print media at least in Western part of the world are in bad weather: news papers are closing or merging and journalists are laid off. The public finds the news on the social media, and is ending their subscriptions. On the other hand the demand for quality reporting: background, news analysis and investigations is rising. Data journalism is one of the possibilities to renew journalism. (Published on Memeburn: http://memeburn.com/2012/10/how-data-can-save-journalism-as-we-know-it/)
An interesting example how data journalism can enhance the quality of reporting comes from City Press: Council bigwigs get fat cheques. (http://www.citypress.co.za/Politics/News/Council-bigwigs-get-fat-cheques-20120915 ). The story investigates the pay rise of municipal officials across South Africa using Treasury data. That Council managers would pay themselves more than clerks and cleaners is not a big surprise, but to know who, where and how much is important to check local government.
Data journalism works best when there is cooperation between print and on line. In case of the City Press example the on line and the hard copy story are the same. That is a pity. An interactive map with data would have enhanced the story on line. Data journalism is therefore also demanding some convergence between hard copy and on line.
In 2011 after a shooting in a shopping mall in Alphen aan de Rijn in the Netherlands (six people died and 17 injured), people wondered how easy it is to get a license for a semi automatic weapon, even if a persons was mentally unstable. More then a year later journalists asked for data related to the licensing of weapons in order to investigate the change in policy. Getting a license became more difficult, the number of refused applications rose and the number of controls increased as well, according to nu.nl, a Dutch online news service (http://www.nu.nl/binnenland/2937492/wapenvergunning-lastiger-krijgen-sinds-alphen.html)
Coping Press Releases
This not 'flat earth news' or just coping press releases (http://www.flatearthnews.net/), but serious investigating and checking, based on a large amount of official data. Sometimes these investigation turn into a major news story, as The Guardian showed in the analysis of the London riots last year. Not simple vandalism but a social protest, was the message.(http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/dec/09/data-journalism-reading-riots)
For most journalists data journalism looks like a dangerous desert of numbers. Everybody knows how to handle a word processor, but a spreadsheets for calculations is an other ball game. Downloading data from databases or scraping them from the web is often an unknown territory. Lots' s of new tools are becoming available. Ranging from Outwit Hub to Google Refine for scraping and cleaning data, and Fusion Tables to Tableau for mapping and visualizing.( http://memeburn.com/2012/03/data-journalism-where-coders-and-journos-meet/ ) Mastering these tools on your own is not easy and training is therefore needed to get into the business.
On the other hand, you don't have to know everything in detail. Data journalism is team work. The writer cooperates with the coder and designer and they all are in close contact with the researcher. Cooperating in a team with different specializations requires that there is a common understanding or knowledge. The complete team should know about the basics of data journalism. A great source for inspiration is the Data Journalism Handbook, which was recently published. (http://datajournalismhandbook.org/).
The interest in data journalism is rising. After several days of training for Print and Digital Media South Africa(http://www.printmedia.org.za/) in September at Johannesburg it became clear that hands-on workshops in the basics of data journalism makes it easier to get started. In the Netherlands, most national and regional newspapers have signed up for 3-4 days workshops on the ins and outs of spreadsheets, scrapping and mapping.
Not only the profession but also the schools of journalism are jumping on the bandwagon. Lecturing at Wits showed me that young (student)journalists are keen in exploring these new ways of reporting. At the end of this month Wits organizes again Power Reporting 2012, The African Investigative Journalism Conference (http://www.journalism.co.za/powerreporting), paying much attention to data journalism workshop.