WiJ seminar: Data journalism

Women in Journalism played host to a seminar on data journalism at the Threadneedle Hotel in London. The panel comprising data journalists from The Times, FT, Guardian, Office of National Statistics as well as Professor Heather Brooke, programme director of the Investigative Journalism MA at City University acting as chair, discussed how this form of modern journalism is telling new stories and reinventing how we go about telling old ones, writes Charlie Bowden.

The panel discussion began by breaking down the mystifying elements of data journalism, Caelainn Barr editor of Data Projects at The Guardian, explained that data is simply information. It is either structured or unstructured and the job of a data journalist is to understand how this data exists in ‘the wild’, how to get access to it and then how best to structure it and tell the necessary story.

The theme that ran across the seminar was the necessity of the human element in telling any data-driven story. Sophie Warnes, a senior data journalist at the Office of National Statistics, explained that “people aren’t interested in numbers they are interested in people”, stating that data alone was not enough to engage people in its ability to uncover truly enlightening stories. To do this the panel described the collaborative mixed team approach necessary in getting these stories right. Starting by using data to find a lead and then combining with more traditional journalists to get the human connection before handing it over to visual teams to showcase the data and often allow for audience interaction. 

Leila Haddou of the Times spoke about data journalism’s ability to find verifiable truths and how doing so offers a positive response to the rising tide of fake news and misinformation. Often data journalism allows people to make better decisions, with real metrics exemplifying how their lives will be affected by politics or changes to the world around them.

Alexsandra Wisniewska at the FT and Taneth Evans of The Times spoke about the added value data journalism can bring to stories or papers as a whole. The metrics show that adding interactive data models boosts audience engagement. Greater engagement leads to better informed readers and if the data is delivering verifiable facts combined with traditional human captivating journalism this is surely a future, I believe, we can be excited about.

The panel concluded that this new format in journalism, without its set image or type, had seen women engage in the space and define it for themselves. The continued work and future of data journalism to discover leads and uncover verifiable facts to tell engaging stories stands as bright prospect for journalism.