The Data Journalism Handbook by Jonathan Gray, Lucy Chambers, Liliana Bounegru and a Large Group of Collaborators

The par­tic­u­larly well-conceived infographic that illus­trates the story arc of this hand­book star­ted my rela­tion­ship with the book on a very pos­it­ive tone. The dia­gram provides a superb roadmap and gives me (as a self-perceived visual thinker) an indic­a­tion of where I can derive the most value from it. It also describes the gen­eral intent of the book itself and I give it a very strong recom­mend­a­tion. Accord­ing to the accom­pa­ny­ing nar­rat­ive it was con­ceived and ini­tially con­struc­ted in a 48 hours ses­sion at MozFest 2011 and then refined online amongst a large group of con­trib­ut­ors. The Data Journ­al­ism Hand­book (an early release ver­sion is what I have been provided with and am review­ing) is aimed to “give you a sense of how to get star­ted [with data journ­al­ism] and where to look if you want to go fur­ther. Examples and tutori­als serve to be illus­trat­ive rather than exhaust­ive.” So why I am read­ing this? Nat­ural inquis­it­ive­ness of course, but also to explore this concept of telling a story with num­bers … or with other forms of data. Pro­fes­sional and per­son­ally it interests me — and I found this col­lec­ted volume a treas­ure trove of real-world examples, pithy obser­va­tions and real nug­gets of emer­ging thought.

This instruc­tional and thought-provoking book looks to the a rap­idly emer­ging sec­tor of the media engaged around present­ing, inter­pret­ing and most innov­at­ively devel­op­ing and provid­ing inter­act­ive tools for work­ing with pub­licly avail­able data — as part of a ‘new’ media ini­ti­at­ive. It is not a ‘nor­mally struc­tured’ sort of book. In this I mean it is far less struc­tured than most. It has a solid coher­ence around the gen­eral theme and if you take a look at the story arc infographic I men­tioned above you will see that it does fol­low a determ­ined path, but there is a less clearly nar­rat­ive structure.

To extract just one aspect that I found par­tic­u­larly sup­port­ive of the simple need for this sort of hand­book is the state­ment that ‘Data journ­al­ism is about mass data lit­er­acy’. This looks to a lar­ger cul­tural change that is tak­ing place in the audi­ence and the rapid­ity of this change. I have found the Guard­ian and the New York Times par­tic­u­larly not­able in this and a ref­er­ence to the Guardian’s data pro­cessing exper­i­ence is one of the case stud­ies explained as part of the ‘In the News­room’ sec­tion. The Guard­ian has been very for­ward think­ing but also very open about how they have approached this data journ­al­ism revolu­tion and absence of such dis­cus­sion would have been almost unfor­give­able in a book such as this — so they checked the box but more import­ably put it into a lar­ger con­text of exper­i­ences from around the world.

The In the News­room sec­tion is largely case driven. The Get­ting Data sec­tion moves more towards an inter­rog­at­ive ques­tion and answer format. Under­stand­ing Data is prob­ably the most didactic sec­tion of the book and has the strongest nar­rat­ive. It com­bines some of the question/answer with a very solid pro­cess approach to data ming­ling and pro­cessing for journ­al­istic use. Present­ing and Deliv­er­ing Data is the most spec­u­lat­ive of the sec­tions and explores ways in which this is being done today but poses many inter­est­ing ideas that are meant to inspire. All in all the vari­ety of the sec­tions keeps it very fresh and engaging.

This hand­book is lav­ishly illus­trated and well dir­ec­ted to URLs for fur­ther dis­cus­sion. I found that the ques­tions posed in the ongo­ing dis­cus­sion were clearly iden­ti­fied and the entire hand­book takes the form of this ongo­ing dis­cus­sion rather than a dir­ect nar­rat­ive. I found that this worked for me and I ten­ded to move back and forth through the hand­book attrac­ted to spe­cific ques­tions and con­sumed the book piece­meal. I expect most people will find this the most use­ful way to con­sume it. As it is an assemblage of con­tri­bu­tions from a wide ran­ging group, the style of prose does tend to vary some­what between sec­tions, but I am struck that it lends a sur­pris­ing fresh­ness. Most import­antly, this hand­book is very com­pre­hens­ive and cur­rent. As with any of these prin­ted works in emer­ging fields the chal­lenge will be to keep it cur­rent over time, but I have sense that this one in par­tic­u­lar will age well due to its richly diverse sourcing and reflection.

Data Journ­al­ism truly extends bey­ond the realms of ‘journ­al­ism’ as it is tra­di­tion­ally defined. I would posit that as con­sumers of the new inter­act­ive present­a­tions increas­ingly found in the new media, we are both con­sumers and also cre­at­ors of our own journ­al­ism. Cur­at­ors journ­al­ists that inter­act and cre­ate our own inter­pret­a­tions and tis is what inter­ested me in the out­set to take a look at this book. I found it a fas­cin­at­ing read, dealign with cur­rent mat­ters, present­ing enga­ging examples and gen­er­ally test­ing an emer­ging field with crit­ical atten­tion. I would recom­mend it for a wide vari­ety of audi­ences and prin­cip­ally for any­one who finds them­selves immersed in this new inter­act­ive data-driven media world in which we find ourselves.
I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

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