vrijdag 8 juni 2018

IS DATA JOURNALISM UNDER ATTACK (Opening Media Lab speech, Peter Verweij)

Dar es Salaam June 7, 2018 Tanzania Media Fund(TMF)

Lianne Houben (in the middle)Deputy Head of Mission
at the Embassy of the Netherlands at Dar es Salaam
opening the new media lab  TMF
Photo Josh Laporte EJC

Of course you are all on Facebook, right? So you all gave Zuckerberg permission to Hoover up all your data to sell targeted advertising. In exchange you can post messages and pics to the world and to your friends. Zuckerberg: creating better communication we create we better world. This ideology is under attack one we understand the true business model behind Facebook. Not only making huge profits but through analyzing and combining the data of the users trying to influence our thinking and acting through advertising/information. Book a flight and within minutes your advised to book a car and a hotel at your destination. And it is not only Facebook but Amazon and Google as well. They all live from the use and misuse of your data. After Cambridge analytics Facebook got the full blow, the others are temporarily off the hook. The result is clear: The sole idea of data is under attack: because of privacy advertising manipulation and misuse. There is something fishy about data.

Public Sphere
D3-Media, Peter Verweij
When I switched on the Internet at the School of Journalism at the end of the eighties of the past century. I was impressed by the idea of electronic communication: ranging from e-mail to IRC chat.
This would enhance communication and understanding, and contribute to democracy. The electronic town was a blink to Athens direct democracy. The irony is that these tools intended to enlarge freedom turned into the opposite, as if Habermas Strukturwandel der Offentlichkeit is rewritten for the 21 century. Public opinion in manipulated, through social media.

But it is getting worse. At first the Internet seemed very promising to journalism: more sources, more tools for publishing, better journalism, it seemed. However if you look at the number of subscribers in the western world. All hard copy newspaper subscriptions are down: Telegraaf from 700.000 to 300.000 in a couple of years. This is not compensated by a rise in online subscriptions. Not the press, or journalism, but social media is the source of information. And in this way the very foundation of democracy , the role of journalism in the discussion among an informed public , is fundamentally changing.

Journalism and the 'traditional media' are replaced by social media 'we media'(Gilmor). The rules of the journalistic process: truth and objectivity/independent reporting are not self evident anymore. There are facts and alternative facts, stating the opposite. A fact is an opinion. It implies that even the idea of truth is lost, rational discussion is replaced by exchange of emotions, and by staying in our comfort zone we avoid getting informed about other ideas and opinions.

The Internet, the social media, mobile phone...they all will not vanish. They are with us and we have to decide how to use them. So we have to reinvent journalism and bring back the fundamental meaning of data in social discourse. Data journalism and the TMF media lab dedicated to this type of journalism is a very important step. Generally speaking it enhances the quality of reporting by bringing data/fact based reporting. It creates a bull-work against manipulation and misinformation.

Data Journalism
The shortest definition of data journalism is 'social science done on deadline' (Dough). We incorporate the tools of the social sciences to analyze data and include them in our storytelling.
In the beginning, some 10-15 years ago, practicing data journalism needed extra skills and training. Scraping data, cleaning up and analyzing in Excel, making graphs in maps, getting data into the story, this all needed some extra journalism training. Therefore data journalism became a specialization of journalism. The field is changing fast, and data journalism becomes a do it your self toolkit everybody can use if a minimum number of skills and understanding. Take a tool like Flourish for example: put the data in and push a button a get the graph of a map. To introduce these new and easily to use tools to the newsroom and reporters is one of the tasks of the media lab, I think.

If you ask a journalist why he or she choose this profession, a likely answer is that he/she hated mathematics. What a pity, the data, the numbers are back!. All kind of organizations are collecting data, from the government and NGO's to private forms and companies. Some of these data are “open source”or 'open data' and can be used in our reporting. Take for example waterpoints in Tanzania published by the government. Or stories in the Economist about GDP and Sovereign Debt, dirty cooking fuels. These data and the related stories pre-supposes a bit more then pushing a button to the graph; some basic statistical knowledge to calculate for example key figures, relationships between variables and checking confidence intervals. Deepening the statistical understanding of data is I believe a second important task of this Lab. An introduction to R-project is a possibility. Or going deeper into design; introducing D3 graphics based on Java script.

This knowledge is also so important to have an answer to fake news and fake data and fake research. On the other hand the government is also checking the use of data; there are several media laws in Tanzania controlling the use of data. Having background knowledge about data analysis avoids conflicts with data media laws. TMF media lab should play a role in the interpretation and understanding of these media data laws.

Three/four years ago I did the first data journalism training at Mwananchi, now more newspapers, Daily News and Guardian for example are using data tools. The role of TMF in training was growing over the years. I think this media lab is an other mile stone on the path to credible journalism.

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