A journalist’s role is to report existing information and tell a story to inform others. Today, there’s such a proliferation of data that it seems to be coming from everywhere. Fortunately, reporters can help the public make heads and tails of it.
While bots and aggregate digests can inform users, good writers help synthesize what’s out there. Yes, we still need humans to help us make sense of things. Yet, people know how to play to our emotions.
The popularity of Buzzfeed is that it appears to be collecting and compiling nuanced trends or observations, but in reality, it’s tabloid-esque. I find it the most distracting online trick. I fall prey to its quippy headlines about what irritates women to how to pull off the best April Fool’s joke.
Just because those articles are sticky and spreadable, they’re not game-changing. The access to data is.
Interactive maps, graphs, libraries, and infographics are perfectly suited for social networks. Plus, they’re quite trendy as deemed by Digital Amy (Weiss). They quickly and effectively spark dialogue and can inform readers at a glance without having to read a 10-page spread.
What’s more impressive is that any online user who’s comfortable with tinkering can build compelling tools to tell a story. For the uninitiated, I would recommend visiting visual.ly.
Memphis’ daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, features major stories each week with accompanying stats. Unlike many of my peers, I do receive its crispy-pages on my doorstep. However, its online datasets are much more fun for learning about income levels by zip code, for instance. (Grant Smith, a CA data guy, frequently pairs with reporters to convey information just like photographers have done for decades.)
By no means am I the first to preach the importance of informing with data. Even my company has an entire team focused on the analytics of our fundraising progress and donors. Yet, my favorite part about that newspaper and nonprofit example is that I’ve noticed greater collaboration between all parties.
Usually dense information was limited to the geeky teams of people who compiled it and possibly shared it in high-level reports. Because of technology and nifty scripting, single-shop journalists can also arm their audiences with mountains of information by employing eye-catching and easy-to-use widgets.
In other words, the big data playing field has been leveled. And that’s empowering.