Data Journalism: The Key To Innovation In The Newsroom

29 October 2015


Marianne Bouchart is the founder and director of Hei-Da.org, a not-for-profit organisation based in London, UK, that specialises in open data driven projects and innovative storytelling. She created the Data Journalism Blog back in 2011 and is the curator of the Data Journalism Awards Newsletter. In this blogpost, Marianne looks back on how far data journalism has come since 2008 and argues that data journalism is the key to innovation in the newsroom. 

marianne bouchart Working in the news industry has never been so exciting. « Cliché », I hear you say, but I rather think it’s true. As data is becoming more and more accessible, news organisations have stepped up their game. Moving on from producing data journalism for the sake of data journalism, they are pushing boundaries and starting to harness the true potential that this field has to offer by telling stories in new, exciting ways. 

We’ve seen some compelling examples in the news recently, with big household names as well as smaller startups having a go at visualising and bringing context to the European refugee crisis.

But it did take a while. Data on the topic was scarce and confusing at first, and so was the media coverage in the UK and elsewhere (as this Vox piece points out), raising the underlying issue that access to reliable and workable data is still a major hurdle for data journalism, specially on international development news. 

What is exciting is that there is a great opportunity for news organisations to build stronger bonds with NGOs, nonprofits and others on the ground, and rethink the way they gather, publish and share data. 

A great initiative called The 19 Million Project will take place next week in Rome, Italy to tackle this issue, amongst others, gather experts from the Guardian, The Financial Times, NPR and Google News Lab to talk about storytelling and narratives of the refugee crisis.  

19 Million Project

I will be speaking at the 19 Million Project, representing the Global Editors Network as their new Data Journalism Awards Manager, a role I am particularly proud and excited about. Starting on November 2nd, the GEN will publish a monthly newsletter highlighting the best examples of data journalism worldwide, and you can sign up to it here

Most news organisations succeeding at data journalism seem to create a startup-like environment within their newsrooms, getting data journalists, developers and designers to work together and experiment with data and digital projects. It is that spirit of community and entrepreneurship that makes the field of data journalism so exciting, empowering and ever-growing today. And as Freek Staps from the Nieman Foundation explains in this recent article, it is the key to generate innovation in the newsroom.

The juggling between covering daily news as fast as possible while integrating longer data-driven projects through a startup-like setup is tough. There is a definite need for better solutions to be built to access, analyse and visualise data better and quicker. And that’s why the future is so exciting. A lot of clever minds from the world of data science, computer graphics, statistics and technology are getting interested and curious about data journalism.

Native Berliners

Startups such as Import.io or FactMint, creating technologies that handle, visualise or scrape data are flourishing. The Google News Lab is set to become a key player in the future of news innovation by partnering with startups as well as media and news organisations to try and build innovative projects and help journalists and technologists work together. A great example of that is their latest collaboration with Youtube and social news startup Storyful.  

The Associated Press is also getting in the game and announced recently that it will bring data journalism to more US newsrooms by adding data journalism best practices to its 2017 Associated Press Stylebook, thanks to a $400,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

We’ve come a long way since my first experience of data journalism which dates back to November 2008. Neil MacIntosh, then digital editor of the Wall Street Journal in London, came to the University of Westminster to give my fellow students in journalism and I a talk about news innovation. It was the day after a Google map mashup of BNP members had been leaked online. His enthusiasm about the power of data and visualisation was contagious and is still very relevant today. His words inspired me to use the graphic design and computing skills I had from previous studies into my journalism projects and to learn some more. 

At the time, there was no course in data journalism, most teachers didn’t quite comprehend what it entailed, there was no online resource to learn the skills, big news organisations were having a great go at it and I wanted in on the fun.  

This led me to create the Data Journalism Blog in 2011 as a platform to share knowledge and raise awareness in the field of data-driven and innovative storytelling. I got the chance to earn my stripes working on the Wikileaks Embassy Cables as well as the big financial « Clearstream affair » that had gripped France for over a decade. 

Data Journalism Blog

Creating the Data Journalism Blog got me to collaborate with the European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation (now known as Open Knowledge) on the Data Journalism Handbook project and to meet inspiring experts in the field. In 2012 my enthusiasm towards the future of news and data journalism got me the role of Web Producer EMEA at Bloomberg News, initiating data-driven and graphics projects from London. 

My experience working at Bloomberg for over three years, teaching data skills to media students and professionals, and taking part in events and conferences in the data journalism community inspired me to create Hei-Da.org earlier this year. As a nonprofit organisation, it aims to foster the future of data storytelling in Europe by providing support to organisations as well as startups, bringing expertise from the news industry to help NGOs and charities generate innovative data-driven projects that have social, environmental or economic impact. 

Hei-Da.org relaunched the Data Journalism Blog only recently and I look forward to sharing with you all the exciting projects we have coming up.