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PBS post: What Data Can’t Do For You

Posted by on Dec 14, 2010 in Blog, pbsnews.org | One Comment

The year’s end is always a good time for reflection. I’ve been doing a lot of personal thinking, and reading a whole slew of top 10 lists. Hype over static infographics that add to the overwhelming amount of info but ultimately fail in providing real understanding have always annoyed me. Interactivity can help, when used the right way. But that’s all just my opinion, how do I even know that my ideas have merit? (That’s why it’s fun, and scary, to try them out.)

All of this rambling manifested itself in a new blog post for PBS exploring the limits of raw data, and what kind of help it needs to jump from “data dump” to “journalism”? Here’s a taste, and a link to the full piece is at the bottom of this post.

“Publicly available data was first used for journalism decades before the once-futuristic sounding year 2010 — it’s no longer a new thing. A lot of the excitement over data journalism and visualization is in the ability to make pretty pictures, and create data-focused Web applications. But as with all journalism, playing with cool tools isn’t the point. The question remains: So what?

It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. So has my colleague Jonathan Stray, interactive technology editor at the Associated Press. He thoughtfully addresses this issue by simply asking: “Does journalism work?”

It’s a fascinating question, one that’s easily lost amongst the nuances of the daily grind. Part of the answer is wrapped up in how the daily news cycle is structured, and making sure we have the time to try new things, to see what does work.

Journalism thrives on outlying events — wars, death, elections. But what about the pieces that explain complicated ongoing issues that can’t be pinned to merely one point in time? Or as Stray writes, “I’m less interested in what journalism does in extraordinary times, and more interested in how the journalist’s work improves the day-to-day operation of a society, and the experiences of the people living in it.””

Read the full post here.

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