Journalism is not for the faint-hearted. And the technophobic.

Posted on November 24, 2012


It takes hard work as well as courage to be a journalist. Some people think that being a journalist is simply writing, going to events and reporting about it, hauling out a politician’s dirty laundry, and doing not a lot of maths. Journalism is not just reporting whatever is going on. Journalists are the watchdogs of society, the shapers of public opinion. Mass media is a powerful thing, it is the catalyst for social change. The state of society is reflected in mass media, and journalists are like mirrors: they reflect society back to us.

So what does this have to do with Computer-Assisted Reporting and Data Journalism? Everything.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

As much as the age of modern technology  is at the best of times, it also at the worst. Computers assist us with almost everything. Today’s mass media has better data presentation skills thanks to modern technology. Information can be obtained with just a click. The world became a smaller place. Life is easier for a journalist whose job is to deal with information every day.

Or is it? Try hundreds of hits on Google. Thousands. Ten thousands. Hundred thousands. Millions. Billions. We are drowning in information. Credible and useful data used to be easy to filter down. Now, researching such data using the Internet is a case of needle-in-a-haystack. Internet researching can be a journalist’s sweet dream, or beautiful nightmare (credits to Beyonce for those lyrics).

The journalist’s job is to select relevant and legit information for mass consumption. Not everyone in society  is an intelligent life form and it is the journalist’s job to make sure that the mass media is not telling lies and spreading ignorance and passivity. Ignorance is not bliss, it is the enemy.

If I haven’t made it obvious enough as to why journalists need to be skillful on computer-assisted reporting, let me boil it all down for you: computers are great and terrible things. According to Internet World Stats, there are around 7 billion Internet users around the world as of June 30, 2012.From the year 2000 to 2012, the amount of Internet users grew by 566.4 percent. Around 937 million people worldwide are subscribed to Facebook as of September 30, 2012 (see statistics). The attention of the masses are on computers, not just on the TV-radio-print triad. The Internet is a highly (and scarily) effective platform for mass media. The journalist is “closer” in a way to his audience, since the Internet is more interactive. This is new age media at its peak. The problem is on distinguishing good information from Internet “trash”. Bottomline: COMPUTERS, COMPUTERS EVERYWHERE.

Computer-assisted reporting and data journalism focus on reporting with a computer. A good journalist has a passion for truth, a critical and inquisitive mind, a taste for good writing,  a nose for news, an awareness of current and past events, unwavering patience for research, courage, resourcefulness, blah blah, we all know that. CAR and data journalism takes all of these to a whole new level, investigation with the use of technology.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”

– Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Now, Computer-Assisted Reporting versus Data Journalism.

Journalism via computers encompasses many areas, including online journalism, database management, data visualization, etc. From what I have read, I conclude that:

  1. CAR is basically using reportorial skills used in print journalism in accordance with data obtained and processed through a computer. Data may include information from the Internet or databases which were already provided.
  2. Data journalism merges into the field of statistics, computer science, and graphic design.
  3. Keyword in data journalism is data.
  4. Keyword in CAR is reporting.
  5. Data journalism is probably more “high techy-techy”.
  6. CAR is probably more on the writing side.
  7. Data journalism is focused more on the computer-obtained information and visualizing them.

It is difficult to differentiate one from the other, since the fine lines between them are blurry. Both of them use computers to report and present data. One thing is for sure: journalists specializing in these areas are definitely not technophobes.

Posted in: J 116