Data Journalism

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Producing data-driven journalism has become essential in the current industry.

Data: an often all-encompassing but otherwise confusing term for the millions of numbers, characteristics and information collected or observed about individuals, everyone and everything.

With so many new statistics and data sets becoming available daily, it can often seem an impossible task to dive deep into any singular set of statistics. But, as data journalist, author and scholar Paul Bradshaw says you don’t have to start out being an expert. You can start small just gathering enough data to make charts, infographics, timelines and other pretty picture with the huge range of online tools that are out there.  

But where are the good places to get fresh data?

Places to Watch

At the risk of being considered almost too obvious, The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has entire data sets available for varying industries, key economic indicators, labour, health population, the environment and many more. 

Beyond just these basics though, searching through the Data by Region function allows access to up to date data about particular regions involved in your stories or ideas. The data available per region also includes the last five years worth of data, allowing for easy comparison or to see the effects of a particular policy or problem in a specific area over time.

Similarly, Stats NZ provides the bulk of New Zealand’s official statistical data. With the majority of data arranged by topic and region, the tools page provides a stream of recently updated tools and statistics. Much like the ABS, these provide easy starters for stories.

Working in the same realm of obvious agencies, CSIRO data has regularly updated data sets on a wide variety of topics that can be transformed into news stories. Using the ‘search by area’ function, adding your selected area and entering a keyword, for example, wildlife, can pull up all data sets on wildlife in that specific area over many years. This could help form the basis for stories about habitat loss, the environment, or a specific species which may be making the news for a variety of reasons.

For business journalism, the Reserve Bank of Australia releases regular chart packs that provide key economic indicators. Analyses of growth in different sectors are great predictors of future scenarios and can be catalysts for further investigation into industries.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) provides constant releases regarding the health and wellbeing of Australians. Its data extends further than just diseases and physical or mental activity, also recording child protection and justice statistics. It provides detailed analysis on many different topics, including suicide and self-harm rates, analysis of cancer diagnoses and less complex issues, like GP visits. 

The Australian Medical Journal publishes peer-reviewed research which, although less numerical, can complement many of the statistical studies by the AIHW. 

The Federal Department of Health also has a large selection of resources available with data on immunisation, health insurance, substance abuse, aged care and more. These, although detailed, indicate trends that can be used to inform discussion on the societal issues which may cause them. 

In regards to stories concerning welfare, the Australian Government has released Social Security, Health and Related information data sets indicating where to access key information. 

For stories focused on substance abuse, or for socioeconomic stories concerning substance abuse, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre Resources regularly publishes new data on trends and trials nationwide.

How to use data

Data-driven journalism has ramped up in recent years, particularly during 2020, where elections and pandemics became central to any kind of news..

Data-driven journalism aims to explain a story involving complex statistics in a visually or narratively appealing manner. Beyond just graphs and charts, data journalism stories describe the people behind the behaviour. 

This article about a Belgian designers re-interpretation of the US electoral map based on population, as opposed to landmass, demonstrates how data can be reimagined and presented as a news story even years after the fact.

Further, data-centric stories can form the basis of discussions on interpretations of data. Finding the ‘Why’ behind a certain demographic’s prevalence of blue eyes, or who used public transport regularly, or where services are accessed, prompt the beginnings of stories and discussions.

 

Sources for Tips on Data Journalism

DataJournalism.com has a free handbook available here, which includes case studies, a brilliant – and more detailed – explanation of what data journalism actually is. 

Similarly, the American Press Institute has a free online chapter on how data can create and inform journalistic practice. They also showcase key case studies, including connections between riots in the UK and poverty, to explain how the framing of data can inform stories. 

The Google News Initiative has a 115 minute free online course on Data Journalism.

Finally, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has an informational piece concerning creating stories about the people or places behind data.