Tag Archives: data journalism

Journalism Technologies: 21. Data Journalism

Last week was our data journalism week on the Journalism Technologies module, and my colleague Caroline Pringle gave the lecture. Data journalism is probably not the ‘future of news’ flavour of the month it was a few years back – but then, what is? – but a series of recent developments mean it’s becoming increasingly prominent in the UK’s local media.

The BBC’s Shared Data Unit, part of its Local News Partnerships initiative which includes the higher profile Local Democracy Reporters, has begun publishing its first stories. The unit acts as a sort of training ground for journalists on local papers, who spend three months at a time working on the team at BBC Birmingham, creating stories from data for use by various outlets. Then there’s the increasing profile of The Bureau Local, a Google-funded offshoot of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which recently made a splash with a detailed analysis of council budgets around the country.

Teaching this stuff is harder than it might sound, not least because teaching it properly involves spreadsheets and some quite tricky maths, exactly the sort of thing that journalism students who dropped Maths as soon as they could after GCSE, aren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of. Our solution for this first year class is to give seminar groups a publicly available dataset, such as BBC Sport’s Price of Football, or data from RAJAR and UCAS. Then, they have to write stories in groups with either a local, national or regional angle. It’s a fun session and works well in the time allowed, but it only scratches the surface of the sort of tasks you might get into in a data or investigative-type module. But then again, a little bit of looking at numbers is more than enough for a lot of media students.

Journalism Technologies: 21. Data Journalism

It was over to my colleague Caroline Pringle once again this week, for Monday’s lecture in our Journalism Technologies module. She looked at data journalism, a term often used in passing but relatively poorly understood by a lot of journalism students, who may not get much opportunity to put it into practice while also learning the more traditional basic skills of their trade.

Of the points which Caroline made in the lecture, the one about 90% of all data in human history being generated within the last two years is the nugget which remains the most jaw-dropping. With all that data floating around, journalists simply can’t afford to be put off by charts, tables and statistics, even if they ended up becoming interested in this as a career because they enjoyed English and couldn’t hack maths.

For the practical sessions, we gave students a dataset each – Sports Journalism students, for example, got the BBC’s Price of Football survey from last year – and they were told to work in small groups to identify some key lines, and then write the first few sentences of a story for either a local, regional or national publisher. This worked well as an exercise to fit easily within an hour-long class. There are plenty of interesting factoids in even such a relatively straightforward dataset, ranging from the cheap prices on offer at high-flying Huddersfield, to the extraordinary fact that North Ferriby’s cheapest season ticket is actually dearer than the ones at their Premier League neighbours, Hull City. Now all of the students have done a tiny bit of data journalism once, it’ll be much easier for them to believe they can do it again.