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What is data journalism?

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In the summer of 1967 rioting hit Detroit. It was a major news story: 43 people died and well over 1,000 were injured, with thousands more arrested. Journalist Philip Meyer decided to try reporting that story in a different way. Using data and social science methods, he would tell the true story of Detroit, highlighting the alienation that had led to the disturbances in a way that hadn’t been done before. He also pioneered a movement which resulted in the bible of a new kind of journalism: Precision Journalism.

Forty-eight years after Detroit, precision journalism has given rise to data journalism, which has become a much-touted new media trend.

While we've always loved a good chart and map at Vox, appreciating a chart or map does not data journalism make. Data journalism is not just data visualization. Data journalism is, simply, journalism based off of data. Just as some stories are based off of conversations with people and others are based off of documents, there’s space for stories based off of raw data. The result can take many forms: it might be a text article, or a data visualization, or a video, or something else entirely. What makes it data journalism isn’t the form, it’s the starting point in a data source we corralled, cleaned, and interpreted.

What has changed since those tumultuous days in Detroit is the explosion in data sources readily available on the web, which can both aid in telling important and necessary stories, but can also be easily misunderstood and potentially manipulated. It’s more important than ever for journalists to develop new skills to use these data sources effectively. And just as that technology can aid us in finding the data, it can also allow us to share data with readers and build a community of curious people looking to explore the sources with us. There are so many stories buried in the details — more than we could ever hope to find on our own.

We’ve been working with Simon Rogers, the founding editor of The Guardian’s Datablog and Twitter’s current data editor (where he'll continue to work), to formulate our data journalism plan at Vox. Today, I’m excited to report he’s joining us as a contributing editor.

Ideally, as we build the Vox data team, we’ll be finding, cleaning, and setting up data streams so they can be the source for repeated stories. We hope to make as many as possible public, so that they can be used by journalists and non-journalists outside Vox’s walls. We’ll collaborate with the whole team to tell stories in all different formats: interactives, written stories, videos – and, yes, likely a chart or two hundred. But above all, we want to use them to find stories that would otherwise be unseen, or ignored — we want our data journalism to simply be great journalism.

As we push into this field, we’ll be guided by a few basic ideas:

  1. Vox will work to provide the most relevant and useful data behind the news, when you need it, in ways that help you understand the stories that matter most.
  2. We will work to make all the data behind our stories available to you to download and play with for yourself.
  3. We want you to improve on what we’ve done, to play with the data, visualize it, and help us analyze it — and make our work better.
  4. We will prioritize building data sets that can feed many stories, rather than focusing on one-off projects.
  5. Our data visualizations will be clear, concise, and deep — to help you understand our editorial better. They will adhere to design rules which ensure their accuracy and transparency.
  6. In the event we make a mistake (they do happen), we will swiftly and clearly clarify, correct, and communicate that as transparently as we can.
  7. We will curate and showcase the best data infographics and visualizations on the web.
  8. Visualizations we produce in-house will work well on as many platforms as possible: if you view it on a smartphone, it will function as well as it does on web.
  9. We will curate and publish the best content that our community of readers produces. Our data journalism is as much about you, the community, as it is about us: this is a partnership.

We’re building out our visuals team to help us tackle this initiative. If you want to be part of it, we'd love to have you. Apply here.

We've wrapped up our Q&A about data journalism. As ever, thanks for stopping by.

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