Paul Bradshaw has a good column at Poynter about how the increasing availability of data will force journalists and news organizations to change:
Data journalism takes in a huge range of disciplines, from Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) and programming, to visualisation and statistics. If you are a journalist with a strength in one of those areas, you are currently exceptional. This cannot last for long: The industry will have to skill up, or it will have nothing left to sell. …
So on a commercial level, if nothing else, publishing will need to establish where the value lies in this new environment, and where new efficiencies can make journalism viable. Data journalism is one of those areas.
Journalists should read and heed everything Bradshaw writes. But it’s important to make sure the discussion of data doesn’t get too narrowly confined to external data, without considering how journalism itself fits holistically into the data-centric future.
The big challenge for news organizations isn’t just how to better ingest, analyze, and present extant external (if sometimes hard-to-access) data sets. Inculcating a new skill set industrywide may be non-trivial as a matter of scale and institutional-cultural inertia, but at least that skill set is pretty well defined.
Rather, the trickier and less-addressed challenge for news organizations is how to turn the raw materials and finished products of non-database journalism into data.
Today’s 2010 Knight-Batten Symposium gave me visions of political debates and speeches transformed from exercises in sound-bitery and emotion into civic lessons and conversations.
It gave me visions of political news stories that provide context not just about the issue at hand, but also context about the people at hand.
(Also, it gave me the vapors. But mostly just visions.)
Here’s one vision:
On TV, political debates display a fact-check tally for each candidate (how many true, truthy, lying-liar, etc. statements each candidate has made). Fact-check details about a particular statement are displayed as soon as they’re available.
No more useless meters showing allegedly uncommitted voters’ emotional reactions:
Instead, imagine if the debate screen looked like this (well, imagine a non-crappy-mockup version that looked vaguely like this):
Here’s another vision:
Online, any streamed speech, debate, or hearing displays a combination of fact-checking material, aggregated contextual material, real-time commentary and public reaction. Any story or video that mentions politicians displays some combination of:
- Fact-checking details for that person’s recent statements (any of their statements and/or recent statements related to the story being viewed)
- Campaign contributions to that person from individuals/organizations related to the story’s subject.
- The candidate’s biggest contributors (individuals/organizations and industries).
- Lobbying information for the person and/or their staffers
- If in office, recent votes the person has taken related to the story’s subject.
- Biographical information about the person.
Now here’s the great thing about these visions: The Sunlight Foundation and PolitiFact have pretty much already fulfilled them!
I’m writing most of my journalism-related posts at Publishing2.0 these days (“most” meaning the few that I get around to writing). So you should check out a couple recent posts: Why not writing a story is innovation, and how “scrapbook news” can help reframe the discussion about citizen journalism and crowdsourcing.
Last month I wrote a post wondering why newspapers don’t try to take on Craigslist by making their classifieds free (and making money from targeted advertising on a robust, user-friendly, feature-rich site). Now there’s evidence that this is possible: According to Lost Remote, KSL.com — the Web site for an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City — gets 130 million page views a month, 75 percent of which are to its free classifieds site.
It’s hard to know if KSL’s model is replicable at this point. “I believe most of our success come from getting into the game early,” the site’s director of online content tells Lost Remote. But it would be worth a shot for at least a few other newspapers or TV stations to try.