First assignment: exploring Data journalism and visualizations

For this assignment I have chosen to explore the data journalism field and how to visualize data and make interactive the contents.

Completeness of a story

This decision came from my past experience as a journalist working in a traditional local newspaper, the Corriere Adriatico. Here I found my work terribly limitating, as what I have been supposed to do was just reporting what were happening in the town. All the times that I had some data to deal with I wasn’t able to visualize them in order to make my stories less boring. Or, moreover, I was unable to build a story on them because of my editors’ lack of trust in this practices. Data journalism represents to me the possibility to make a story more complete and attractive for the readers. This is why I don’t really like to discern the journalism that uses data from the traditional one, because this way should be followed by all the traditional media.

Useful for this purpose has been the “Introduction to infographics and data visualizations” held by Alberto Cairo through which, before to start the course, I have learned how to use a Tableau Public software, and how to judge a visualization.

What means to do data journalism today

I really enjoyed the similarity found by Simon Rogers, editor of the Guardian Datablog, between data journalism and punk, because in fact this describe pretty well the reality of this field. Anyone can do it. With the difference that making punk music involves to buy an instrument, while the Web is plenty of free useful tools that can be used to tell stories with numbers. What I have used mostly are Tableau Public, Datawrapper and for visualizations, Google Docs and Outwit Hub as scraping tools.

Data means describe the reality. Really?

The interesting fact about data is that everyone expects them to be the better medium to describe the reality. They are even the best medium used by scientists to describe the universe. But, how are them collected? This reading have been really helpful to know the answer to this question, describing how surveys and procedures may be flawed or in incomplete, undermining sometimes the reliability of the information collected. A good example experienced during my activity is represented by the data about the people killed in Pakistan by drones during the Obama administration. What I based my work on is the ones collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, while different data are collected by the New America Foundation. Who can we trust? Additionally, the data I used, involve the minimum number of the deaths and the maximum one, because the information the Bureau got derives from different sources, that claim different numbers.

Communities of practice

Throughout the web it is possible to find a wealthy quantity of community built around data journalism. One of this is surely Hacks and Hackers. I met the Birmingham group during a introductive lesson about data analysis. Another group is the Data Driven Journalism group. Being subscribed to the mailing list, I have asked to the group, a bit worry to be taken like a ingnorant, what would be the best tool to create some kind of interactive product by merging data with other forms of media, like videos. And they responded enthusiastically recommending a few of them that I already knew.

A second assignment proposal 

A future project that I would like to realize is a focus on the European farm subsidies. More then once the European Parliament has been accused to don’t meke transparent their fundings to farm activities. What I would  like to do is to get the data from an interesting website, called, that aims to collect information about this topic, making a series of visualizations to show where this money go and who really get these financial helps.


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