Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Data Science Is the New Black

March 05, 2012

As Tim O’Reilly tweeted last week, “Data Science is the new black.” Data has definitely got people talking, and thinking, and rethinking the implications, and that includes a growing number of leading journalists and journalism schools…and media funders.

Consider just three recent happenings:

  • Earlier this year, data camps were held at both Columbia University and University of Texas.
  • At the Mozilla Festival in London late last year, a team of developers, designers, and digital journalists set out to write the first Data Journalism Handbook.
  • Just last month, the Global Editors Network announced the first data journalism awards.

What is data journalism? 

According to Troy Thibodeaux, the editor for newsroom innovation at the Associated Press, "Real data journalism comes down to a couple of predilections: a tendency to look for what is categorizable, quantifiable and comparable in any news topic and a conviction that technology, properly applied to these aspects, can tell us something about the story that is both worth knowing and unknowable in any other way."

What’s clear is that journalism needs data and data need journalism. Aron Pilhofer, the Interactive Editor at The New York Times, sees journalists as uniquely suited to find the stories in data. I agree.  

And the good news for media organizations is that when it’s done well, it draws audiences. Whether it’s The New York Times' balance-the-budget tool, WNYC’s mapping of snow-plowed streets or The Guardian’s Data Blog, reports from those organizations are that data, particularly when it’s interactive, tends to lead to real bumps in traffic.

But for many media organizations, the capacity to do compelling data journalism is a resource challenge. It requires a broad set of skills, from data administration to statistical analysis to software development to graphic design. Many journalism schools and independent training camps are just getting started in this field.

The foundation’s media grantmaking portfolio is focusing a portion of its resources to support the dissemination of data on our priority issues – improving education in the United States and fighting poverty and disease in the developing world. We believe that clear presentations of data bring our priority strategies to life for the public to gain greater awareness. 

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