Why Data Journalism Matters in the Age of Fake News?

by March 30, 2017 0 comments
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Data journalism can help a journalist tell a complex story through engaging infographics. All the data required for creating such news is readily available on the internet or public archives.

India with 1.3 billion people is a data mine waiting to be navigated and researched for data journalists and statisticians.

One of the largest urban agglomerations in the world, India is diverse in many ways which make it interesting for data analysts/collectors. There are many great stories to be presented if these statistics are crunched for drawing parallels. For example, A research showing the migration of students from Bihar to other cities for higher education can be prepared by using data to draw parallel with Prime ministers view.

Statistics is a crucial component of news to ensure truthful and insightful news analysis and coverage. However, ground realities in India are too different when it comes to data journalism.

Colonial and post-colonial data analysis

The British encouraged the collection of massive amounts of data which led to the creation of a decentralised system with colonels at the helm to gather data at the village level. This smooth operation ensured error-free census in all the British provinces. According to Joy Pachuau, Associate Professor at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, “For the British, numbers mattered and collecting data was of foremost importance to their own survival. Even the missionaries assisted in data collection. The stationing of a regiment in a sensitive area was calculated with the number of population to ensure that the British firepower was strong enough to thwart any unwanted mutiny.”

This effort found support from Jawahar Lal Nehru after 1947 while planning for mass-industrialization of India. India today boasts of some of the finest data collection agencies and initiatives in the developing world like Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), and Computer Centre. Apart from that open government portal (data.gov.in) and many private organisations work in this field. Still, the rise of data journalism in India has been very slow when compared to other nations.

Transition in the Indian media

Indian media is going through a transformation and this focus has shifted from serious/critical journalism to soft journalism. This unhealthy trend can be attributed to the rise of 24/7 news channels and tabloidization of the media which has toned down the quality of news with TRPs as the sole parameter of success.

On the role of Indian media houses in subscribing to data journalism model, financial constraints and high attrition are few roadblocks commonly faced says Vikram Kilpady, Senior Editor, New Media, India Today Group.

“Here in India Today we first implemented data journalism through NewsFlick initiative. During Delhi elections, we did a piece on Aam Aadmi Party and covered their fundraising event and budgetary requirements based on raw data.”

Collaboration

Indian media needs to come together to collaborate on establishing an independent research and statistics wing to scale down the cost as data journalism requires a high level of skills and story needs to be visualised to combine with the careful use of information.

Sports journalists have always relied on big data for fresh insights and future predictions though its effectiveness in other areas such as health, economics, transport and education requires further exploration.

With many visualisation tools available online today media houses are engaged in creating beautiful data visualisations but it should be meaningful data visualisation and design shouldn’t take center-stage.

Understanding data and telling the story in the right context and insight is more necessary.

This startup collates data from various sources on various issues like medical care, teacher attendance in public schools and quality of public infrastructure. After yesterday’s earthquake SocialCops created an interactive map of India where you can check earthquake deaths in your state.

The Fake news industry

Everything is possible in this brave new digital world. The struggle for control over access to information is the defining struggle of our times.

The growth of social media has transformed propaganda and now it’s nearly impossible to regulate or officiate it. Ironically, the way we are engaging with this medium on daily basis to share our views, we have all become propagandists!

Facebook, Twitter, and Google are under pressure to decide what type of news content is supposed to be posted on their platforms, making them reluctant judges of what is misleading, hateful or true.

Propaganda and communicating technology have evolved side by side and with every new way to spread information, the dissemination of propaganda is bound to evolve as well. Breaking news and updates will always find a place in social media, but they should not be exploited to distribute fake information and to serve as a tool for propagandists who want to manufacture consent based on lies.

Let there be hope

With a rapid increase in mobile and internet platforms, the market is taking data very seriously thereby forcing media firms to be serious about the same. Also, with the advent of IoT smart computational capabilities will be paired with high-speed internet for analyzation of big data.

This interconnection can be studied for presenting insightful stories concerning humans. Secondly, colleges which provide courses in Journalism should amp up their syllabus to accommodate data journalism prominently.

In the United Kingdom, media houses like the Guardian have been involved with data journalism since the 18th century.  Manchester Guardian as it was known then published the first data visualisation story in May 1821 and it was based on the number of students who received free education – and the number of poor children in the city who couldn’t afford it.

Indian media is slowly moving towards data journalism to unearth stories which can only be deciphered by meaningful gathering and analyzation. Frequent collaborations with the foreign press can help in shaping the course of storytelling through raw data. Course modules in data journalism and pattern analysis need to be made mandatory if the nation wants to ride the data wave.

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