In large amounts of data, information is hidden that can hardly be recognized with simple means. Special methods for data analysis are in demand and visualization techniques in particular help to overview the information gained and to pass it on in an understandable way.
Media have recognised the potential of statistical and other data years ago; this has led to what has been practised as data journalism in various large newspapers and also in newspaper co-operations.
A pioneer is The Guardian, whose datablog celebrated its 10th anniversary in March 2019:
But hardly anyone is ever the first. Especially when it comes to the visualization of data, there are examples that date back centuries.
But a new era has dawned with the use of computers in data analysis to generate interesting journalistic stories.
Of central importance here is the person of Philip Meyer, who began to use computer-assisted reporting as a journalist in the 1960s.
In his book ‘Precision Journalism: A Reporter’s Introduction to Social Science Methods‘, published in his first edition in 1973, Meyer describes the demands on journalism that are still valid today and that are becoming data journalism.
‘There was a time when all you [as a journalist] needed was dedication to truth, plenty of energy, and some talent for writing. You still need those things, but they are no longer sufficient. The world has become so complicated, the growth of available information so explosive, that the journalist needs to be a filter, as well as a transmitter; an organizer and interpreter, as well as one who gath ers and delivers facts. In addition to knowing how to get information into print, online, or on the air, he or she also must know how to get it into the receiver’s head. In short, a journalist has to be a database manager, a data processor, and a data analyst. …..
In the information society, the needs are more complex. Read any of the popular journals of media criticism and you will find the same complaints about modern journalism. It misses important stories, is
too dependent on press releases, is easily manipulated by politicians and special interests, and does not communicate what it does know in an effective manner. All of these complaints are justified. Their Cause is not so much a lack of energy, talent, or dedication to truth, as the critics some times imply, but a simple lag in the application of information science—a body of knowledge—to the daunting problems of reporting the news in a time of information overload.
Today’s journalist must also be familiar with the growingjournalistic body of knowledge, which, therefore, must include these elements:
1 How to find information.
2 How to evaluate and analyze it
3 How to communicate it in a way that will pierce the babble of infor-
mation overload and reach the people who need and want it.
4 How to determine, and then obtain, the amount of precision needed
for a particular story. ‘
(Meyer, p. 1-2)
‘Data is not just about numbers’
Today’s data journalism is closely linked to the philosophy of open data. Data should be available in easily usable formats and be evaluable for everyone. But the claim of current data journalism – as represented by the Guardian authors – still follows the essential ideas of Philip Meyer.
‘We keep some of Meyer’s approach alive in how we do data journalism and we work alongside reporters to get the most out of the combination of data and specialist knowledge. Data is not just about numbers, and behind every row in a database there is a human story. They’re the stories we’re striving to tell. ‘ The Guardian Sat 23 Mar 2019
Since then, data-based journalism has set a trend. Many others publish data using graphics and are always looking for new ways to communicate the analysed data in an understandable way.
One of many examples is the New York Times, which celebrates Upshot’s 5th anniversary in 2019:
‘Five years ago today, The New York Times introduced The Upshot with the aim of examining politics, policy and everyday life in new ways. We wanted to experiment with formats, using whatever mix of text, data visualizations, images and interactive features seemed best for the subject at hand.
In the meantime there are networks that share their knowledge and offer help for data journalism or Data Driven Journalism DDJ. One of them (mostly in German) is datenjournalismus.net
Among the thousands of data-based stories and their visualizations there are highlights again and again. I don’t want to withhold my recent favourite. It is the analysis and visualization of the internal migration after the German reunification. Die Zeit presented this with a lot of effort and fascinating results in May 2019.
… and much more