AddThis SmartLayers

Journalists and training centres urged to ’embrace’ data journalism

Pete SherlockEditorial chiefs have called on journalists and trainers to embrace data journalism more – saying no reporter can “do their job fully” without doing so.

The calls have come from panelists at a session on data journalism and graphics during the National Council for the Training of JournalistsJournalism Skills Conference 2018, being hosted today and tomorrow at Harlow College, in Essex.

Members of the panel included Reach plc head of data journalism David Ottewell and Pete Sherlock, pictured, head of the BBC’s shared data unit, which was founded two years ago as part of the corporation’s local news partnership with the regional press industry.

They were joined by Stourbridge News chief reporter Bev Holder, who undertook a three-month secondment with the BBC unit as part of the partnership, Times and Sunday Times data journalism editor Leila Haddou, Financial Times head of interactive news Martin Stabe and chairman Jeremy Scott Diamond, Bloomberg data visualisation editor.

During a discussion on the sector, David said: “It’s hard to get people interested in data, you need to work at it. The rewards can be very big, but it’s not easy.”

He added: “I can’t believe any journalist can do their job fully without knowing [how to use] spreadsheets. A journalist who doesn’t know how to use spreadsheets is a journalist who isn’t fully skilled.”

Pete, who began his career working for Archant and Newsquest newspapers in East London and Essex, said there were “thousands” of data sets which were currently left unexamined by journalists.

He said: “To hold local authorities to account, [data knowledge] should be part of every journalist’s toolkit.”

Martin agreed, saying he believed data should be part of the “fundamental skills of any reporter.”

In an ensuing discussion on how to get journalists more interested in data journalism, David, who heads up a team of 12 based in Manchester, said: “[In Reach’s case] it’s useful now there’s a solid body of work we have and can say ‘this is what you’re getting out of it’. Nothing inspires a journalist like a front page, even in this day and age.

“Some are more keen to embrace it than others and I think it’s important that more courses are aware of the possibilities.”

Of her experience learning about data journalism, Bev said: “I really only scratched the surface. I think there’s certainly a long way to go.

“I’m back on the beat doing normal news and trying to use data. I managed to get my first data front page this week, so I’m quite proud of that.”


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • November 29, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    All well and good, but it’s the over reliance on date and figures by many news outlets that turns readers off. Without context figures can be meaningless, and that’s the bit that has to be got right.

    I’d hope reporters are inspired as much by a meaningful human interest slash as much as a number crunching one. Like anything there needs to be a balance.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(6)
  • November 30, 2018 at 9:48 am

    There’s a middle ground to find here. On the one hand, there are a fair few journos in the regional press who aren’t comfortable with number crunching. That’s not so much to do with the digital age as it is about simple maths. Being able to tease a story from the raw figures is a skill every reporter should develop and it’s a significant deficit in cases where they can’t or won’t.

    On the other hand, though, numbers mean little without human context. Publishing a load of stories about regional crime rate or hospital waiting time increases will be a turn-off to readers unless they’re highlighted with detailed case studies, which takes time and can prove a challenge in poorly-staffed newsrooms.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(6)
  • November 30, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Just to say that I largely agree with Jimbledon, and it was a point I (and other panel members) went on to make. It’s absolutely not either/or, and other journalistic and storytelling are obviously vitally important.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(6)