Data journalism reveals new stories

Simon Rogers believes in quality journalism and hopes that journalists will have enough time to do their work properly.

Simon Rogers has been called the godfather of data journalism – with good reason. After working as an editor at the Guardian, where he created the newspaper’s esteemed data section, he worked for a while at Twitter before joining the ranks of Google. He is also a published author, and lectures on data journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His passion for journalism is undeniable.

“Journalism works best when it embraces and engages a community and when it’s not about the journalist bragging about his or her knowledge,” Rogers says.

The same holds true for data journalism, which aims to turn a wealth of information into something sensible and meaningful. It is not about having the latest tools and the most complicated analyses – Rogers believes it is the story that counts.

Ted Cruz + guns + trucks

Simon Rogers attended the Nordic Data Journalism Conference NODA 2016, organised in Helsinki on 21–23 April 2016. One of the conference organisers was the Swedish School of Social Science.

Data journalism can serve as a tool to analyse major social phenomena and to organise massive amounts of information, but it can also be about providing pure entertainment. Rogers himself engages topics as diverse as gun laws, the Brexit and Kim Kardashian. He is currently working as a data editor at Google and has, for example, created visualisations of the most popular search words during the Republican presidential election debates and what people search for on Google while seeking information about Ted Cruz. The answer, by the way, is guns and pickup trucks.

Success requires time and collaboration

Another method of data journalism is crowdsourcing. If information is unavailable or spread out in a number of places, it may take the collaborative efforts of a large group of people to explore a phenomenon.

“People don’t always understand how much time and effort it takes to successfully crowdsource a project. You can’t do it in two days. You need enough time to really do it properly. The end product of a successful, well-executed crowdsourcing project is often significantly better than what someone could have achieved alone,” Rogers points out.

Rogers has built a successful career in data journalism and has followed developments at close range. How often does he come across articles and projects that manage to impress him?

“I know I used to work at the Guardian, but their project The Counted was really impressive and incredibly important. They put together information that wasn’t available before and gave it a human face.”

The Counted shows all the people killed by police in the USA in 2015. The interactive site offers statistics, graphics and portraits of all the victims.

Studies in data journalism now available

While media conglomerates throughout the world record losses and cut down on their editorial staff, the opposite trend can be observed in data journalism. A good data journalist has no difficulty finding a job. This is one of the reasons why the Swedish School of Social Science will offer a course in data journalism next autumn.

“It will be a five-credit course with workshops and guest lectures by journalists such as Peter Sjöholm and Matti Nelimarkka,” explains Carl-Gustav Lindén, one of the course organisers.

The article has been updated 25.5.2016 to include Matti Nelimarkka as a guest lecturer of the course.