Computer-assisted reporting or CAR has been around, well — ever since there were computers. Even when I was in journalism school (which was longer ago than I care to remember), we learned about databases we could search, etc. But the explosion of Web-based tools and ways of sifting through and sharing data has created something approaching a revolution, and the potential benefits for journalism are only just beginning to reveal themselves. If this movement has a patron saint, it is probably Adrian Holovaty, who gained renown while working on data-driven features at the Washington Post, then created the amazing Chicagocrime.org as one of the first Google Maps mashups, followed by his fellowship-financed Everyblock, which aggregates local data about an area.
Another recent example of how data can drive reporting, and how Web-based tools can extend and enhance that reporting, comes from several British newspapers — primarily The Guardian — and their coverage of an emerging expense scandal involving British politicians. One of the really interesting things that The Guardian has done is to publish all of the expense info they have through a laboriously detailed and publicly accessible Google spreadsheet. As Paul Bradshaw points out at the Online Journalism Blog, this structure actually allows reporters (or in fact anyone who is interested in the info) to extract useful data simply by changing the URL. Someone has even created a page where you can run queries on the database with a simple click.
(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)
See Adrian Holovaty’s definitive, two-part answer to the question “is data journalism?”