The emptiness of Data Journalism

Data Journalism is a new trend of storytelling. Here, traditional journalistic methods are combined with data analysis, programming, and visualization techniques to create readable and interesting news stories. Some rock stars of this new trend include The Upshot of The new York Times, DataPoint of The Sydney Morning Heralds, The Guardian and The Vox.

However, not every journalist knows how to utilize the potentials of Data Journalism.


This is my favorite illustration! Thanks, Barry Blitt!

Every day when browsing through news on the internet, have you ever felt that, somehow, they are all the same? If journalists simply think of data journalism as a process of shuffling mountain of data and putting together a readable summary, then it’s easy to understand why we have to read hundreds of identical news every day. It’s all aggregation!

Many fans of data journalism believe that the data will show us all. And their mission is trying to answer every question using data, not anecdote. However, sometimes what the data tells us is biased rather than objective. In his article, Michael Kinsley argues that the nature of life is complicated and motives can be subtle.

If all data point to the conclusion that the earth is square, then will you say so in your article? The story of Nate Silver may make you rethink of this.

Nate Silver is one of the most famous data journalists in the US. He is also the founder of FiveThirtyEight website, which he describes as a regime of data journalism. Silver has been criticizing the value of traditional newspaper and television. And he honors only investigative journalism and data journalism. Given his data analysis, Nate Silver was down on Trump’s prospects throughout the US election. He even gave Hillary Clinton a 71.4 percent chance of beating Trump. That’s why many old-school journalists can’t wait to laugh at him after Trump’s victory.

Data journalism hillary

Talking about Silver’s failure, Timess media columnist, Jim Rutenberg concludes that “a good place to start would be to get a good night’s sleep, and then talk to some voters.”

And I totally agree with him.

Up with the facts! Down with the cult of facts!

Quantitative data should be an aid to journalistic practices, but it shouldn’t be a replacement for traditional journalistic methods. Such measurements are appropriate to some particular subjects. However, the assumption that it is appropriate to all subjects is not at all adequate. There is no numerical answer to the question of who deserve to receive food relief from the government, or whether gay marriage is acceptable. Interviews, opinion columns and all kinds of journalistic commentary need to be given equal honor to vary the voices and pave way for a free society.


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