A data journalist’s new year’s resolutions

To celebrate the new year, we’ve gathered experts from all over the world to put together a list of resolutions for 2018; things we, as data journalists, should stop or start doing, things we should create, technologies we should try.

12 international experts pitch in

Here are the data journalists and experts who contributed to this piece:

Gian-Paolo Accardo (EDJN and VoxEurop, Belgium),
Walid Al-Saqaf (Södertörn University, Sweden),
Samantha Berkhead (IJnet, US),
Concha Catalan (ihr.world, Spain),
Pinar Dag (Dag Media, Turkey),
Saleem Khan (JOVRNALISM and INVSTG8.net, Canada),
Ashley Kirk (The Telegraph, UK),
Simon Rogers (Google, US),
Alla Rybina (Gothenburg University, Sweden),
Marie-Louise Timcke (Journocode, Germany),
Alli Torban (State of Place, US),
Yuichi Yazaki (Visualizing.jp, Japan).

What data journalists should start doing

Produce more data visualisations

“My data journalism new years resolution is to have R scripts do more of the work for me — in terms of both analysing data and producing visualisations. We are getting there with my team at The Telegraph with this, but the problem is that we are stuck in the news cycle, and so it’s hard to separate yourself from the daily cycle to forward-plan for future stories.” Ashley Kirk (The Telegraph, UK)

  • ‘We should do more data journalism projects that do not distract from the story. We need real stories.’ Pinar Dag (Dag Media, Turkey)
  • ‘Journalists should do more charts, maps and data visualisations to be published with their stories. I’ve received some resistance from editors — do they think their readers can’t understand a chart? Maybe if editors better understood the process and tools used for data visualisations then they wouldn’t shy away?’ Alli Torban (State of Place, US)
  • ‘The ICFJ Knight Fellows have created a ton of free, open-source tools for just this thing. I think if more newsrooms knew about these tools, there maybe wouldn’t be as much resistance to the idea of data viz and interactives alongside data stories. Maybe the resistance is because a lot of newsrooms don’t have in-house tools for producing data viz?’ Samantha Berkhead (IJnet, US)
ICFJ Knight Fellowships Tools and Projects

Use data in everyday journalism

“We need greater commitment and support from news organizations for data journalism as newsrooms continue to face cutbacks and restructuring. Unfortunately, these journalists are sometimes seen as a greater personnel expense or less productive than their peers since their work can sometimes take longer to produce than a traditionally reported story. However, their skills are increasingly essential.” Saleem Khan (JOVRNALISM and INVSTG8.net, Canada)

  • ‘We often talk about big ideas and many skills and tools that we need to learn but if we look at data journalism produced NOT by elite, rich and famous media — we find simple maps with 10 dots on it and simple percentage calculations…and that would also be called data journalism.’ Alla Rybina (Gothenburg University, Sweden)
  • ‘I wish for more well-done, data-driven contributions to everyday journalism, as well as bigger and smaller interactive fun and service projects, and large and small investigative data stories with an impact. I think we have a great diversity in data journalism, and it should stay that diverse and spread to even more editorial offices. There are only a few data journalism teams in local journalism, for example, and I think that should change.’ Marie-Louise Timcke (Journocode, Germany)

Using emerging technologies

  • “I think data journalists should update their data skills to deal with the next wave of database technologies namely blockchain. I predict that they may well replace many centralized database systems. Blockchain preserves data permanently and prevent any manipulation or fraud. That means that if governmental data is there it can’t be removed or changed once it is published. Additionally, data journalists that are able to deal with data on blockchain can have an edge when doing investigative stories on ransomware payments or other transactions. A resolution to learn about blockchain and how to access their data can be a good start. Walid Al-Saqaf (Södertörn University, Sweden)

Needless to say that not everyone agreed on that point:

  • ‘I’d say, data journalists in their majority should first master Excel, and blockchain compared to that sound as a rocket science.’ Alla Rybina (Gothenburg University, Sweden)
    ‘I can’t see Excel and other spreadsheet software being obsolete any time soon — it’s an integral part of day-to-day work for journalists across every newsroom I know.’ Ashley Kirk (The Telegraph, UK)
  • ‘Excel is going to be obsolete. Better to be forward looking. Another resolution is to move from Excel on to Python with Pandas. In an age of big data, Excel will be very limited in use. It is the type and size of data that is going to decide what tools to use. But I personally hope that data journalists move beyond excel. It is about time. Learning Python and Pandas could be a powerful resolution as it handles bigger data faster and is much more efficient.’ Walid Al-Saqaf (Södertörn University, Sweden)
  • ‘We should start making more use of data journalism in conjunction with immersive media such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). This is an ideal and natural pairing that has great potential to make the public use and interact with journalism something that is woven into their daily lives.’ Saleem Khan (JOVRNALISM and INVSTG8.net, Canada)

Create more cross-border collaborations

“Data journalists should do more collaborations at a smaller scale. Everything doesn’t need to be a Panama Papers or Paradise Papers project. I would argue that we can potentially have greater impact with many more small collaborations.” Saleem Khan (JOVRNALISM and INVSTG8.net, Canada)

  • ‘It’d be great for data journalists to join forces to improve access to public information across borders. Maybe partner with access-info.org.’ Concha Catalan (ihr.world, Spain)
  • ‘We need an agency or an organization that can help data journalist for cross-border collaborations.’ Pinar Dag (Dag Media, Turkey)
  • ‘That is what the European Journalism Centre is doing to some extent and also what we try to do at the European Data Journalism Network.’ Gian-Paolo Accardo (EDJN and VoxEurop, Belgium)
  • In a few weeks the Global Editors Network will unveil a beta version of the Data Journalism Den (the Den), a new hub for the data journalism community. It will curate the most interesting news about data journalism, feature original content, host useful resources, as well as foster collaboration among members of the data journalism community. And you can read more and sign up for updates here.
The Den will feature five sections: News, Community, Matchmaking, Datastore and Jobs.

