The media quite likes to talk about itself and so-called data journalism – analysing large amounts of information to identify patterns, trends and stories – has given it plenty to talk about. WikiLeaks has been one of the dominant stories of the past few months. Yet, setting aside the sometimes prurient and often embarrassing revelations, many of the most interesting stories have come from the bringing together and analysing of large datasets. A good example of this is The Guardian’s analysis on the conflict in Afghanistan, part of its wider data blog. Like it or loathe it, it has undeniably given the reader a fresh insight into what is actually happening on the ground.
The interesting thing about data journalism is that it doesn’t have to be done by journalists and it lends itself far better to the internet than it does to traditional print or broadcast media. At MHP, we have increasingly deployed data-driven investigations to make the case for change. From our groundbreaking work on access to cancer drugs, to uncovering the hidden burden of diabetes in care homes or using ‘patient-reported mapping’ (via Twitter) to assess the impact of hay fever, data-driven projects have transformed our work, enabling clients to shape the media and policy narrative like never before.
Is data journalism a threat to journalists or an opportunity? The fundamentals of good data journalism are no different from any other form of investigation: identify an issue which interests your readers; find an angle which is relevant; assess your sources; sort the wheat from the chaff; write it up in a compelling and understandable way; and look for new angles to allow you to further develop the story.
In this sense data journalism represents a great opportunity and it is little wonder that traditional news organisations are investing in the discipline. A good example of this is Health Service Journal news editor Sally Gainsbury’s imminent switch to join the FT in a new post focussing on data-driven investigations. The interesting thing is that she will be joining not as a traditional part of the news desk, but a someone specialising in data. Yet Sally is far more than just a data geek. Her ‘traditional’ news techniques have led to a series of impressive scoops for the HSJ, many of which have spilled over into the mainstream press. Equally, her grasp of data has helped transform the HSJ’s digital offering and led to her many stories she may not otherwise have found. Sally’s switch to the FT is a good move for her, but it could be a great move for the FT.