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Tag Archives: Data Journalism

The Generosity of New Media—Science, Technology and Innovation

 How Can Scientific Findings Be Effectively Communicated, Transfered For Public Consumption? Who or What Should Fill The Void Between Scientist/Researcher & Journalist/Media? Does New-Media Solve The Problem?

Science, as ecology of practice, field of employment, publishing industry, and catalyst for advancement, is being forced to undergo a reverse reaction in which the products – media, culture and social changes – become the reactants. A contemporary digitally-driven society hypothesises that Science must transform to meet the demands of rapid information dissemination, adaptation of new-media technologies, and transparency of research findings for it to advance. Science must become “Open-Science”, where the public can witness the research process (Pisani 2011). Part of this transition is the aim to develop more effective ways for researchers to communicate findings beyond the realm of experts, and more effectively than the media does.

But does this go against the “nature” of science? Can it, and does it effectively transform to meet demands of speed, new-media usage, and transparency? Should we be experimenting, or leaving it up to natural adaptation? Who or what is needed to fill the communication gap between scientific experts and the general public? Much like the media has been made to break away from traditional print practices, can science to do the same?

The ‘Nature’ of Science: Can The Traditional Be Transformed?

As Thomas Lin writes in the 2012 NY Times article ‘Cracking Open The Scientific Process’:

“The [scientific research] system is hidebound, expensive and elitist..Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only “if you’re stuck with 17th-century technology”. (Lin 2012)

Although it may seem ironic that Science, the catalyst for advancement, is being left behind in the digital age, an examination of traditional practices shows that while some new-media technology has been adapted, the dissemination of scientific knowledge remains a long and measured process tied strongly to both print.

“The very fact that we call a scientific-knowledge unit a “paper” is a powerful illustration of how deeply the idea of knowledge is tied to the medium” (Wilbanks 2012)

The transferring of scientific knowledge beyond the realm of experts in the field for general public consumption is prolonged, particularly when it “does not clearly lend itself to technology development” (Seed 2010), because of print nostalgia.  As John Wilbanks explains in his online article ‘On Science Publishing’, the transferring of scientific knowledge became an “economic transaction”, as print was the easiest and fastest way to distribute knowledge (of course, that is not the case today).

As Lin (2012) explains, scientific research was and in majority still is done in private, then submitted to science and medical journals to be reviewed by peers, and then published. But implementation of new-media has allowed for some changes that shift away from traditional print constraints. Peer review practices occur through online digital networks, and research papers and data documentation have now moved into digital formats, such as accessible PDF files, which remove the need for print publishing costs and lessening publication time. However, copyright infringement issues have haltered an open-access dream.

Libraries are cancelling subscriptions to physical scientific journals, and the transition to digital libraries has made access more difficult, with knowledge hidden behind a username and password (Wilbanks 2012). While search engine tools such as Google Scholar can source online material, limited amounts are accessible for free.

Media As A Barrier To Scientific Knowledge

Not only is the establishment of scientific knowledge transfer as an economic transaction haltering progress in the digital age, but communication from researcher to the general public gives rise to distortion of information.

Scientists focus on the impact their research has within their field, and aim their research for those with familiarity, rather than for a widespread audience. For the general public, news of scientific findings or breakthroughs are communicated via the media, primarily through newspapers, broadcast bulletins and online news websites. Expert knowledge is added through quotations or opinion pieces to strengthen analysis.

But news organisations will not always publish the same information about a piece of research, particularly when the findings go against their pre-conditioned attitudes towards topics, such as Climate Change. It is well known that the News Ltd owned The Australian has a preference for anti-climate change articles. Hence, information is used to set a different agenda. Even data journalism can be subject to bias.

Although Science Journalists can aid in making scientific information and expert terms understandable for those without expertise, the communication process is still a complex issue.

