Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Data Journalism in Russia: Visually Sound, Lagging on Tools

Discussion on the state of data journalism in Russia took place yesterday at RIA Novosti's press center. Some 200 journalists, analysts and students watched the 'Journalism in the Age of Data' documentary first and then participated in the discussion (see image) that lasted longer than the movie.

Media analyst Andrey Miroshnichenko noted that the 2010 U.S. documentary is somewhat outdated, relating to its visual side, but at the same time “many newsrooms in Russia haven't yet mastered the tools featured in the movie”.

A common understanding that Russian media designers have been receiving lot more awards for infographics than for data visualizations proves this opinion well enough.

Marketing analyst Andrey Milekhin shared his concern by asking, “Why go visual? To [make readers] better see and understand? Or to better manipulate [them]?” He recalled that only four students had attended a lecture on data he gave some 15 years ago at the main journalism school in Russia. The lack of interest didn't surprise him much back then.

“Data journalism is [now] a global topic, not simply a media or marketing one,” said Milekhin, warning that media would put their reputation at risk if professionals are not engaged at data processing and analysis stages.

Online media editor Andrey Goryanov gave a good reason why a journalist should consider going visual. He thinks the readers turn to visualizations because of abundance of ordinary, boring, texts.

“Journalists must become masters of language or learn new skills,” Goryanov said.

Some of those who have learned this lesson are now part of infographics design teams as data story producers or editors.

“Back in 2007 we did pure infographics, not data visualizations. [Data] editors have now become respected team players,” infographics designer Pavel Shorokh said.

There is apparently another reason why visualizations are becoming more popular. Because of our genes.

“It's back to the caves for us since we started speaking visually. But we do better comprehend information in this manner,” media teacher Anna Kachkaeva said.

As for the visual skills, Kachkaeva noted it is not only journalists but also readers who learn them, thanks to data journalism.

One participant rightly said that while visualizations are easy to understand and sometimes simply beautiful, it's hard to describe or share them in verbal conversations. Now, this should keep the social media busy with user traffic in the near future.

The discussion was organized to help promote the first ever media hackathon in Moscow. The hackathon will be a part of Editors Lab hackdays, an international competition organized by the Global Editors Network.

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