Incorporating big data into day-to-day journalism has become increasingly important in news media outlets trying to investigate and analyze events from broader angles. Data analysis and visualization often require knowledge of coding and programming, areas where most journalists lack expertise. As a result, news organizations are hiring specialist news workers who approach news production differently than do other journalists.
Jan Lauren Boyles, assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, and Eric Meyer, a research assistant in the same school, conducted a study to explore how news organizations are incorporating these specialist news workers into established newsroom routines and cultures. They interviewed 18 data journalists from 18 news organizations in the US.
In most news organizations, data narratives were perceived as a natural extension of investigative news work already practiced by the paper. Producing data journalism was also seen to offer a financial incentive, as the work was expected to grow online traffic and spawn longer engagement times. One newsroom felt compelled to invest in data journalism because a local competitor was launching a rival data unit.
The authors explored “four critical junctures” in integrating data journalism into a news organization. First, newsroom managers regard data journalism effort as something employees take on in addition to their assigned responsibilities.
At the second critical juncture, newsroom managers hire a solitary practitioner, who is assigned to data narratives full-time. Newsroom leaders at the third critical juncture embed one or more data news workers into existing newsroom team structures, in efforts to partner with other editorial employees. Finally, the fourth critical juncture culminates with the news organization forming an independent data unit, in which data news workers act as a collective team.
Interviewees predicted that data skills will be inevitably subsumed into everyday routines of all reporters. As newsrooms continue to experiment with data journalism, organizational structures will concurrently shift to accommodate the talents of new, specialized practitioners.
To read the full text of the study: http://bit.ly/2BmTA61
Boyles, J. L., & Meyer, E. (2017). Newsrooms accommodate data-based news work. Newspaper Research Journal, 38(4), 428-438.