Chris Knox



20 September, 2019

What is data journalism?

Paul Bradshaw from Birmingham City University says:

Data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told — or it can be both.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says:

Data journalism is simply journalism.

The former is a new and trendy term but ultimately, it is just a way of describing journalism in the modern world.

Learning goals

Practical skills

Mindset skills

  • Confidence to source and use data in a story
    • Data is not scary
  • Data is (just) another source
    • Just like other sources data must be treated fairly and in context

One number in isolation is almost certainly misleading

Why use data in stories?

  • Context
  • Trust
  • Clarity and/or conciseness
  • Engagement

What does data give the narrative?

Narrative/Cognitive tension?

Not sure exactly what to call it - but I think it is important.

What roles does data have in journalism?

Chart choice

  • Different charts will highlight different aspects of your data more effectively.
  • Choose the chart that shows the aspect of the data that you are interested in
  • Line and Bar charts are often a safe choice
  • Take care with maps and pie charts

FT Visual Vocabulary

Bad or deceiving charts

  • Charts and graphs can be used to deceive
    • Don’t do this.

The best way to get a sense for bad charts is to peruse vis.wtf or /r/dataisugly. There is also a good writeup here

The most common bad things are:

  • Incorrect, missing, or misleading labels
  • Inconsistenct scales
  • Truncating scales
  • Comparing things that shouldn’t be
  • Too many things

A few rules

  • Barcharts always start at 0
  • Line charts don’t need to start at 0, but always ask yourself if the range you select is going to make an insignificant change look important
  • Only use pie charts for parts of a whole and only when there are less than 5 categories
  • Avoid maps for showing quantities