While data has always been incorporated in the journalistic process, it has generally been in just that capacity – post-genesis incorporation; supporting in nature and secondary in consideration.
But with recent advances in technology, an increasingly interconnected world and enhanced transparency in both corporate and governmental settings, access to and comprehension of broad swathes of data has entered the journalistic mainstream. Technologically, aggregation of large sets of data – the “big data” phenomenon – has produced the ability to rapidly identify and analyze trends across populations, time or a number of other categories.
Data journalism is defined as using investigative data tools to compliment field reporting and storytelling.
Consider these facts:
- Data has become an important source for reporters covering everything from campaign finance to sports, from climate change and global trade to government corruption.
- Data gives journalists the ability to query large amounts of information, weaning them away from reliance on official and uncooperative sources.
- In the U.S. alone, nearly 200,000 government databases are available for download on Data.gov.
- Journalism schools are beginning to offer degrees in data journalism; Columbia just announced its program earlier this year, emphasizing the need for journalists to understand how to integrate data to carry out their function as watchdogs and storytellers.*
So, what does all of this mean for PR professionals? These tips will help you leverage the data journalism movement for the benefit of your company or client.
- Look for trends or a new spin on an old issue with information already at your fingertips. More stories than ever before are being rooted in data, not just supported by data. Consider these headlines, for example: Boston area has 3rd-highest share of millionaire households in major US cities; See which Boston streets will be overrun with moving trucks; and Maps of protests in Brazil.
- Make sure your pitch is backed by data. The multifaceted channels and sources from which data is now drawn enable journalists to paint a far more sophisticated picture in response to any given hypothesis, as both the diversity and sheer volume of their sources is amplified. While an idea can be compelling in itself, it will fail to gain traction if it is not verified and legitimized by the underlying facts.
- Or at least point journalists in the right direction… White papers, consumer surveys and community polls are all examples of initiatives undertaken by organizations seeking to reinforce their narrative with credible statistics.
- Don’t forget that stories still need a voice. While data is important, it still lacks the traditional lens of tone, context and perspective that draws readers and engagement. Help journalists by finding the personal stories behind the numbers.
Learn more about data journalism from a reporter’s perspective.
By Jack Kay and Alex Boonstra
*Source: Columbia University