Part 1: The Rise of "Massive, Passive"
People often think that Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, is joking when he says that being a statistician will be the sexy job to have in the next ten years. He goes on to predict that “the ability to take data – to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualise it, to communicate it – that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decade.”
Nowhere is this more relevant than in journalism, and mainstream news organisations have already taken note. From the Guardian's Data Store, to excellent infographics and data visualisations from The New York Times and the BBC, “data journalism” is a hot topic. The Wikileaks saga may be the best current example of data journalism in action, but journalists are increasingly gaining access to a wide variety of large data sets, from governments, NGOs and whistleblowers alike. They are using this “new” data to create compelling visualisations about military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan (such as in the BBC’s reports on UK military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq), local incidents of swine flu (the Guardian’s swine flu data in the UK) and the unemployment rate according to demographics (The New York Times’s Jobless Rate For People Like You), to name but a few.
New publishers such as Flowing Data and Visual Complexity are also developing this space. Journalists are both responding to, and helping to shape, an era of unprecedented data availability. We are, however, still at the very early stages of data journalism. Most data journalists would admit that they need to get better at telling compelling stories with data, rather than simply producing innovative and arresting visualisations that may or may not help their audiences understand a subject better. More fundamentally, the rise of “massive, passive” real-time data from almost 2 billion connected individuals around the world points to a new type of data journalism.
Journalists will increasingly gather and process data, in addition to making sense of data made available to them – investigative data journalism if you will. They will also need to be able to predict and represent the mood of the world at a variety of scales. In addition, they will need to leverage tactics for getting their stories distributed across the internet. Journalists will, thus, need to develop many skills. They will need to be entrepreneurial, multi-media storytellers, community builders, bloggers and curators. Some programming skills will also come in handy. Above all else, however, they will need two core capabilities: great editorial and storytelling skills – as they always have – and a new fluency in how real-time data can capture what is really happening in the world. Data journalism is going to be core to the future of journalism as a whole, and real-time data an increasingly important driving force.
-- Oliver Snoddy, Director of Digital Services, Doremus NY