Concise, informative, and often incredibly visually appealing, data journalism (data visualization in particular) is a highly effective new journalistic technique for reporting information to an audience.
“Data journalism is bridging the gap between stat technicians and wordsmiths. Locating outliers and identifying trends that are not just statistically significant, but relevant to decompiling the inherently complex world of today,” says David Anderson in The Data Journalism Handbook.
For example, Spotify created a beautiful data visualization project that aims to identify and report Spotify listening trends across college campuses.
They begin with an interactive map of the United States, which pinpoints Spotify’s top 40 most musical universities in America. Scrolling over a point prompts the appearance of the university’s name, and a user may either click or continue to scroll.
I clicked on the University of Michigan’s point, and was redirected to a page outlining different ways that students at the University of Michigan interact with Spotify.
The page is complete with a few distinctive trends,
a bar graph displaying genre distribution,
a line graph depicting a typical day of Spotify listening at U of M,
organized lists showing the most popular tracks and artists at the university,
tables ranking the University of Michigan’s listening habits against those of other schools,
and even a table outlining students’ typical wakeup time, bed time, and hours of sleep.
This project was highly successful in relaying information to its viewers. The initial map was interactive, which was a very convenient and attractive aspect. The page displaying trends for the specified university was organized elegantly with an appealing color scheme. The included graphs offered a concise, easy to interpret, summary of the data.
Data visualization is different from traditional journalism in that it is not paragraphs upon paragraphs of information. Rather, necessary data is assembled and then presented in a visually appealing manner. As Tim Berners-Lee, founder of The World Wide Web, puts it, “Data-driven journalism is the future.” He contends that journalism no longer involves simply chatting with people in bars to compile a story, but now requires “poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyze it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country.” This is exactly what Spotify has done with their visualization project.
I do not find many shortcomings in this journalistic technique. Perhaps a lack of human emotion within reported information could be considered a shortcoming for some. Visual data journalism offers information in a blunt, succinct way, and upon the creation of this type of report, the personal touch that may be found within a traditional journalism story could be lost. However, journalism will usually remain quite objective anyway.
Data journalism has the capability to cater to both visual and hands-on learners, and is a great way to keep a reader’s attention long enough to convey the vital information. I truly do believe that this is the future of journalism.