Cornelius Hirsh is a data intelligence analyst at Politico. He looks back at the need to see data journalism as just another form of journalism.
By Clara GUILLARD, Chris KNAPP and Rochelle GLUZMAN
- “The essence of data journalism is still journalism, with all the same expectations and criteria as ‘typical’ journalism”
- “I believe that data can make any story better”
- He reminded us not to be afraid of numbers: “They are your friends”
Today, Cornelius Hirsch spoke about the importance of data journalism. Hirsch emphasizes how data journalism is involved in many aspects of the reporting process, and is necessary for coverage of large scale issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic. While data journalism might seem inaccessible, Hirsch believes that data is just another journalistic field.
“The essence of data journalism is still journalism, with all the same expectations and criteria as ‘typical’ journalism” he said. As a journalist, data is useful to enhance any story. But the question remains: what is data journalism? For Hirsch, there is no official definition, but it can be described as “a field of journalism that uses structured data to report facts, puts data evidence at the heart of storytelling, manages data objectively, and verifies information from sources.”
Hirsch explains that the process of utilizing data journalism in the newsroom is closely related to that of traditional journalism. Engaging in data journalism involves compiling data, cleaning it, putting it into context, combining the data with other information, and presenting and communicating the findings in the form of data visualization or data storytelling.
For example, in covering the French Parliament, the American media Politico was curious to see whose voice was actually heard in the parliamentary hearings. Using online data from the French National Assembly – where all the meetings and participants can be viewed and the data can be downloaded – data journalism methods were used to analyse and answer this question.
To write this story, Politico first compiled data by scraping the parliamentary agenda from its website. They uncovered 50,000 files with agenda items. After cleaning and filtering out which events in fact took place, they combined the data and merged it with name databases and lobby registries. Finally, they were able to present their findings through the written story and data visualizations.
Today, data journalists go by many names: data engineer, data analyst or data editor among others, but the core of the work is the same: using data to tell compelling stories.
Hirsch is convinced that data will revolutionize the news industry. “I believe that data can make any story better,” he said, and added “sources may only tell you parts of the story, but data does not lie.” Hirsch hopes that in the near future, the basic tools and skills for data journalism will become more widely available.
In concluding, he reminded us to not be afraid of numbers: “They are your friends”.