There is a quiet revolution underway in the field of journalism that is changing the way we tell stories. Data journalism is an emerging and increasingly valuable journalistic discipline that involves finding stories buried in statistics and visualizing them in a way that makes them easy to comprehend.
Data journalism is an offshoot of computer assisted reporting (CAR), which has been around for decades and was once the exclusive purview of reporters with programming knowledge or, at minimum, a geek side. But the ubiquitous nature of computers today and the advent of online journalism has resulted in programmers developing tools that put data analysis and visualization within the reach of every journalist. Increasingly stories are being published in both mainstream and online media outlets where the database is the focal point of the work as opposed to merely a starting point for an interpretive print article or television story.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the world wide web, sees data as 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…But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyze 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.”
Technological advances mean that journalists need no longer be working on a project on the scale of Wikileaks or have the programming chops of Adrian Holovaty who developed Chicago Crime (now EveryBlock Chicago) in order to publish informative hyperlocal data journalism. Accessibility is improving by the day as more municipalities embrace the open data philosophy and take steps to release public data to improve the transparency and accountability of local government.
The goal of this experimental portfolio was to explore the extent to which new computer tools and open data are making investigative opportunities more accessible to community journalists. This was analyzed by using available public data for the neighbourhood of Birch Cliff in Toronto to develop data visualizations for a hyperlocal blog which is under development for the neighbourhood. It was truly experimental in that prior to enrolling in the MA Online Journalism program, I was unfamiliar with the term data journalism and had certainly never heard of the open data movement. My only experience with internet maps involved searching Google Maps for directions and printing the results. I have used spreadsheets in the past to view television budgets and tally student grades, but have never created a spreadsheet and have no knowledge of formulas. I have no experience with with HTML, XML, KML, JSON or geotagging.
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