• Alex Howard has been interviewed by Mediashift about his recent Tow report on data journalism. It's a meaty conversation. Excerpts that are music to my ears:
My observation when comparing and contrasting the humanities and sciences — I was a double major — is that you often are using data in the context of experiments, in trying to understand the why of something and what data exists to help us understand. That gives you a different kind of pursuit of knowledge than the classic journalist approach, whereby you go out and talk to people and then you have a story, but it might not give you a broader perspective about the number of times this issue happens or where — in other words, context.
It’s critical that data journalism, even though it’s a hot, new topic, not be divorced from decades of computer-assisted reporting or investigative journalism. These are new tools, new techniques, new opportunities and there are new risks that go along with them, but the ethics of creating knowledge from data aren’t fundamentally divorced from the ethics of creating knowledge from talking to people as sources. You may need to protect the data — its prominence or its sourcing. You may need to secure it if it’s sensitive data.
It’s not just about the hard skills. It’s also about computational thinking — thinking about data as a strategic resource. There’s a real challenge around digital literacy in traditional print journalism. If you look around journalism schools, there are a lot of people who are from that side or from broadcast journalism, but they may not have the grounding in how to go about doing these kind of data stories.
In the same way that a young person is expected to use a computer, they’ll also need to open up a spreadsheet and do basic statistical analysis. They’ll need to be able to understand the end value of a study and to know what someone is talking about with R-values and regression. They’ll need to have some literacy around maps and charts and infographics and ways to present information and visualize data. Just in the same way young journalists are learning how to create basic webpages, how to take pictures, how to use mobile devices, shoot video and create basic apps, these are tools that are going to become part of the ways that 21st century journalists practice their craft. To not use one of the tools is to be unable to practice part of the craft, as it is currently being defined and expanded.• Paul Bradshaw is surprised by the fact that “over 1,000 journalists are now exploring scraping techniques” thanks to his excellent e-book. Actually, the surprising thing for me is that ONLY 1,000 journalists are doing so.
• 9 free platforms for journalists to learn how to code. You actually won't learn how to code if you just use those. You'll need to do a lot of real work on your own. But they'll be helpful anyway if you've never written a line of Python and still believe that coding is hard (it is, but not as much as you may think.)
• The Facebook mood manipulation experiment has been on the news for more than a week. Two articles to put the controversy in context: With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility, and The Test We Can—and Should—Run on Facebook. They reminded me of when, a while ago, some fellow nerds laughed at my liking Evgeny Morozov's and Jaron Lanier's latest books (1, 2).
• What about that study linking biking and prostate cancer that you've probably heard about? Here's what StatsChat's Thomas Lumley has to say: “There’s borderline evidence from a weak study design for a sensational finding that isn’t supported by any prior evidence. This is fine as research, but it shouldn’t be in the headlines.” I haven't read the study myself, though.