‘Multiplatform, Open Science’

As Wilbanks (2012) explains:

“Those who pay for science—especially the taxpayers—are starting to understand that science in a digital age requires thinking not of research as a finite process that ends with a “paper” but as a perpetual process that begins with thousands of bits of information, some of which might be in narrative form, others in data sets, still others embedded into research tools and engineered materials, all scattered across the network and linked into a common infrastructure framework”. (Wilbanks 2012):

What’s next for Science in the digital age to make it “Open-Science” may be broad, but here is a list of potential practices have been, and if not, should be developed:

  • Open access archives and science journals such as arXiv and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) (Lin 2012)
  • A professional social networking or P2P website such as ResearchGate. It functions like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in which scientists can answer one another’s questions, share papers and find collaborators.
  • Multimedia/Interactive research papers in which, like a newspaper iPad application or eBook, the public can engage with various media such as videos, image galleries, hyperlinks and different navigation.
  • Establish an comparison website where the public, journalists, media and related organisations can view the research methodology, clear outlines, find out who is conducting the research so that authority is solidified, and engage in multimedia content.
  • Media training for researchers to become multiplatform science journalists who write not only for those within the field, but can translate findings, key terminology and scientific processes to the public.

 

References

Kelly, K. 2010, ‘Evolving the Scientific Method: Technology is changing the way we conduct science’, The Scientist <http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57831/>

Lin, T. 2012, ‘Cracking Open The Scientific Process’, New York Times, 16 January, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/science/open-science-challenges-journal-tradition-with-web-collaboration.html?pagewanted=all>

Pisani, E. 2011, ‘Medical science will benefit from the research of crowds’, The Guardian, January 11, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/11/medical-research-data-sharing>

Sample, I 2010, ‘Craig Venter Creates Synthetic Life Form’, The Guardian May 2, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-synthetic-life-form>

Schmidt, G. 2011, ‘From Blog to Science’, RealClimate <http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/from-blog-to-science/>

Seed 2011, ‘On Science Transfer’, Seed <http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/on_science_transfer>

Wilbanks, J. 2011,  ‘On Science Publishing’, Seed, <http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/on_science_publishing>

Woelfle, M. Olliaro, P. Todd, M.  2011, ‘Open Science Is A Research Accelerator’ Nature Chemistry, <http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v3/n10/full/nchem.1149.html>

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Data and Media – An Unrequited Love?

What Types Of Journalism Have Emerged From The Continuous Publishing Of Increasing Data? How Do These Digital Assemblages Function?

Much like news develops and is disseminated continuously on a 24-hour cycle through multiplatform journalism, data is continuously produced, collected, and disseminated via invisible flows made visible by various platforms such as traditional graphs or dynamic visualisations. In a contemporary media scape where web platforms such as Twitter and media forms such as iPhones and ‘Smart Phones’ afford producers and consumers with instantaneous sharing of information, to say that the relationship between data and media is “an unrequited love” is a misconception.

Data and media have always had close-knit relationship. In fact, news media is data. While modern tools such as Twitter have heavily exemplified how flows of data are integral to contemporary journalism, data gathering and publishing has always been an intergral to the practice. The journalist conducts interviews and researches through different pools of data in order to provide a balanced, truthful and factual report. Feature writing involves a more ethnographical experience as the journalist obtains more experiential data through ethnographic research. Investigative journalism combines both ethnographic and statisitcal data research in which journalists sift through lots of data to expose misconduct.

Yet, what we are seeing in the contemporary mediascape is that new-media platforms are accentuating this relationship and making it more transparent and prominent in different ways because data availability has risen exponentially since the beginning of the digital age .

Data Journalism

According to Tim Berner-Lee, the founder of the internet, analysing data is the future of journalism:

“Journalists need to be data-savvy… [it’s] going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country” (Arthur, 2010).

Data-driven Journalism is based on analysing and filtering large sets of data in order to find a story. It deals with freely available, open data and is analysed using open source tools. The primary goal is to transform the data into journalistic news stories (Lorenz 2010; Wikimedia 2012).

