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Data Journalism, or how open data can transform journalism


Today the job of a journalist is to be the first to report on a new event or a given topic. However, being first is often at the expense of quality. Even being the first is more and more of a challenge, as nowadays, every single citizen can become a journalist in five seconds. Just open a Twitter account, select relevant hash-tags (i.e. those keywords starting with a #) to your topic and start tweeting about what is happening around you (e.g. earthquake, epidemics, political problems etc.).

In this post, we will demonstrate how journalists could benefit from open data, allowing journalism to shift its main focus from being the first report on a development to being the first to telling us what it might actually mean. Using open data, journalists can help everyone to see possible solutions to complex problems. What I’m saying here is that journalism would be less guessing, less looking for quotes — instead, a journalist could build a strong position supported by data and this can affect the role of journalism greatly.

A first interesting and inspiring example in data journalism is the Las Vegas Do Not Harm series on hospital care (the next post will be about medical open data, stay tuned).

The Sun analyzed more than 2.9 million hospital billing records, which revealed more than 3600 preventable injuries, infections and surgical mistakes. They obtained data through a public records request and identified more than 300 cases in which patients died because of mistakes that could have been prevented. It contains different elements, including: an interactive graphic which allows the reader to see by hospital, where surgical injuries happened more often than would be expected; a map with a timeline that shows infections spreading hospital by hospital; and an interactive graphic that allows users to sort data by preventable injuries or by hospital to see where people are getting hurt.

Another data journalism project is called “Murder Mysteries” by Tom Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service. He built from government data and public records requests a demographically-detailed database of more than 185,000 unsolved murders, and then designed an algorithm to search it for patterns suggesting the possible presence of serial killers. An interesting input if you are considering in a particular geographical area, right?

Open Data journalism is the future of journalism. More concretely, it is journalism that leverages open data in order to unravel the meaning of a story. More specifically, it can be declined to the following dimensions:

  • Enable a reader to discover information that is personally relevant
  • Reveal a story that is remarkable and previously unknown
  • Help the reader to better understand a complex issue

Open Linked Data is a key for the success of data journalism. Also, powerful data visualization techniques are needed so that journalists can:

  • Find open data relevant to the subject of the article they are planning to write
  • Manipulate the available data (perform statistics, connect data etc.).

Data journalism may predict the next financial crisis, help fight poverty and corruption.

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