Thanks to the technological evolution, we witness a huge surge in the availability of data. Data comes from a huge array of sources: web, mobile phones, digital payment systems, government/corporate information systems, organisations like the World Bank, the RBI and so on. Data is now easily available to everyone who needs it.
The widespread availability of data is shaking many domains that depend on information. Many professionals are trying to take advantage of these developments and are adopting a data-driven approach in all decision-making tasks.
A domain that cannot survive without data is journalism. The objective of any journalistic story is to keep the reader informed about the world. And for the story to be effective, it needs a data backup. Telling a story using the power of data is data journalism.
According to the study conducted by Google, 42% of reporters use data to tell stories regularly and many news organisations now have dedicated data journalists. However, 53% of the sample consider data journalism as a special skill that needs constant training.
Till a few years ago, data analysis was solely conducted by statisticians. However, now the data analytics landscape is changing – it is no more the exclusive domain of data experts alone. The growing data crunching ecosystem, where you can find countless data analysis tools, is empowering modern day journalists. The advantage of these tools is that they make data-driven journalism more and more feasible. Many of these tools are so easy to use that even a layperson can now harness the power of data without any extra professional support. A few such tools/resources are discussed here.
Any discussion on data journalist toolbox cannot skip the suite of tools released by Google for this purpose under the Google Labs umbrella. One such tool worth a look is Google Public Data Explorer.
Google Public Data Explorer does exactly what the name suggests. When you click on the ‘Explore data’ button, you will see a huge list of statistics you can search through and graph. It lets you display the information in all sorts of ways, whether it is a bubble graph, or a line graph or a bar graph. And below the graph, you can even use the slider to change the time-frame- to see how the data are changed over time. The advantage of data explorer is that you don’t need to be a hotshot data analyst to make use of the data. Even a layperson can play around with the publicly available datasets curated by well-known organisations like the World Bank, the OECD and so on.
The Data Explorer comes in quite handy when you are dealing with subjects spanning multiple countries over a large range of time. In the application’s start page, you will find a plethora of data sets that can be explored using the tools offered by the application. If you wish to probe into a specific topic you can invoke a search on it or access a data set from the ones listed on the site. For instance, if your research topic is international tourism and you wish to obtain some details on the international tourism receipts, the better option is to explore the world development indicators data from the World Bank via Google’ data explorer.
When you access the data set, the Google application will load the data from World Bank’s server. Now, to obtain some quick insights from the data, select your target indicator (for our tourism example, from the menu on the left-hand side, select ‘International Tourism Receipts’ ( under the category ‘Private Sector and Trade’) and simply access the button ‘Explore data’. At this point, within seconds, the application will display a graph that shows the world tourism receipts trend over time. Now, if you want to see how this data varies among certain countries (say, countries in the BRICS block), just scroll down and select those countries in the BRICS group (screenshot).
To help you share this chart with others or to embed it in a blog post, the application provides you with the URL to this chart (click on the chain icon in the top-right). This is much better than a screenshot as it will provide an opportunity to manipulate this chart. The user can add or delete some countries and see how those countries perform. By default, you get line graph. But if you think another type of graph (bar chart, bubble chart, etc.) is more effective, the application offers such options too.
Fusion tables, a data visualisation table using Google Maps is another product that could come in handy for data journalist. A notable feature of this service is its ability to generate choropleth maps with a few simple steps. The Choropleth map is a method of displaying statistical data on a map. Here geographical areas are shaded in proportion to the measurement of the statistical variable being displayed on the map (like the map shown below- this map shows the distribution of meat consumption across the world- the intensity of green is directly proportional to the meat consumed).
Another tool in this suite is Google Trends, the application that taps into google search data. Tens of millions of searches happen in a day and scanning through these search data would help us identify trends in what people are currently curious about. Naturally, an application that helps one identify these trends with a few mouse clicks would certainly be a great tool for a journalist who wants to tell data-driven stories.
When you access the start page of the application, you will find a list of current trending stories. Being someone with a ‘nose for news’, a journalist can easily identify events with real story potential. Once a story thread is identified, explore it further by clicking on it.
As you would already know, Google Scholar is a special search tool that lets you explore scholarly materials. The search results generally include relevant academic papers, journal articles and the like. If you are doing a semi-academic piece this is an apt tool.
To help a journalist exploit its tools (mentioned above) more effectively, Google Labs offers a free course on data journalism, which teaches how one can use the tools for creating stories using data.
The data journalism MOOC platform ‘Learno.net‘ is another place where one can find a bunch of free courses for a media professional. Doing Journalism with Data, Google Search for Journalists (http://learno.net/courses/google-search-for-journalists) are some of the ones worth a look.