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.