Make our work more transparent

“I’d like data journalists to place a bigger emphasis on transparency in their reporting. Readers trust the news when they can see how the journalists found their information and reported their story.” Samantha Berkhead (IJnet, US)

  • ‘Yes! I think it’s essential to include where you data came from and how you analyzed it.’ Alli Torban (State of Place, US)
  • ‘We need to reaffirm our ability to produce open data, to share what we do.’ Simon Rogers (Google, US)

Start using Artificial Intelligence (AI)

“In 2018, data journalists should start preparing for the inevitable rise of AI technologies and learn to use that trend to their advantage so their jobs aren’t eclipsed by it.” Samantha Berkhead (IJnet, US)

  • ‘We should start using machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) in our work. I first started experimenting with this in 1999, not realizing what I was trying to achieve was impossible at that time. Now, the technology and capability exists. So, let’s start using them.’ Saleem Khan (JOVRNALISM and INVSTG8.net, Canada)
  • ‘We should start producing work using AR and VR — I want to open up these technologies for us all to use.’ Simon Rogers (Google, US)

Examples from our experts:

  • China’s state news agency Xinhua is working with AI throughout its newsroom to automate processes and increase overall efficiency.
  • Amy Webb’s remarks on AI, visual computing, tech like splinternets and blockchain at the ONA conference in October are also worth revisiting
  • Paul Bradshaw recently tackled data journalism’s AI opportunity in this article, depicting different types of machine learning & how they have already been used

What data journalists should stop doing

  • ‘Using word clouds. I can’t believe that I still see this being used as a data visualization that is presented as significant.’ Saleem Khan (JOVRNALISM and INVSTG8.net, Canada)
  • ‘Acting like a data geek, telling good story is the point.’ Pinar Dag (Dag Media, Turkey)
  • ‘Pontificating, thinking we know all the answers.’ Simon Rogers (Google, US)
  • ‘Doing those data-mapping “projects” that actually have no story, that only show us how it looks like on the map! — so what???’ Alla Rybina (Gothenburg University, Sweden)

What do you wish for in 2018?

We started with the following wishes to the international data journalism community:

– more accessible, open and usable data
– more collaborations and investigations holding the powerful accountable
– safer conditions for journalists worldwide to use data in their work
– more exciting projects for everyone

Then experts went into specifics:

  • ‘A tool where all open databases of all governmental agencies and organizations exist in one place, are updated frequently and accessed in a standardised way. Also, should be free. It is a greedy request but I would love to see it happen in my lifetime.’ Walid Al-Saqaf (Södertörn University, Sweden)
  • ‘Converting geospatial data is always annoying (for example, if I want to compare constituency data from 2000 with those of 2017, but the constituencies have changed since then). Some teams have already worked out more or less great solutions themselves. I would wish to build a good software for this tasks with experts for everyone to use.’ Marie-Louise Timcke (Journocode, Germany)
  • ‘We data journalists need more new skills. So I wish we can get more code skills, to work more with data scientist this year. It is also important to create a little more budget in this area. I would like to see projects that have more interactive and high public interest. I also hope to see more mobile-compatible data visualization.’ Pinar Dag (Dag Media, Turkey)
  • ‘I wish for data journalism to acually move society. Japan is not advanced at all due to a lack of skills and trust in old media (tv stations and newspapers).’ Yuichi Yazaki (Visualizing.jp, Japan)

2018 resolutions for newbies — Where to begin when learning data journalism?

  • ‘I think it’s all about stories, tools you can learn, stories and working out which data to use with them, that’s the thing.’ Simon Rogers (Google, US)
  • ‘I agree. If you focus too much on the techniques from the beginning, the journalistic direction of the stories suffers.’ Marie-Louise Timcke (Journocode, Germany)
  • ‘My recommendation is to focus on asking the question you want answered before you even start your report. Then go about seeing how you could get, analyse and visualise the data and answer it in a concrete and clear way. It takes more time, but is well worth it.’ Walid Al-Saqaf (Södertörn University, Sweden)
  • ‘Yep — just fishing is not really an option.’ Simon Rogers (Google, US)
  • ‘I agree — stories are always the key, and I’d add that we should always be thinking about what’s the best way to tell a data-led story for your audience, instead of fellow data journalists, whether that’s a huge interactive project or a straight 400-word piece of copy.’ Ashley Kirk (The Telegraph, UK)
  • ‘Knowing how to code and use other tools is helping a lot. But without the journalistic part, data journalism is just making fancy pictures. Interdisciplinary teams have a great advantage here. While the journalist is considering how best to show the topic from a journalistic point of view, the designer can think about how to design it so readers will get it at once, and so on.’ Marie-Louise Timcke (Journocode, Germany)

To see the full discussion, check out previous ones and take part in future ones, join the Data Journalism Awards community on Slack!

Over the past six years, the Global Editors Network has organised the Data Journalism Awards competition to celebrate and credit outstanding work in the field of data-driven journalism worldwide. To see the full list of winners, read about the categories, join the competition yourself, go to our website.