Monday, November 9, 2015

Mark Horvit: "Every Single One of You is Data."

A reporter from a small, 30,000 circulation daily newspaper in Virginia learned that there was gas being extracted from under the land in the newspaper's coverage area. Many people were affected but they didn't even realize.

The journalist, Daniel Gilbert, was able to track the money and get thousands of local residents royalties. Gilbert was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work and then was offered a job at the Wall Street Journal (where he worked for 5 years before moving on to the Seattle Times last month).

"He couldn't have done that without taking our workshop," said Mark Horvit, the executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors, speaking of the IRE bootcamps. "He couldn't have done that without understanding how to use big data."

Mark defined data as, well, everything.

"Every single one of you is data," he told the class. "Everything you do turns into data that all these companies monetize."

When you use your phone, when you log into a computer, when you purchase goods, you leave a trace.

Time, words, images are video are all a part of the data system, he said, things we can analyze and process and turn into news stories. Sports stories are all about data.

Journalists have used data to find where potholes are filled (or not), where crime occurs most frequently and where bridges are in need of repair. A news team at a television station in California used data to determine that $77 million in small business loans were actually going to major corporations, like Oracle and Microsoft.

"It's an outrage story, Mark said. "It's the little guy being crushed by the big guy."

And it might not have been told unless a reporter studied the raw data, created a spreadsheet and added up the numbers.

Journalists have been using data and data visualizations forever, Mark said. What's different today is the amazing wealth of data that exists.

Rather than blindly accepting information from official statements or press conferences, journalists can dig through the raw data themselves.

"If things don't sound right to you," Mark said, "you, as a journalist, can go ahead and test stuff yourself."

What stood out for you? Do you see how data could be useful to you as a journalist or citizen?

11 comments:

Aiah Alkhars said...

Data is everything, without data most stories wouldn't be credible, and looking at data can also help change the story.

Grace Shallow said...

This discussion with Mark Horvitz opened my eyes and stressed me out a little. It opened my eyes because I think learning the basics of journalism, as most freshmen are, teaches basic formatting styles that are accepted by journalists everywhere, guaranteeing at least a "good" story. However, I feel these basics constrain journalists way of thinking and lead them to follow basic steps of journalism. Utilizing data journalism is a way to break out of these models and to enhance writing through new forms and the uncomfortable dealings with data that many word-savvy people have to overcome. I also felt stressed out because of all of the pressure put on to budding journalists to have as many skills as possible; this presentation only added to the pile.

Robert Wurtenberg said...

My world was kind of rocked when we heard this talk. It made me realize that data is everything and it is something that I now know that I need to learn. Mark Horvit gave a great talk and I look forward to shooting him an email.

Ashley Paskill said...

When we hear "data," we usually think of complicated numbers and math that needs to be done to understand these numbers. While it takes some level of skill to know how the numbers fit together, it doesn't involve as much math as I thought. It is important to be able to read data that is presented by sources because you can uncover stories that make a difference, just like Mark was saying. Even in just everyday life, being able to read data allows you to make decisions about what is going on in the world without having to rely on someone else, who may make up an untrue analysis.

Simone Stancil said...


After Mark Horvitt came to our class, I felt a lot more informed about investigative journalism and reporting, something that I had very little knowledge about. He enlightened us on how to educate yourself on the world around you and to be an active member of society using data. Mark explained that data has become an essential tool for journalists and using it will help us fulfill the core role as the "watchdogs" of society. Data is a crucial component not only in terms of journalism but everyday life, since it can help us figure out the loopholes in any given situation, and form a solution to the problem at hand. Also, being familiar with data is a skill that employers would like to see from journalists, so it was great to have Mr. Horvitt come in and speak with us about the potential opportunities that come along with its use.

-Simone Stancil

Alison Elmire said...

Mark Horvitt's visit to our class was both eye opening and beneficial. It's true that when most people think of data, they think of working with complex numbers. We allow ourselves to be intimidated, leading us to avoid working with data. Mr. Horvitt made a point to explain to our class how beneficial it is to be comfortable working with data. The different examples of stories that used data journalism really stood out to me. Take the example about the bridge collapsing because it needed repairs. Many media outlets went for the traditional and almost predictable story. However, the media outlet that used data journalism offered a different and more informative perspective on the collapsed bridge. I enjoyed Mark's visit and his enthusiasm about his work.

Jensen Toussaint said...

I admit, at first, I thought that Mark Horvit's talk was going to be very boring. However, he did a really good job of making sure he expressed that data was more than just a bunch of numbers sitting on a spreadsheet. Everything is data. Mark Horvit's use of storytelling added a great dynamic to his talk and kept me interested. Knowing how to research and read data are two very important skills to have as a journalist and while that may sound boring on the surface, Mark did a very good job of making it a lot more exciting.

Nina de Vitry said...

I personally was super enthralled with what Mark had to say to our class. Although I loved the idea of journalism as I understood it before-- reporting, as truthfully as possible, accounts of events and interviews with people involved in stories-- I loved realizing how data can be used in almost every instance to substantiate a story. What's more, I find that a journalist has the capability of unearthing a lot more truth using numbers than they do simply reporting a potentially biased story based on interviews and observation. For example, I was particularly surprised when Mark told us about the journalists who discovered how to track the speed of cop cars. Ultimately, I found his presentation to be extremely exciting, because it reminded me that there are many ways for journalists to truly fight for justice in the world and open peoples' eyes to the truths they may have overlooked.

Jon Dowding said...

Mark Horvit's presentation sparked my interest in data journalism. It is an extremely interesting and beneficial tool for journalists. I just want to take the class now because I feel it will teach me valuable tools for reporting. Also, I feel like data journalism is just another good tool to have under your belt so to speak. When you efficiently use data to report, it eliminates any doubt readers may have on what you are reporting.

Anonymous said...

Adriana Vela

I enjoyed Marks visit to our class. He gave me a further understanding of what data really is and how important it can be. Data allows us to understand things in a much larger picture. I also never realized the collection of data that journalist gather. I enjoyed his speech on data with the cop cars. That was very interesting.

James Dougherty said...

I thought it was very interesting to see how far reaching journalism can be. Mark Horvit was able to show us that nowadays journalism is not just all about writing. It involves data and various other forms of media. This can be beneficial for journalists who are not strong writers and are good at math, but still have a passion for journalism. He showed us that data is being used across almost every field and how important it is to have an understanding of data. It was very interesting to see his perspective on journalism involving numbers instead of mainly words.