We live in the age of post-truth, a term that the eminent Oxford Dictionary singled out as its 2016 word of the year, indicative of a radical shift in how public opinion is shaped. Our knowledge of reality in the post-truth era is no longer the result of rigorous rationalisation or the consultation of historical and objective facts, but rather a lumpy mixture of beliefs, emotions and interpretations. Even the most obvious truth is deconstructed, diminished, and ultimately erased, and this happens despite, or rather because of, the enormous amount of data and information that floods our physical and virtual spaces on a daily basis. We are all victims to some extent, and more or less consciously, of information overflow: excessive media narratives that, instead of enriching us and training our critical thinking, are actually capable of making us poorer and more indifferent.
Our knowledge of reality in the post-truth era is no longer the result of rigorous rationalisation or the consultation of historical and objective facts, but rather a lumpy mixture of beliefs, emotions and interpretations.
Digital technology has made any kind of content accessible to everyone, anytime and anywhere: economic statistics, historical data, scientific research, legal texts, relegating traditional information gatekeepers to the background. The publishing world would inevitably change as a result, albeit not always positively, as demonstrated by the widespread practice of clickbaiting on the Internet and social networks. Also referred to as ‘precision journalism’, Data Journalism was conceived and flourishes in such a scenario and bears an important mission of restoring order to chaos and reinstating the dignity and purpose of data: telling a meaningful story with sincerity.
To gain a better understanding of this fascinating branch of journalism while also outlining the professional profile of a data journalist, PHYD organised the talk entitled “Data Journalism: data narration in the future of information“, with special guests Michele Rocca and Franco Pigoli, respectively Data Scientist and Education Manager at Porini, a company specialising in ERP solutions and one of Microsoft’s main international partners.
“Data is omnipresent”, explains Franco Pigoli, “and the world of machine learning, AI and big data began percolating into the humanities over the last four years, which is why we hear so much about Data Journalism today”.
A Definition of Data Journalism
Michele Rocca takes up the definition with its basic elements: Data journalism is a journalism that harnesses data, drawing on data not only as source but also carrier of its own story to further generate multiple narratives. Compared to the past, of course, this data is far more complex and hybrid, we are not just talking about spreadsheets, but big data, open data, multimedia content and documents requiring greater attention and a range of specific skills. While information used to pass through secure channels to reach us, it is now just a click away, free, and therefore subject to dangerous falsification. If the role of journalism, as the Americans perceive it, is to be the watchdog of power, Data Journalism is fact checking, a tool of truth and verification to keep the information overload at bay and offer a better account of reality. Rocca explains that this form of journalism is nothing more than “the next evolutionary step in the method of a good journalist“.
Data journalism is a journalism that harnesses data, drawing on data not only as source but also carrier of its own story to further generate multiple narratives.
The necessary skills
Proficiency in this subject calls for a wide range of skills, the ability to move seamlessly between the fields of descriptive statistics and social sciences, knowledge of the rules and principles of communication and also the programming languages used to collect, process and analyse data.
Data journalism is a combination of professions: you have to be a good writer, a good analyst, a good programmer and also capable of finding the data needed to tell a story.
Michele Rocca, data scientist at Porini
In other words, data journalists are expected to filter and then deliver the data back to their audience in a new, interesting and clear way, as a new passage sheltered from noise and attempts at distortion. “The question is”, Pigoli jests provocatively, “whether data-driven journalism can really be considered objective”.
Rocca believes that “there is no single answer. Data-driven journalism has to be truthful, which means that it has to be replicable, giving the reader the opportunity to verify sources, as is the case with the results of scientific research, where there is undeniable objectivity. The human aspect also comes into play, because a journalist has a moral obligation to provide the reader with a position, a point of view from which to start”.
A perfect synthesis between the old and new ways of doing and thinking about journalism, basing everything on the numbers and then moving beyond, to humans.
To watch the event, simply register on the PHYD site.