[open-government] [ckan-discuss] Questions for journalists about what datasets are useful for them?

Liane H liane99 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 24 14:31:07 GMT 2011

Thanks Paola

It's a bit sad, but I'm afraid I have to agree with your points and I agree
initiatives like data journalism are very important. I'm also working on a
'datacommunication' course for 15-16 year old pupils (input welcome!).

One clarification on my earlier post: when I say statistics, I do not mean
hard-core multi-variate analysis etc, but a rudimentary understanding of the
data. A few examples:

   1. life expectancy can be artificially high: it increased by more than 2
   years in Kensington & Chelsea, and South Cambs between 2009 and 2010. That's
   such a big increase that it should immediately make you wonder what is going
   on. It probably has to do with the number of people having more than 1
   house. They are recorded as residents of K&C but their death would be
   recorded in a different place. So for the K&C records, these people never
   die. This affects the life expectancy numbers. A similar problem can be
   found in places with a high student population.
   2. Crime can look low in high-crime areas and vice versa: this is a
   well-known problem but often disregarded in the reporting. To put it in
   extremes; if you live in a leafy suburb with low crime, you report the theft
   of your bicycle. If you live in a big city, you don't bother. And of course
   we have the wonderful reported crime versus fear of crime numbers, where the
   fear of crime in some low-crime areas is really high but does not reflect
   the reality at all.
   3. Averages hide the differences: again, the London borough of K&C
   provides a nice example. If you look at the whole borough, it's very
   affluent. Yet it also has some of the most deprived areas of the whole of
   England within its boroughs. The scary bit about this one is that we worked
   with high-level policy makers in that borough, and they didn't even know

It may sound as if these examples are too basic and everyone knows this, but
in my experience, they really don't.

Hope this is useful


On 24 March 2011 13:40, Paola Di Maio <paola.dimaio at gmail.com> wrote:

> Liane
> I wanted to say that I agree a lot, in fact I was thinking of making the
> same points
> I was also a journo for several years (occasionally still do wear the
> journo hat in between other commitments)
> Let me add a couple of thoughts triggere by your post:
> - a lot of journalism is closer to fiction, than factual reporting. This
> can be a cultural thing, or an editorial choice. It was commonplace to have
> factual pieces rejected by the editors because 'too dry, this is not a cout
> bulletin' or sometime completely rewritten into a flowery, more colorful
> style that would bring up the 'story'. Very few journalists and titles can
> afford to be factual, or manage to achieve the elegant balance between
> factual and still appealing to the fantasy of the public
> -  this is one of the reasons why a lot of journalism contributes to
> 'disinformation'. A lot of very opinionated journos and editors have a
> mission to influence, and persuade audiences, not to inform the public and
> to make the citizens more capable of critical independent thinking, of
> making their own opinionated choices.  I hope this will change
> - the majority of media, editors, and publishers are part of a 'secret
> state' whose information policy is mostly propaganda off some sort or other
> designed to prevent social and economic evolution (say, from inefficient,
> unfair models to more organic, commonsensical ones). Beyond excellent
> production capabilities of media houses,  there are a lot of errors,
> omissions and partial truths, as well as a good deal of fiction that are
> 'fed' to the public as 'information'  to make them behave commercially and
> politially in a certain way (or another). when people acquire good quality
> information and knowledge, they become independent , critical thinkers, and
> start making their own economic and political choices and cannot so easily
> fooled and deceived. Not sure the media helps that, rather considers readers
> as 'consumers' of ideologies, products and services.
> - I am not sure statistical training is necessary, but certainly an ability
> to
> do fact checking and producing chains of evidence to an argument should be
> taught as part of new journalism training. I see the need to change all
> that, hopefully
> the 'data journalism' initiatives can contribute to that
> 2011/3/23 Liane H <liane99 at gmail.com>
>> I worked as a journalist for over a decade, and my experience is that many
>> journalists are 'afraid' of data and as such not very likely to respond to
>> broad questions. With the risk of hugely oversimplifying, they want data to
>> strengthen their story but often are not too sure how to assess the
>> reliability and/or how to interpret the data. And all datasets are
>> potentially interesting, but of course health, crime and education always
>> work...
>> Graphs are good, like Armand suggested. A 'stats for dummies' which
>> includes a clear description of what the data does and does not say,
>> confidence intervals and what they mean, can maybe help.
>> Many journalists have not even had basic training in methods of research
>> or statistics. This is not to put anyone down, it is just to be aware of
>> this. In addition, journalists are always working against deadlines so they
>> don't have the time to really assess the validity of the data.
>> All in all, I'm afraid I can't really think of other questions at the
>> moment but I do think the crux lies more in explaining and contextualising
>> the data rather than the datasets.
>> I know this is quite vague, but still hope this is helpful in some way.
>> regards,
>> Liane
>> On 22 March 2011 10:40, Armand Brahaj <mandi at shqiperia.com> wrote:
>>> Providing some information on this topic:
>>> We are running a project on Open Data Albania (open.data.al) and we
>>> found
>>> out that journalists are interested only in information that are visually
>>> represented (any graph will do). They do not care how much data you store
>>> in your repository, if the data is in RDF tripples or plain excels.
>>> If they see a graph describing any-thing which can make news, they will
>>> use it. For this reason we launched a beta-website with articles
>>> containing
>>> graphics and some description of them (+link to excels), and we had quite
>>> an impact in the Media in the region. We published smth like 40
>>> graph+descriptions and there have been more than 40 articles in the press
>>> and TV coverages reports.
>>> When dealing with journalists, I think you should consider more the last
>>> question in your questioner: "What kind of tools would you like to help
>>> you
>>> work with the datasets".
>>> Rgds,
>>> Armand
>>> On Sat, 19 Mar 2011 20:12:08 +0000, Christopher Gutteridge
>>> <cjg at ecs.soton.ac.uk> wrote:
>>> > Sorry, that sounds more sulky than I intended, I mean that I'm
>>> > interested in how to get people interested in what for most people can
>>> > be a bit of a technical and inaccessible subject, even though it's
>>> going
>>> > to make Good Stuff happen.
>>> >
>>> > Christopher Gutteridge wrote:
>>> >> What kind of data release is newsworthy?
>>> >>
>>> >> I'm a bit miffed that the University of Southampton open data service
>>> >> didn't get more wide coverage. I don't know if it's something we
>>> >> should make more of an effort to get stories about or if it's just not
>>> >> very interesting.
>>> >>
>>> >> Jonathan Gray wrote:
>>> >>> A friend of mine is doing a survey on the data needs and data related
>>> >>> training needs of journalists and has asked if I have any suggestions
>>> >>> for questions that I'd like answers to, that could be included in the
>>> >>> survey. I'm thinking of proposing 2-3 questions, along the lines of:
>>> >>>
>>> >>>   * What kinds of public datasets would be useful to you as a
>>> >>> journalist? (Please be as specific as possible)
>>> >>>   * What kinds of questions do you want to use these datasets to
>>> >>> answer? What kinds of issues do you want to explore? (Please be as
>>> >>> specific as possible)
>>> >>>   * What kinds of tools would you like to help you work with these
>>> >>> datasets?
>>> >>>
>>> >>> Anyone think of any other questions? Or improvements/amendments to
>>> the
>>> >>> questions above? Suggestions for rewording?
>>> >>>
>>> >>> Answers on a postcard. ;-)
>>> >>>
>>> >>> J.
>>> >>>
>>> >>>
>>> >>
>>> >
>>> > --
>>> > Christopher Gutteridge -- http://id.ecs.soton.ac.uk/person/1248
>>> >
>>> > You should read the ECS Web Team blog:
>>> > http://blogs.ecs.soton.ac.uk/webteam/
>>> >
>>> >
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