Numbers don’t Lie. My Experience with Data Journalism

The old adage, “numbers don’t lie,” has been used to ascertain facts between competitors in a business but numbers are fast finding their way into the profession historically inclined towards text and photos: journalism.

What was once regarded as the domain of scientists, data, is now becoming a resource for journalist as writers embrace the use of numbers to tell stories.

The realization that numbers can’t be ignored in proving a fact was manifested in the first week of the Internews Data Journalism fellowship, where fellows were acquainted with basic mathematical and data analysis skills.

Like every other part of the process of disseminating news, this activity is being redefined by mechanization. One of the most important questions for me as a participating data journalism fellow will be how to access data.

Data journalism, as I learn, is not only about numbers.  You must be mathematically accurate and tech savvy to get what you want, a big challenge to the analogue journalist. Nevertheless, it is the only way to sustain journalism in the era of new technology and Social media.

Data Journalist 2013 fellows cut a cake during the start of the Programme

Data Journalist 2013 fellows cut a cake during the start of the Programme. From left: Paul Wafula,Samuel Otieno, Mercy Juma,Daniel Cheseret and Michael Mosota.


According to the trainers, data is the only way to live up to the challenged journalism profession as it can aid long-form story-telling. “This data layer is a shadow,” according to Data Journalism trainer Dorothy Otieno. “It’s part of how we live. It is always there but seldom observed.” Observing, reporting, and making sense of that data is how journalism can forge a role for itself.

Many believe that a world that is increasingly quantified will create opportunities. Up to now, the journalism organizations that have been actively engaged in understanding the possibilities of large datasets have been largely confined to those who make money from providing specialized financial information.

Five years ago, data journalism was a very niche activity, conducted in just a handful of newsrooms. Even now, to be a journalist who handles data can mean a variety of things, from being a number-cruncher or creative interaction designer to being a reporter who uses data skills—extracting the story and/or explaining the bias in it—as part of his or her beat.

Journalism by numbers does not mean ceding human processes to the bots. Every algorithm, however it is written, contains human, and therefore editorial, judgment. The decisions made about what data to include and exclude add a layer of perspective to the information provided.

Soon I will know how to write stories with numbers without using numbers everywhere in my story and that is what Data Journalism is all about.

About the Author: SIRMOCO
After seven years working as a print journalist, The Star newspaper journalist Samuel Otieno felt he needed to take a break from the pressure of daily newsroom deadlines to improve his journalism skills. The opportunity came when he was selected for the 2013 Internews Health and Data Journalism fellowship. “I hope I will learn new ways of telling compelling health stories,” he says.

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