Seminar: CBS Data Visualization – Data Journalism

On: February 7, 2012
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About Fenneke Mink
Master student New Media & Digital Culture: thesis subject Google Art Project. Finished BA of applied science in Information and Documentation Management (IDM) at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA). After this I worked as Information manager at ING. Recent working for CBS as Statistic Analist in new media sources. My interest of new media is triggered by initiatives of digitalization projects. In 2009/2010 I have been working at ANP Foundation's project to preserve Dutch cultural heritage of 50.000 news photos form 1963 to 1967. You can have a look at this project via: http://www.anp-archief.nl/ . I also have been involved with http://www.europeana.eu/portal/map.html

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- Last Friday the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) held an interactive data visualization day “Datavisualisatie in beweging” initiated by web designer Eugene Tjoa and Bas Broekhuizen. With this seminar several data visualization professionals were invited, to present their work in order to explore the data visualization field and the different disciplines involved. –

In the former post I gave a review of Bas Broekhuizen’s presentation, providing an introduction to data visualization. Now that this is said, the focus of this blog post is on the experience of data visualizing projects of the other presenters of the day, Jerry Vermanen and his Rehioheack initiative.

An important field that is coping whit the new circumstance of the digital age and imagery that surrounds us, is that of the field of journalism. As a variety of data sources are provided on the Internet, research journalism takes a shift to the digital age. Herewith statistical data plays an important role, giving way to visualizations to structure complex information. Two noted sources that both entered the world of data visualization in their own way are the New York Times and The Guardian, for instance.

Reflecting on the new possibilities, journalist of the Stantor, Jerry Vermanen initiated amongst others, the Regiohack initiative. To explore the field of data visualization in relation to data journalism. Regiohack was held last November between journalist, programmers and open data experts, to explore the possibilities of data journalism. In a thirty hour during project meeting, the participants managed to build several data visualization in small groups. Learning on the spot, combining talent, inspiration and expertise to come towards a better understanding of the do’s and don’ts of data visualization in relation to journalism. Combining regional data with public information from the Internet, with the purpose to visualize new insights and possible relations between the complex information. All in order to show the hidden stories to the public and gain experience in data journalism.

Jerry Vermanen presents the outcome of the project at the CBS data visualization day, as he explains the challenges that journalist have to overcome towards data visualization. One such challenge, he says, is that journalists are aware of the possibilities and benefits data visualization can brin. They search for ways to combine their news worthy stories with great visualizations though, are often not equipped to the technical competencies that are needed to build a data visualization. As on the other end, programmers are very much trained to visualize complex data, they lack mostly in the content and designer part of the spectrum, to provide a catchy impact to their stories. The Regiohack initiative provided in this way, the opportunity to all these kind of data experts, to combine their skills and work towards stronger displays of data visualization. What the participants learned and which hassles they need to overcome building on their projects, is shown in this impression. (Dutch only). YouTube Preview Image

The results of the Regiohack program are amongst the learning time a fair collection of visualizations. Such as the “Murder map”, the ‘Two Hundred of Twente’ (still running) and a visualization of housing associations in Oost Nederderland.

The difficulties that needed to get by are various, from exploratory; what tools provide the best outcome? To relevance; do the visuals really provide new insight next to the news articles? To practical; (how to fit the process of visualizing into journalism daily work? Answers to all question are not provided by Vermanen yet, though he pleats for education of programming and graphic tools for journalists. As he explains that the digital tendency asks for journalist to perform as one-stop-shops for editing, cameo and graphical skills that on a day to day bases, cannot meet. Should journalist apply to this trend and adapt themselves to the high demands of the digital age?

For me Regiohack show us that, for the time being, it might be wise to search for capable teams of designers and programmers to work with, for the nearby future of the written word is a visualized one.

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