Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Normal People" and Data Journalism

So I come across the following this morning

Why Normal People Don't Trust Data Journalism

and I think, oh cool, some kind of research, some kind of analysis on whether the hottest journalism trend is actually succeeding or failing. We need this.

Instead, we get this. Read it for yourself. Yeah, I know, Business Insider. Get over yourself. Read it anyway. There's a lot to learn here. As the author, Milo Yiannopoulos writes:
Data journalism, “fact check” journalism and the new generation of “explainer” websites, which map out context behind big news stories, sound unobjectionable—but they’re not resonating with the public.
At this point I'm thinking -- okay, cool -- how did you define and measure "resonating with the public?" I'd love to see whether Vox and 538 and Upshot are working or not. Read the story. You'll find no definitions, no measures, no analysis. Not much of anything at all. How the hell do we know if it's "resonating" or not? Just you, Milo? Your opinion? With not a fucking bit of data to back it up? I suppose because, ya know, data is boring. Facts -- boring. If we're boring you, it must not be working.

That's why, Yiannopoulos, data journalism exists. Because people are tired of "journalists" and "pundits" just making shit up.

We won't really know whether such sites are "resonating" until we have a better sense of their traffic, their ad sales, their ability to stay online and active in a competitive media marketplace. And even then they can "resonate" if they are influential, if they play a role in the chattering class and social/political debate. See? Measuring "resonate" is tough, because what resonates for me may not resonate for someone down the road.

We've seen some of these criticisms elsewhere, mostly from a pundit class threatened by the successes of 538 and others to point out how wrong they often are (as Nate Silver famously did in the 2012 elections).

But this is also a conservative response to what is perceived to be liberal sites (though a conservative Heritage version just launched). As he writes:
So-called “actually” journalism doesn’t speak to these people because it doesn’t use the language of emotion or common sense, as most of us do in most of our lives. And too often readers get the sense that there is a gigantic bait and switch going on: in the language of impartiality, they are being fed politics.
Now there's a good point in there somewhere, that data journalism seems bloodless. And I agree -- but that matters only if data journalism pretended to be a single, comprehensive site designed to explain all of what's happening in the world today, like the New York Times does, or other major news orgs. That's not data journalism's mission. First, Milo misunderstands the term "data journalism" and is really talking about these explainer sites, and second there is a testable hypothesis in that graph above, about whether people do perceive a "bait and switch" baffling with bullshit kind of thing happening in the stories. I dunno. That's why we gather data. To find out. Not to just write what we think, making shit up as we go.

1 comment:

Truthier said...

This person is tired from working hard, so I'm tired of hard work. But as for objectionable, I and others find it objectionable that someone who uses the title "Dr." and has a teaching job at a prominent university uses scatological nouns in prose otherwise styled as professional analysis.

As for these people who are allegedly "tired of 'journalists' and 'pundits' just making (feces) up."

Read the story. You'll find no definitions, no measures, no analysis. Not much of anything at all. How the spiritual concept of eternal damnation do we know if your claim that people are tired of journalists making stuff up is true or not? Just you, Barry? Your opinion? With not a sexual intercourse bit of data to back it up?

So, really, you don't haven't told us if people think journalists are just making stuff up, or how much because you haven't presented any evidence that the public thinks making stuff up is the big problem with journalism. You didn't survey public opinions of journalism at all - maybe the public realizes the facts are real, but that news organizations pick stories and tell stories to support political views of their owners. Of course, I don't know if that's the case, but if we're free to just make (feces) up, I'll bet my best guess is far closer to the truth than the unsubstantiated claims you made up as the basis for a cursing rant.