The world of data journalism has opened up and become more user friendly than ever at the exact right moment.
Simon Rogers, a data journalist with the Google News Initiative, says it wasn’t so long ago that graphic designers were still relying on pen and ink for their images. They had to work harder, and on their own, to try to take complex concepts and make them into easy-to-understand visual representations of data.
“There’s always an assumption that it’s difficult to embark on data journalism,” he says. “It’s never been as easy, in a way, to be a data journalist as it is now, due to the sheer breadth of tools. You’re using free tools that are widely available, you don’t have to be a coder or a developer.”
As journalists around the world are trying to cover more aspects of the coronavirus epidemic every day, tools available through the Google News Initiative are making it easier to take large amounts of data and turn them into visuals that can be used in stories, online or in broadcast. Sharing these infographics on social media is ideal, as most people are scrolling through their timelines looking for the latest information, and dense data graphics are ideally shaped and sized for that format.
Rogers also suggests journalists reconsider how they go about writing Q&A or FAQ pieces on coronavirus by first reviewing trend data via Google Trends. It’s possible to search for area-specific questions to find out what people in a given coverage area are searching for, whether it’s symptoms of the virus or which restaurants are still offering take-out.
“Right now, it’s a particularly powerful tool,” he says. “It won’t tell you who’s going to win a ballgame, but it will tell you what the most searched player is or the moment that resonated most during a game. It changes over time. Look at the searches in Italy a month ago and they’re like searches are here now in the U.S. A month ago, it was when will this end? What does it mean to not go out of the house? It’s the same here now.”
Rogers believes we’re still in the early stages of fully understanding what data journalism can do and how data can be used for journalistic purposes.
“Just going through the trends data, it highlights the importance of data. It’s turned the whole world into epidemiologists,” he says. “It makes it very hard to BS around that. The facts are the facts. Even with the horrible state of misinformation that’s out there, just seeing how much people want to know the facts is really interesting to me. What crises like this reveal is we all need real, true information we can trust. We’ve always known that’s the case, but seeing the importance of that in real time is powerful.”
Simon Rogers, a data journalism expert with the Google News Initiative, joins It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell this week to discuss the ways in which data journalism can help reporters find new ways to cover coronavirus with information gleaned from search engine trends in their communities.