Posted by Tom Foremski - October 28, 2009
For several years I've been writing about the need for "media engineers" part software engineer and part journalist. And others have also started to write about teaching journalism to programmers.
There is a lot of journalism that can be done by mining data in public databases. Some newspapers now have interactive maps, for example, Oakland Tribune has an interactive map of homicides.
A much better example of data journalism is EveryBlock, which provides a news feed for neighborhoods in all large US cities. Type in your zip code and EveryBlock will email a newsfeed that contains police reports, restaurant openings and reviews, building permits, coverage in the media, and other local data culled from public databases and other sources.
EveryBlock is run by Adrian Holovaty, based in Chicago. It was recently acquired by MSNBC.
EveryBlock was started by a grant from the Knight Foundation and part of its condition was that the EveryBlock publishing software be released under an open source license. It's available to anyone, anyone can replicate what EveryBlock has done.
Adrian Holovalty is a true media engineer, he is also one of the driving forces behind the Django project, an open-source framework for quickly developing web applications for newsroom projects.
Data journalism has had its fair share of critics. But I think it has a bright future as long it it is wrapped within the right context. The temptation is to just publish the raw data without much else and allow the readers to make sense of it depending on how the data affects them.
Data journalism combined with a fair amount of human journalism could be a potent mix, providing context to the content. It'll be interesting to see how newsrooms combine the two.
But most newsrooms lack the software engineering skills to use Django and similar technologies. And with newsroom cuts and the pressure on media business models continuing unabated, we may be running out of time to experiment with data journalism.
That would be a shame because today's media technologies make it possible to create many novel types of media formats. There's a tremendous amount of innovation that can be done with media formats. I've got a few ideas myself that I'd love to try out but unfortunately I, too, lack the resources.
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