Data and its impact on journalism

In regards to the UK's recent boom in open data, Simon Rogers of the Guardian, ponders data's role in journalism, and the opportunities this new found information could bring:

The impact on journalism is expected to be great. The Chicago-based web developer and founder of the neighbourhood news site EveryBlock, Adrian Holovaty, says it's going to be challenging but exciting for journalists. "As more governments open their data, journalists lose privileged status as gatekeepers of information – but the need for their work as curators and explainers increases. The more data that's available in the world, the more essential it is for somebody to make sense of it."

This need not only creates a fresh brand of news, but also a new type of journalist:

I once prided myself on my lack of maths knowledge. Now I find myself editing a datajournalism site, the Guardian's datablog: a site where we use Google Spreadsheets to post key datasets. We make the data properly accessible, then encourage our users to take the numbers, produce graphics and applications and help us look for stories.

Priding yourself on a lack of know-how on how to deal with data is a little weird, but okay.

In any case, people always ask me how to get into information design, infographics, visualization etc. Journalism is one of those choices, and there's a lot of opportunity there if you've got the skills.


  • Hello,

    We spoke with Simon and some other leading journalists in this area about what the new data means for journalists and what new skills might be needed – thought might be of interest:



  • So, I suppose that the future will behold “quantitative methods for journalism” courses in university programs — sounds good to me…

  • Great article about a key initiative.

    We were at the Guardian offices recently producing Vizs with Tableau on Culture data. The Guardian is a key player in the Open data initiative in the UK. It is great to see journalists embracing and encouraging this change in policy regarding data.

  • I am a retiring scientist from the US Geological Survey who is starting a business training people (high school to researcher!) on DATA TO INSIGHT. There are a few fundamental principles that everyone should – and can – master.

  • Sage Lichtenwalner June 14, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    I love Holovaty’s quote. If you consider the average citizen 200 years ago, you didn’t have to be well educated to understand the important issues of the day. Relating to the need to build a bridge between one town and the next to improve commerce, is petty easy. Journalists, of course, were tasked to relay and make sense of these issues for the public.

    But the issues we face today (climate change, health policy, national security, etc.) are fare more intricate and complex. And as we all know, finding understanding and solutions to these issues often involves sifting through and interpreting gobs of data.

    Therefore, the journalist’s job has changed from synthesizing and conveying information (which thanks to the power of the internet, everyone can now do for themselves) to repurposing and curating government datasets for public consumption.

    But while the role of journalism may be changing, I’m still wonder about the public’s aptitude for this new data-heavy world….

    We may need more data scientists, but we still need storytellers.


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