Data Journalism Handbook Launches, Provides Primer to Doing Data Journalism

Whether your news organization already works with data or your staff is new to the world of data journalism, the Data Journalism Handbook can be a great tool for any journalist – regardless of skill level. This week the Hub explores this online book and highlights the numerous features that make this book one-of-a-kind.
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The idea of the book came about from a fall workshop held at MozFest 2011 in London for developers and journalists who came together to talk about freedom, media and the web. The book then became a collaborative and international effort over the next six months as several journalists and developers worked to develop a robust guide on data journalism.

The book is broken out into six sections: Introduction, In the Newsroom, Case Studies, Getting Data, Understanding Data, and Delivering Data. Lulu Pinney provides a great infographic detailing the big picture of the overall handbook.

The book provides a great introduction to what is data journalism. There is no one definition to describe what it is – the focus more importantly is what it can do to help journalists in telling stories for the communities they serve. As stated in the Introduction by Paul Bradshaw of Birmingham City University, “Data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told — or it can be both. Like any source, it should be treated with scepticism; and like any tool, we should be conscious of how it can shape and restrict the stories that are created with it.”

To help understand what something is, it often helps to see examples. The handbook provides many great data journalism examples from media organizations in the U.S. and around the world that readers can find inspiring and helpful as they consider ways they can implement similar techniques in their own stories and/or newsrooms.

The handbook also provides information from news organizations such as the BBC, California Watch, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, ProPublica, Friends of Januária in Brazil, the Zeit Online, and others on how they implemented data journalism initiatives in their newsrooms.

Specifically the last three chapters of the book provide the steps of how to get the data, what to do with data and how to understand it, what to find from the data (associations, change over time, proportion, etc.), the kinds of data tools you can use (for data cleaning, organizing and analyzing), and how to visualize the data. The authors also provide ideas for journalists on the ways the data can be presented to the public – from using apps to visualizations. They also provide a section on how you can get your community engaged with the data by thinking beyond just using comments and social media and they provide a list of venues and other approaches journalists can consider.

The handbook ends on an important point – they suggest that you make your data as open as possible – share it widely. It can only benefit your news organization and help the communities you serve by providing them the opportunity to access the data.

Duncan Geere of Wired.co.uk, states in the last chapter of the book: “The most important thing you can do with your data is share it as widely and openly as possible. Enabling your readers to check your work, find your mistakes, and pick out things that you might have missed will make both your journalism, and the experience for your reader, infinitely better.”

The handbook provides a lot of information and insight beyond what has been briefly addressed here. Management can find the handbook helpful in providing tips on how to implement a data journalism initiative in their own newsroom and journalists can find the handbook a great primer to understanding data journalism and the steps needed to get started.

The handbook is an initiative of the Open Knowledge Foundation and the European Journalism Centre. Currently, it’s available for free online under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license and will be available in hard copy soon via O’Reilly Media.