Conference 2018 session: What is 'data journalism'?

Written by Brian Tarran on . Posted in News

Clara Guibourg

'Data journalism' might seem to be a new and exciting offshoot of regular journalism, but a panel of data journalists were at RSS Conference on Tuesday afternoon to dispel that notion. 'Data journalism' is just journalism, they said – and storytelling remains king.

Claire Miller, of press group Reach, made the point that journalists have always used data in their work, whether reporting on crime statistics or budget statements. What has changed is the opportunities afforded by digital platforms to create more interesting, engaging presentations of data.

But while in-depth data sets might provide the source for a story, they should not be the main focus, said the BBC’s Clara Guibourg (pictured). She argued that audiences don’t much care about numbers and tend to have trouble remembering them. So to get audiences to pay attention, the numbers need to be humanised and personalised.

Guibourg gave the example of life expectancy data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – a rather dry and detailed set of statistics that was made more engaging thanks to the addition of an online calculator, which allowed readers to input their demographics to find out how long they might expect to live. That approach has been repeated frequently, from calculating how long it would take to earn a star footballer’s wage, to figuring out the extent of the 'tampon tax' levied on female consumers.

Calculators like these help readers to see themselves in the data, and to make it relevant to their lives. And, as an added bonus, they often generate many more page views than standard news stories, says Guibourg.

  • Claire Miller and Clara Guibourg were speaking as part of the session, 'Communicating Statistics: Data Journalism'.

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