There are so many big names in data journalism tackling complex, global issues — does my little local data journalism project really matter?
It’s positively stunning to me how frequently I encounter that question (or some variation on it) when I’m teaching data journalism courses.
It’s true. There are a lot of data journalism heavy hitters out there whose work seems broad and nationally (even internationally) significant. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a few of them (FiveThirtyEight, for example) but what really thrills me is seeing the kind of stories smaller organizations and independent data journalists can uncover and develop on their own.
I attended the NICAR conference a few months back, and have made a point of urging my fellow statisticians to work in cooperation with local data journalism professionals, instead of in competition with them.
I recently came across the Columbia Journalism Review article, America’s Growing News Deserts, in which the authors attempt to tally the number of American cities that lack local daily news outlets, and it inspired me to remind you all — local data journalists and statistic professionals alike — of the importance of new and continued partnerships to collect, analyze, and share data on a local level.
Sometimes it might seem that the time and effort you spend collecting information, locating open data sources, or analyzing figures is wasted if all that’s produced is a story on local water usage, traffic patterns, or opinions. But local data journalism is important, for a number of reasons.
Eliminating Data Deserts
Much like the news deserts identified in the CJR article, data deserts are a very real and pressing problem. When we stop collecting and analyzing data at the local level, not only do we stop providing news for the populations of those small towns or counties, we also effectively silence their digital voices.
The world we live in is a digital one, and our populations are represented less and less by their physical presence and increasingly by the digital data they generate. When we stop examining local data and no longer tell stories at a local level, we are effectively shutting off the lights and closing the door on that group of people. Digital discrimination is very real, and local data journalism projects can help halt it in its tracks.
Telling Stories in the Right Direction
Remember ecological fallacy? No? Let me direct you to my rant on why journalists need to understand the concept — or stop using data.
I’m not saying that big-name data journalists analyzing data for national stories are all falling victim to ecological fallacy — national stories need coverage too, and there are perfectly acceptable ways to tell broad stories with accurate data.
The problem comes when we want to tell smaller, more localized stories, and all the data we have is that collected for national or global projects. We cannot use global data to tell national stories. We cannot use national data to tell local stories. To understand local or regional events or circumstances, we need local or regional data. And where does that data come from?
Local data journalism projects — like yours.
We Support Local Data Journalism
At Datassist, we understand that you’re working hard to make a difference in the world — so are we. If you’re a journalist looking for assistance or support with data collection, analysis, or visualization, our team is here to help. Get in touch with us to discuss your project.