Opinion Article: “The discovery of information”

Written by Kelly Kiki, Project Manager iMEdD Lab, Data Journalist

With a simple Google search for the term “data journalism”, one can easily find the basic widely reproduced information about data journalism and the elements that differentiate it from journalism in general: that it is the field which, with quantitative or quantified data as its raw material, produces and distributes information in our digital age; that its projects emanate from the intersection of journalism and data analysis; that it is the creative meeting of journalism with statistics, computer science and design; that it involves the visualization of data, which ultimately either constitutes the storytelling itself or enhances it; and, of course, that it is the great return to the facts.

These descriptions, apart from the latter, refer more to the newer tools and media, techniques and formats used in data journalism, or the additional skills and interdisciplinary collaborations needed to produce the stories. But it is not appropriate to continue to focus on those features that promote the entrenched view of new journalism –data journalism is “no longer a ‘new’ way of doing journalism, data as news is here to stay”, Guardian’s acting data projects editor Pamela Duncan concluded in a recent article entitled “Numbers you can tell stories with”: a decade of Guardian data journalism, which was published in September 2021.

Speaking of the added value of data in journalism, it is more worthwhile to insist on the so-called return to the facts not because this genre cannot also be opinion journalism, nor because there isn’t subjectivism (or, unfortunately, bias) in data.

The reason is that devotion to “facts” often presupposes the discovery of information which in our digital and interconnected lives may be available but inaccessible: as long as information remains in this state of inaccessible availability, the fact remains unenlightened, as if it never happened.

On the contrary, when one discovers, synthesizes, organizes, and analyzes this information, the fact is born and it can be both transmitted and documented.

An example of a journalistic project with these characteristics is the web application that we created at iMEdD Lab for auctions in Greece from 2018 onwards: we studied online available information on tens of thousands of online auctions in the country, we organized and structured the data in a machine-readable format, and then asked questions to our data (i.e., analyzed it) in order to get answers that constitute the fact and which are presented in the application –what is the evolution of auctions over time, what is their distribution by type of property they concern, what is the geographical distribution of the residencies being auctioned, who are the top hasteners, etc.

The creation and maintenance of the web app with the latest data on a regular basis are intended to inform citizens and to facilitate the journalistic and wider research community in their coverage of this important social issue. As with any investigation, there are challenges and limitations that can be addressed within the working methodology. As is always the case with facts, their broadcasting can generate new questions. For example, what are the reasons why one bank has sped up more auctions than another? Or, why have more homes been auctioned, proportionally, in this municipality and not in that one?

When one asks questions to the data, one receives answers which, in turn, can provide an opportunity for new questions to be generated for the community to explore.

Besides, such a succession is perfectly in line with the logic of reusing a project to build a new one, which carries the Creative Commons license under which this application is governed.

The value of discovering the information is being multiplied when one shares it and when this information is used to search for a new one.