The process of data-driven journalism involves finding data, filtering through it, representing it through visualisations, and then using the data to make a news story (Lorenz 2010, Wikimedia 2012)

Coincidently, the process of data-driven journalism can be described through an ‘inverted pyramid’ understanding, similar to how the structure of a news report is described as being an inverted pyramid structure. Bradshaw’s (2011) model is summarised as follows:

  • Find: Searching for data on the web
  • Clean: Process to filter and transform data, preparation for visualization
  • Visualize: Displaying the pattern, either as a static or animated visual
  • Publish: Integrating the visuals, attaching data to stories
  • Distribute: Enabling access on a variety of devices, such as the web, tablets and mobile
  • Measure: Tracking usage of data stories over time and across the spectrum of uses (Wikimedia, 2012)

Simon Rogers of The Guardian provides a 10-point guide to data-journalism in the blog ‘Data journalism at the Guardian: what is it and how do we do it?‘:

  1. Data is “Trendy, but not new”: essentially, data has always been published, but now it can be published in various digital and online platforms.
  2. Open-data means Open-data journalism: data is available for anyone to take and make a story out of. There is a diversity of sources.
  3. Curation: Data is sometimes curated as journalists have to sift through large amounts of data, which is a lengthy process.
  4. Bigger Datasets, Smaller Things: large amounts of data available about small things.
  5.  Data journalism is 80% perspiration, 10% great idea, 10% output
  6.  Long and Short-Form: new short-form data journalism emerging where only the key points are extrapolated from research and readers are guided by it while it is still in the news.
  7. Anyone Can Do It: there is a wide range of data collecting and publishing tools available across the internet for people to search and present findings of research.
  8. Looks Can Be Everything: the way data is visualised and presented is important. Clarity and good design makes data more appealing and easy to understand
  9. You Don’t Have To Be A Programmer: Think about data like a journalist, not an analyst.
  10. It’s All About The Story/Stories: Data-journalism is not about graphics and visualisations, but the storytelling, and how the story is told. (Rogers 2011)
What enhances data journalism is when the data presented is interactive – allowing audiences to interact and immerse themselves in the story that the data conveys.

Open Journalism

In my previous posts I’ve spoken about the premise of open journalism, and The Guardian’s Open Journalism initiative. Essential to the concept of open journalism is the of encouraging an active audience who get out there and obtain primary data and raw footage from events in order to convey the most accurate, factual and rich news reports, and to encourage public debate.

The practice of journalism allows journalists the opportunity to decrease their data searching and sifting workload by letting the public get involved. Furthermore, with the advent of Twitter and use of multimedia, various perspectives on events can be conveyed, which can be then used to find out what is spin and what is truth.

Not only does data increase, but the avenues from which we obtain data expand. This actants in this assemblage are the news organisations, the journalists, the public, and the various media used in order to collect, analyse, distribute, and visualise data (just to highlight a few). This ecology reflects both notions of technological determinism and cultural imperialism, as technology affords the people the ability to convey information and data in a certain way, and at the same time, it is the way in which we use these media that determines how data is produced and consumed.

References

Arthur, C 2010, ‘Analsying data is the future for journalists, says Tim Berners-Lee’, The Guardian, 22 November, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/nov/22/data-analysis-tim-berners-lee>

Bradshaw, P 2011, ‘The Inverted Pyramid of Data Journalism’, Online Journalism Blog, posted 11 July,  <http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2011/07/07/the-inverted-pyramid-of-data-journalism/>

Charalambous, L. 2011, ‘Assembling Publishing Publics: What is the Relationship Between Different Publishing Tools & Techniques & The Social In “Publishing Assemblages”?’, Transitioning Publics & Publishing – ARTS2090, March 20, <http://publishingintransition.wordpress.com/tag/actor-network-theory/>

The Guardian 2012, ‘Guardian Open Journalism – Three Little Pigs Advert’, Youtube, published 29 Feb 2012, <http://youtu.be/vDGrfhJH1P4>

Hughes, N. 2011, ‘Data Journalism: The Story So Far’, Data Mining UK, Blog, May 3, <https://datamineruk.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/data-journalism-the-story-so-far/>

Rogers, S. 2011,  ‘Data journalism at the Guardian: what is it and how do we do it?’, The Guardian, Datablog, July 28, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jul/28/data-journalism>

Quilty-Harper, C. 2010, ’10 ways data is changing how we live’, The Telegraph, August 25, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/7963311/10-ways-data-is-changing-how-we-live.html>

Wikimedia 2012, ‘Data-Driven Journalism’,Wikipedia, last updated 29 March 2012, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_driven_journalism#Inverted_pyramid_of_data_journalism>

 

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