Random ramblings from a national democrat.

…of Data and the Arithmophobic Journalist

Let’s admit it — most of us who’ve entered the field of journalism more likely did so because of one common contributory factor: arithmophobia (the generalized fear of numbers).

However, if we would want to make compelling stories backed up by relevant facts and figures, in one way or another, we must learn how to deal with this demon. For the arithmophobic journalist, there are certain methods one could employ to successfully slay the number-demon.

For this problems, we usually run to our computers. Not only can technological knowledge help one slay the number-beast, it could also help us find credible information faster and more efficiently.

With this in mind, i would be necessary for us to chart the waters of Data Journalism and Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR).

But exactly what are they? What makes the two both entirely different worlds and two sides of the same coin at the same time?

In the most simplest of definitions, the two are summed up as follows:

Data Journalism: Reporting primarily with data.

Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR): Making the computer assist you in your reporting.


Yes, they are in a nutshell, characterized in such a way. However there are some nuances in the definition that we must qualify to further understand how they work.

Paul Bradshaw from the Birmingham City University notes “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.” Often times, the data very much speaks for itself and requires very little explanation to make readers understand. In one way, it becomes a matter of presentation. Most of the time, infographics are employed in easily digestible forms.

A very good example for data journalism would be The Guardian’s DataBlog.

To expound on the other hand, Computer Assisted Reporting is the employment of skills and computer technology (such as the internet, search engines, softwares, etc.) in assisting journalists in researching and fleshing out relevant figures from scattered and raw data in order to report and analyze.

With increasing information and government documents available online, this could save journalists a lot of time. In a highly competitive world of journalism where time is as precious as gold, learning CAR becomes a necessity.

But what skills are required in CAR?

For CAR, one necessarily needs to be patient in finding accurate and relevant sources on the internet, know relevant keywords such as file types on searching for documents. In creating spreadsheets and/or managing data, one needs basic knowledge in softwares like Microsoft excel and SPSS.

A lot of times, in order to create data journalism, we employ CAR techniques. In some cases, journalists use data journalism techniques to enhance our computer assisted reporting. Hence, the demarcation of the two are starting to blur.

Both deal and make sense out of data, but in a significant way differ on the matter of presentation and research of data.

Why the need to understand the data?

Besides providing the raw numbers, one needs to understand the data in order for readers to easily see the relevance of such in their everyday lives. It becomes a must for the journalist to make sense of the economic situation, of newly new legislation,  increase in basic commodities, etc.

In the Philippine context, however, with the absence of Freedom of Information, the reportage of such facts for transparency appears to be a larger pain in the ass than math.

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This entry was posted on November 24, 2012 by .
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