There’s a story in every data point, maybe even a big one
About a decade ago, it was rare to find someone in a newsroom who specialized in data. Today, you’ll find data journalists, computer-assisted reporters, or as some lovingly call them, geeks, in most major newsrooms. Yet data in news is as old as stock numbers and unemployment figures. What’s different now is that journalists, and therefore the public, are increasingly accessing these raw files and crunching the numbers with their own queries. Legal battles to get public data in a useful format aside, newsrooms are increasingly comfortable with mining data, mapping it, identifying methodological concerns, creating visualizations and, of course, translating it all into plain English for their audience. Data may answer (or start to answer) questions like “How many?” “How often?” “How much?” “Who?” The findings may identify, for instance, discrimination that officials deny is happening. It may shine a light on a dire safety situation that no one else, even the bosses who oversee the data, knew about. It can confirm and underscore what sources say anecdotally is happening. In every data set – from car crashes to arrest records to soldiers kicked out of the military for misconduct – there is a story. And not just the story of the people behind each point of data. Data can bring a reporter to a person who is representative of an important trend. Thus, journalists put a face and narrative on data that people understand.