Four Key Areas of Data Journalism
For this report, we will divide data journalism into four categories, acknowledging that overlap is inevitable in practice. Examples of journalism that fall under each of these headings can be found in the appendix.
Definition: Obtaining, cleaning, and analyzing data for use in telling journalistic stories.
- Deploying computer-assisted reporting or analysis for writing journalistic stories
- Practicing precision journalism, as introduced by Philip Meyer, including the use of social science research methods in the interest of journalism
- Visualizing data—mapping and charting—for use in exploration and analysis
- Programming to obtain and analyze data for writing journalistic stories
Techniques and Technologies:
- Invoking public records law to negotiate for data
- Using web scraping tools and techniques (ranges from tools to knowledge of Python programming language)
- Using relational database software (can range from Microsoft Access to MySQL)
- Understanding statistical concepts and software or programming languages with statistical packages (SPSS or R among others)
- Using mapping and visualization tools and software (Tableau, Esri mapping software, QGIS, Google Fusion)
Data Visualization and Interactives
- Visualizations developed and designed as interactive charts and graphics for presentation, including the use of code
- Interactive applications, including searchable databases and games that help readers explore and understand a news story; these applications can be a key part of the utility of a data journalism project
Techniques and Technologies:
- Database management and programming, including Python, web frameworks such Django, Flask and Ruby on Rails, and more
- Mapping applications, including QGIS, CartoDB, Esri, TileMill, GeoDjango, and more
- Server knowledge and the use of GitHub, versioning, and Agile software development techniques
Emerging Journalistic Technologies
Definition: New developments using data and technology.
- Drone Journalism
- Sensor Journalism
- Virtual and Augmented Reality Journalism
“Drone journalism is generally defined as the use of unmanned aerial systems to gather photos, video and data for news. What separates Drone Journalism from drone photography is the application of journalistic ethics and consideration of the public interest when using [drones].” — Matt Waite, a professor of practice at the University of Nebraska and founder of the Drone Journalism Lab
Drone technologies can include an airframe, defined by configuration (such as fixed wing or multirotor); an autopilot of varying capabilities (full automation, minor stability assistance, return-to-home fail-safe functionality); a control system (manual control through radio signals, automated flight through software and Bluetooth wireless connection); and a sensor (camera, video camera, multispectral camera, other physical sensor).
Sensor technologies include a wide range of software and hardware to measure physical conditions like air quality, motion, or noise levels. These can be used to gather data with a small, portable computer or microcontroller. The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, credit card–sized computer that has a variety of input/output pins for mounting devices like sensors. Similarly, Arduino is an open-source microcontroller platform that is widely used for prototyping with electronic components like sensors. Some universities have already begun teaching sensor journalism with specific project-based classes, such as to test environmental conditions like air and water quality.
Virtual and Augmented Reality Technologies: Virtual reality (VR), long heralded as an emerging digital technology, finally appears poised to enter the broad consumer market. Samsung, Oculus, and Google have developed consumer VR headsets along with controllers to facilitate interactivity using your hands and feet. From a production standpoint, panoramic images and videos may be stitched together from an array of cameras, while the company Jaunt is developing a standalone camera to capture 3D video in 360-degree, immersive format. Yet questions of narrative, audience interaction, and journalistic values have yet to be settled with these technologies, even as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and PBS “Frontline” have launched exploratory ventures to use VR. Journalism schools need to not only provide exposure and instruction in this emerging technology, but also to inquire into values and best practices.
Definition: The use of algorithms, machine learning, and other new methods to accomplish journalistic goals. This area overlaps with data reporting and emerging technologies.
- Algorithms that help journalists mine unstructured data in new ways
- New digital platforms to better manage documents and data
- Programming languages like Python, Ruby, and R
- Frameworks and applications like Jupyter that enable journalists to mix code and prose as they perform analysis and show the steps in their work
- Platforms like Overview that facilitate the use of complicated computational processes like natural language processing and topic modeling