Earlier this month I gave a talk at the Digital Methods Winter School at the University of Amsterdam on how it is like to do social and cultural research with digital methods in a data sprint format. The talk happened on the opening day of a data sprint dedicated to exploring different aspects of the 2016 US presidential elections on social media, from fake news to the alt-right to the drama of election night on Twitter (I’ll be writing about the outcomes of this work in a separate post).
The data sprint is a week-long collaborative event where researchers, graphic designers and programmers work together on research projects that repurpose data from digital platforms for social and cultural research. It is a great way to do research in a multidisciplinary environment, to learn from others as well as to test hypotheses and to pilot studies.
I spoke about some of the most interesting projects from last year’s winter and summer schools in order to give participants a sense of what a good digital methods project looks like and what can be achieved in this collaborative format in one week. Highlighted projects included a study of how Tumblr is used for recovery from illness, an analysis of digitised records of collective action against human rights abuses coordinated by Amnesty International, a study of the feminist politics of stock photography, as well as a critical cartography of the Mediterranean refugee crisis in 2015 as seen through the maps embedded in media coverage of this issue.
Last week the University of Miami organised what might have been the first event dedicated to building bridges between digital humanities and data journalism. There were a lot of great talks. Scott Klein spoke about the culture clash between programmer-journalists and traditional journalists and several digital humanities scholars presented their work, from Geoff McGhee, to Ben Schmidt and Lauren Klein. I’d particularly recommend having a look at Lauren’s work on the cultural and critical dimensions of data visualisation and on feminist data visualisation.
Earlier this month I gave a talk at the “Evidence and the Politics of Policymaking” conference at the University of Bath on some of my PhD research on data journalism. The talk focused on the role that data journalism may play in the reshaping of public information systems by looking at cases where journalists did not just exploit the outputs of information systems but engaged in challenging the techniques of measurement and monitoring embedded in these systems in order to reshape what becomes evidence. Such examples would include the Guardian’s The Counted Project, The Migrants’ Files and Al Jazeera America’s Jim Crow Returns. More examples from journalism and civil society are included in a report by myself and colleagues called Changing What Counts published by Civicus earlier this year.
Later this week Jonathan Gray and I will be giving a talk at the Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium organised by Alberto Cairo at the University of Miami. I have been working in both areas for several years and was very pleased to see organised what I think is the first event dedicated to bringing the two communities together.
The article examines five ways in which networks have been used to tell stories in journalism, from exploring associations around single actors, to detecting key players, mapping alliances and oppositions, exploring the evolution of associations over time, and revealing hidden ties. A list of over 40 journalism projects that use network diagrams or visualisations which we compiled while doing this research has been published with the article and can be accessed on figshare.
Last year I contributed some of my research on data journalism to a report on data collection initiatives by citizens and civil society, called “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”
In recent years establishing own data collection operations has become a powerful journalistic tactic for putting neglected issues on the public agenda and advocating and intervening in official monitoring, measurement and data production practices. I wrote about the importance of own data production in journalism a couple of years ago in an article for the Harvard Business Review. Among these data collection initiatives in journalism, counting operations have emerged as one particularly prominent type of intervention, from counts of drone strikes and their casualties, to migrant and mine worker death counts, and counts of killings by police.
For the “Changing What Counts” report I reviewed two examples, one based in Europe and one in the US, where journalists have successfully set up and conducted death count operations. The report has been published yesterday by Open Knowledge and the CIVICUSDataShift initiative and can be accessed here.
Earlier this month I gave a two-day workshop at the University of Zurich together with Stefania Milan called “Doing social and political research in the digital age.” The workshop was organised by the National Center of Competence in Research: Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century for a great group of political science PhD students from all over Switzerland.
Below are the slides from the lecture I gave on the first day of the workshop.
In the context of journalism GitHub has become an increasingly important platform in the data journalist’s toolkit. In spite of this, not much research has been done so far to understand how journalists use GitHub and how the platform is reconfiguring journalistic practises.
Below are the slides from the talk which introduced the project earlier in the week. Over the coming months I will be working to produce a research report on uses and users of GitHub in the context of journalism. In a second phase the study will be extended to examining the role of code sharing platforms such as GitHub in data activism and open data.
This project is part of a broader research agenda looking at how approaches from digital social research, at the confluence between Internet Studies, Actor-Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies (STS), can be used to study journalism and news production in an age of big data.
On Monday I gave a talk at the great Data Power conference at Sheffield University as part of the data journalism panel. I had the pleasure to share the panel with C.W. Anderson, Jonas Andersson Schwarz, Raul Ferrer Conill and Eddy-Borges Rey.
The talk introduces the data journalism research agenda developed as part of my PhD as well as a paper in progress on networks as storytelling devices in journalism, based on work done for the Tow Center at Columbia University. The paper is a collaboration with Jonathan Gray (University of London, University of Amsterdam) and Tommaso Venturini (Sciences Po, MediaLab).
Below are the slides from my talk and more about this work to come soon.
Yesterday I gave a talk at the Center for Journalism Studies at Ghent University about how Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and digital methods can be used to study and inform data journalism.
I will be using these approaches to study data journalism in my joint PhD with the University of Groningen and the University of Ghent. I will also be exploring the opportunities that these techniques afford for informing data journalism practices in my fellowship at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. The Tow project is called ‘Controversy Mapping for Journalism’ and aims to convene pioneering Science and Technology Studies and digital methods researchers at Sciences Po and the University of Amsterdam with leading journalism scholars, information designers and computer scientists at Columbia University to explore how emerging digital traces, tools and methods can be utilised to transform the coverage of complex issues.