Exploring data journalism in digital era

Doulot Akter Mala | Published: October 26, 2018 21:04:58 | Updated: October 28, 2018 20:54:08

Managing numerical data is one of the biggest challenges for journalists in the digital era. They get data from multiple sources and they have to filter, cross check authentication of those data before making any report. Many journalists become puzzled when they get numerous varieties of data. Cleaning and creating data to find out meaningful insight seems difficult in a short time as they have to meet news deadline.

Journalists are data-savvy. Visualising data is important for planning investigative stories. Many of the award winning investigative stories were produced by using techniques of data journalism. In the digital era, technological advancement has created more scope for investigative journalists to analyse data and come up with in-depth investigation.

However, dearth of real time data in many Asian countries is found to be a major barrier for investigative journalists. In some south-Asian countries, government releases doubtful data that do not match with the real situation. Despite spiral price hikes, the government data show stable rate of inflation. They release cooked data on investment and employment generation, even internal revenue collection-- under political considerations.  In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016-17, Controller General of Accounts office of the government of Bangladesh has found data on Tk 135 billion inflated tax revenue collection, released by the internal revenue collection authority.

A journalist may need to check alternate sources of data if they find that the data released by the government are doubtful. In Bangladesh, private sector think-tanks also release different statistics and data. Their data-base can be cross-checked with the government's data. A news report would lose credibility to the readers if wrong data is presented. In this context, it may be mentioned that Budget reporting is one of the most challenging tasks for financial journalists. They have to accommodate so many data including sector wise budgetary allocation and national expenditure plan of the government within a short time.

The 3rd Asian Investigative Journalism Conference, titled 'Uncovering Asia', held at Seoul, South Korea from October 5-7 last, revealed effective techniques of data journalism for investigative reporting.

Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), Korea Centre for Investigative Journalism (NEWSTAPA), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung were main organisers of the conference, along with the support of 20 donors. Some 460 participants from 48 countries across the globe attended the conference.

It was a huge event with over 60 panels, workshops and special sessions. There were 16 sessions in the conference focussing on data journalism. The state of data journalism, using spread sheets, introduction of coding, data journalism in China, visualising data, finding data from Asia and the world, the digital toolkit, digital tools and building own database were some of the key the sessions on data journalism.

In the data sessions, some six free sources of satellite data were revealed. NASA's Landsat imagery is freely available on USGS website, ESA's Copernicus imagery is available via sentinel hub, ISRO's Bhuvan portal is a great resource for free imagery. Also, Google earth, commercial satellite providers like digitalglobe and airbus and planet's news section can be potentially important sources of data.

Speakers in data sessions have also discussed about using open data and its challenges. Anyone can access, use, reuse or share open data. Measuring quality of data is important. Indicators for measuring data quality, set out by GODI, include completeness of dataset content, accessibility (access-controlled or public access), findability of data, processability (machine-readability and amount of effort needed to use data) and timely publication.

Some general tips were also discussed in the sessions to overcome challenges of open data.

In a session at the conference, Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism, said that it's a challenge for journalists to handle large amounts of data. He said, journalists have to interview their numbers to get right answers. 

Jennifer LaFleuer, an award winning data journalist, conducted two sessions on how journalists can use spreadsheets with the help of Google and easily analyse data.

In the conference, investigative journalists have made a call to stop repression against them and free the imprisoned journalists.  Journalists held a banner 'Journalism is not a crime' in the conference. To ensure social justice, investigative journalists should come forward fighting against all odds.

Sessions on cross-border money flow, tracking smugglers and supply chains,  covering conflict, exposing fake news and propaganda, exposing human slavery, extra-judicial killings, investigating criminal networks, coping with harassment and threats, investigating social media and so on also figured prominently in the conference.

Journalists need to be adequately equipped in this digital era to make the profession of journalism unbiased, objective and constructive. The 3rd Asian Investigative Journalism conference did succeed in coming up with plenty of resources to facilitate the participants from different corners of the globe.


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