APDU Conference Session: Data’s Essential Role in Effective Journalism


By Elizabeth Nash, Vice President of Data and Product Development, PolicyMap

Our team at PolicyMap works with the latest publicly available data on a daily basis. We’re also avid consumers of the news media, staying abreast of trending topics and all things public policy-related. Given the nexus of publicly available data and current events, I’ve often wondered how journalists, bloggers and those contributing meaningful news bytes to social media outlets obtain and work with meaningful data to craft their stories. News that we follow from outlets such as the New York Times, Slate, National Public Radio and our favorite policy wonks are rife with information about statistical changes over time and disparities across geographies.

We can quickly recognize the sources of the public and proprietary data that many journalists use, but I was curious to find out more about the connection between publicly available data and the news stories we’re ingesting. How do data journalists learn about what specific data is available for their stories, given the dizzying array of public data now available, thanks to the Open Data movement? And, as professionals with skills specific to weaving stories, how do they translate gigabytes of data into comprehensible and compelling narratives? I also wanted to learn about the differences, if any, among the use of publicly available data by media outlet type. That is, how traditional journalists, bloggers and professional social media reporters use publicly available data in different ways from each other across the journalism discipline.

To that end, I contacted Mark Horvit of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), who helped me to understand the profession of the data journalist. He referred me to a number of experts who could help illuminate the fascinating task of turning years’ worth of spreadsheets into carefully crafted stories. Data journalists rely on data analysis, rather than expert opinion. As an APDU Board Member, I was particularly interested in hearing about their processes and in exposing APDU members to their ways of thinking about publicly available data.

I’m proud to say that our panel, Data’s Essential Role in Effective Journalism, moderated by APDU Board Member Cliff Cook and me includes the following distinguished speakers:

  • Ben Casselman, Senior Editor and Chief Economics Writer, FiveThirtyEight.com
  • D’Vera Cohn, Senior Writer and Editor, Pew Research Center
  • Sarah Cohen, Reporter, New York Times

I hope you’ll join us for this fascinating discussion about the role of data in the work of journalists who shape our daily lives with their stories relying on publicly available data.