Data analysis is the future of journalism

Posted to Statistics

Tim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the Web, says analyzing data is the future of journalism:

"Journalists need to be data-savvy. It used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you'll do it that way some times.

"But now it's also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what's interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what's going on in the country."

The Guardian post focuses on current journalists learning new skills, but what we're also going to see is a new type of person — computer scientists, statisticians, and interaction designers — become the storytellers.

12 Comments

  • None of this matters if the journalism industry can’t find a way to make professional news-gathering financially sustainable. Everyone loves to proclaim what journalism should or shouldn’t be doing, but ultimately it comes down to talent. If there’s no money to pay them, why would skilled computer scientists, statisticians and designers ever go into the media business.

  • Berners-Lee was the creator of the World Wide Web, not the Internet; the latter was around for decades before TimBL had the idea of implementing a hypertext system on top of existing networking protocols.

  • I agree with you, Nathan — but I also have a caveat to add. It’s hard to tell a story well. It’s hard to engage an audience and keep them with you as you tell a story. Certainly some people have a knack for it, a talent — but not most people. I teach undergrad journalism students, and although many of them are good writers, they need a lot of schooling before they can really tell a story. It’s something to think about when we speak of data gurus becoming storytellers.

  • I have to agree with Mindy. Since I went to j-school many years ago, I’ve heard plenty about how journalists will become obsolete, whether it’s because of the web or data gurus. Personally, I think it’s easier for a journalist to learn how to analyze data than it is for a statistician to learn how to write a good story. But the point of this story is taken: certainly in this day and age, journalists need to know how to evolve if we want to make a decent living.

    • To be clear, I don’t think anyone is being replaced. I think that the availability of data provides new opportunities for traditional journalists, along with the people who typically have ‘analyst’ in their job description.

  • Sweeping statements like Data analysis is the future of journalism’ serve very little purpose.
    There is a difference between data and information. For those previously dry, data-driven stories a new way of showing them is unfolding before our eyes but they are a small, though important, part of journalism and visual journalism. Words (and numbers) don’t tell a story by themselves, we do that by using them to give the story or visual shape.

  • data analyst is also a pretty cool character in the tv show “fringe” :)

  • As one degreed and experienced in traditional journalism, and who now works every day in the world of data visualization, my perspective is that data analysis is an area of expertise that journalists need to be armed with in order to be fully equipped to write their story. Regardless of pay rate, there are many bright and talented journalists out there who may need more insight and information, but who don’t need computer science/analytical degrees or experience to translate information for readers. They’re a resourceful bunch, and can call on the expertise of researchers and scientists to leverage their skills when needed for deeper analysis. Perhaps new and seasoned journalists will pursue/are pursuing more technical training in the areas of data analysis and data visualization — and potentially those of us in the community can find ways to support their efforts.