Ten years ago, web developer Adrian Holovaty wrote an article making the case for newspapers changing their story-centric view of the world for a data-centric one.
Today, data journalism teams have become a permanent fixture in many newsrooms, and many journalism schools now teach data skills.
But is this enough to make data reporting an integral part of journalism, or does is still remain "a thing," a specialism of newsroom "unicorns"?
Speaking at a News Impact Summit meeting on 30 June, Nicolas Kayser-Bril, chief-executive of Journalism++, argued that many news organisations have not yet embraced this data-centric world view, nor do they necessarily need to, depending on their organisational goals.
Since Holovaty's piece, data journalism has become mainstream in the newsroom, with large scale data leaks making headlines since 2010. He pointed to the Afghan Leaks as one of the first stories with a database as a core asset. This was the first time journalists realised they had to work together with technologists, he said, and collaborate across newsrooms – shortly followed by another instance of collaborative data work when the Iraq War Logs surfaced a few months later.
"That was really the time when newsrooms around Europe realised that maybe there's something about this data journalism thing."
In 2012, Zeit Online created the position of 'journalist developer' in their newsroom, and "institutionalised" the role, which meant the knowledge could be passed down as people left and roles shifted. The same process made more difficult in newsrooms that simply hired "unicorns" whose role was not established within the organisational structure.
Since 2013, reporting on big leaks has become more ordered and systematic, building on the experiences gathered from the coverage of the Wikileaks documents.
International collaborations shed light on Swiss Leaks, Offshore leaks, and most recently, the Panama Papers, the biggest data leak in journalism history so far.
Kayser-Bril explained this progression of data journalism as a core skill raised one question.
"If data journalism has become mainstream, if hundreds of newsrooms are doing it across the world, if data journalism is taught in hundreds of schools, is it still a thing?"
He argued that yes, newsrooms still need to think about data journalism specifically, as computer literacy among journalists is still not as high as required, and data journalism is still taught in some schools as a form of "magic" used to create impressive data visualisations.
"Computer literacy is not mainstream, it is still hard to find people who know how to do data journalism," he said, adding that he has been teaching data journalism for seven years and still considers the industry to be doing an insufficient job at times.
Moreover, simply having data literate journalists in the newsroom is not enough.
"To work, to do data journalism in the newsroom, you need specific workflows. It's impossible to publish one data journalism article every day, every evening."
Referencing Holovaty's 10-year-old article, he said he hasn't seen any media organisations make the switch.
"Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that's the case. When he wrote that, he was assuming that newspapers are in the business of information.
"Producing data and having ownership of the data is what makes you powerful in the market."
"But I think [news outlets] are in the business of content, of telling stories. Maybe it's a mistake that media organisations should become data-centric."
To successfully integrate data workflows into their newsrooms, media organisations need to decide whether they are in the content business or the information business, he said.
"The answer to this is what will drive your data strategy. I have yet to see a media executive who can answer the question very precisely."
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