African data team a first for Power Reporting

DATA SAVES: New York Times journalist, Ron Nixon, is one member of the primarily African team teaching data journalism at the Power Reporting conference. Photo: Provided

DATA SAVES: New York Times journalist, Ron Nixon, is one member of the primarily African team teaching data journalism at the Power Reporting conference.
Photo:  Dinesh Balliah.

THE FIRST primarily African data journalism team has come to the Power Reporting conference to show how data journalism can aid in ground-breaking investigative reporting.

The team of 16 seeks to introduce journalists at the conference to the world of data journalism. But the biggest challenge might be to convince fellow journalists that working with numbers is not an insurmountable task.

For most journalists, words are second nature. But when faced with numbers, however, it may seem like a daunting task to turn them into stories. Learning data journalism is an important skill for the future.

Media trainer Ray Joseph called data journalism the new “buzz word” in the field and it is a tool that can help journalists do their job better.

Data journalism does the “heavy lifting” so journalists can focus on the stories.“The story is in the data and you have to find the story,” he said.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Information becomes important when it talks to me, when I don’t have to look at the bigger picture and I see what it means.”[/pullquote]

Joseph believes that journalists don’t need to be techno savvy to make use of data journalism. He said that even a basic understanding of data journalism can be useful.

Ron Nixon, a New York Times data journalist, believes it is important for journalists to understand data because it “is as critical as learning how to write”. Nixon said understanding the collection and use of data allows journalists to understand information better, giving a fuller context for articles.

Joseph argues that an uptake on data journalism in South Africa has been slow, as journalists believe they don’t have time to acquire new skills. They are wary of taking on new things that could potentially increase their work load.

Even so, Joseph and the rest of the team are adamant that data journalism is the future of journalism. Nixon hopes data journalism will become the norm rather than something seen as “exotic”.

Team member Luvuyo Mdeni, of SABC digital news, presented a mapping seminar. The seminar showed how data can be visually appealing through mapping.

Mdeni said there is a lot to be done in terms of data journalism because it can show how large amounts of information can be relevant to an individual.“Information becomes important when it talks to me, when I don’t have to look at the bigger picture and I see what it means [to me],”said Mdeni.

Michael Salzwedel of SABC digital news presented on Google tools. Salzwedel raised concern about the fact that people were not aware of the free tools that are available to journalists. Salzwedel said it was important to use new ways of gathering and visualising data.