Data Analysis in Journalism

The proper analysis of data is one of the challenges, especially when technological devices are generating so much information, as well as an improved capability to share this data to anywhere in the world.

Some news media organizations are at the forefront of this technological advance. The notable  efforts of the New York Times and the Washington Post in the United States are to be commended. Democracy does not function properly without strong news media organizations ready to support the truth on the powerful. The efforts of some news media organizations to elevate journalism to a higher standard are important for democracy, especially when President Trump attacks the news media for political gain, and some so-called journalists attack people whom they disagree with ideologically or politically in news pieces (i.e. Sean Hannity in Fox News).

In this heavy political and ideological environment, data science in journalism can provide evidence-based answers to questions in the public sphere.

One particular example is in The Economist. In a piece entitled “Timing is everything”, The Economist argues that democratic governments have more economic growth than republican governments. This analysis has been followed by numerous related pieces, including my own in the previous post (I showed that strongly democratic counties have more economic growth than strongly republican counties in the United States).

Other examples are related to elections in the United States. The New York Times and the Washington Post have been examples of premier journalism by analyzing elections. When in err, improving course, when correct on the powerful, relentlessly pursuing the truth on power.

A scientist like myself, as I would like to be, can only expect that this data analysis trend in Journalism intensifies on two fronts. First, to carefully explain difficult-to-understand issues to the public. One big example is climate-change, and some news organizations are doing exactly that. Other countless issues important to the public discussion are also being exquisitely explained in several news organizations. The second large input from data analysis in journalism is the answer of long-standing questions in the public arena. The earlier example from The Economist is a great way to show how the public conversation can be enriched by proper analyses.

I am not a journalist, and I would not presume to tell journalists how to do their job. But I’d like to consider my self a scientist, and improve way data analysis can improve the public conversation. In a way, journalism is similar to science, a quest for truth, the difference relay in the methods. While journalism uses interviews and constructs of truth in the social sphere, science uses biological facts or truths on the natural world.

We, the public, can only hope a stronger ethical journalism for a stronger democracy.