How to make the news, news for longer? Data-journalism.

I try to catch the Guardian Technology Podcast, Tech Weekly on Sundays; optimum day for tech catch up as I usually listen to Tech Weekly before Leo Laporte gets cranked up from the TWiT Brick House. I still find myself making [physical] notes and every week I promise myself I’ll try one of those new Moleskine for Evernote notebooks. Speaking of Evernote, on the next to most recent Tech Weekly podcast Evernote founder Phil Libin joined Guardian Technology Editor Charles Arthur, also an interesting piece by columnist Alex Krotoski on herGoogle Maps&Foursquareled adventure at Challenge Nation and Facts Are Sacred.

The discussion with Simon Rogers was fascinating, detailing his moonlighting altruism whilst in The Guardian graphics department and the quiet Data Store that would become an immense resource and spark for all sorts of innovative uses of big, open data.  When you listen, don’t miss his tips on data tools – the World Bank.

Data journalism
In a piece published last year on the Guardian website Simon Rogers explains what data journalism means at the paper, and at a time when short-form journalism is increasingly hailed as a bright new thing, he says of data journalism:

…increasingly there’s a new short-form of data journalism, which is about swiftly finding the key data, analysing it and guiding readers through it while the story is still in the news. The trick is to produce these news data analyses, using the tech we have, as quickly as we can. And still get it right.

Organisations that have resources to collect large sets of data have mostly sat on this huge resource for years, so the openness of The Guardian and others to share their accumulated sets and sources is a wonderful shift over the last couple of years.

Adrian Holovaty, programmer, journalist and creator of the EveryBlock Project suggested in 2006 that ‘fundamental shifts needed to happen for newspaper companies to remain essential sources of information for their communities’. He went on to talk about the meat and vegetables of journalism – the structured information:

the type of information that can be sliced-and-diced, in an automated fashion, by computers. Yet the information gets distilled into a big blob of text — a newspaper story — that has no chance of being repurposed.

Reuters, writes about structured journalism having the potential to maximise the shelf-life of news content and enabling publishers to extract more value – and longevity – out of content.

There’s a theme developing here, from Holovaty to Chua to Rogers, and the timing is good. If we could mesh Simon Roger’s thoughts on short form journalism, Holovaty’s desire to re-purpose, and Chua’s concept of increasing longevity we could end up with facts that create an ongoing, fluid narrative that can over time, reflect new or enhanced data. I’m a lover of long form journalism, but perhaps short-form with a [very] long-tail, is what I would prefer. Twitter and platforms like it create the opportunity for anyone to set a news agenda but news organisations have the resources to go further and use structured journalism to keep their communities of readers informed for longer. Doing that may be the shot in the arm that they ‘ve been looking for. Not a bingo card in sight.

“Here’s an interesting thing: data journalism is becoming part of the establishment. Not in an Oxbridge elite kind of way (although here’s some data on that) but in the way it is becoming the industry standard.”

— Simon Rogers, The Guardian

External links & references

  1. Simon Rogers on data journalism @ The Guardian
  2. How Newspaper sites need to change : Adrian Holvarty
  3. Reginald Chua on Structured Journalism
  4. Data Wrapper
  5. The World  Bank : DataBank

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