Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Pablo Mancini Headshot

Data Journalism: Facts Are Sacred

Posted: Updated:

Simon Rogers' book Facts are Sacred: The Power of Data was published as a Kindle version on Dec. 22nd. The author is in charge of one of the more interesting initiatives of data journalism in the industry, The Guardian's Data Store.

Facts are Sacred: The Power of Data is a major contribution. It is not a strict, self-centered recipe about how to carry out data journalism. It is written from the kitchen where increasing hard information is the raw material and all the tools are temporary. And where the mission is crystal clear: journalism-making is all about becoming a bridge between tons of information and the audience.

Most of the book is descriptive and offers a few but juicy reflective comments on the mutation of the profession. Rogers tells us in detail how The Guardian's Data Store works by studying the most important works they have done. Facts are Sacred is the kitchen of the best dishes served at DataBlog.

Somehow, it is a summary of the first field studies about the problems and challenges journalists are facing at these times of information abundance, when the scale of data production and the wide variety of formats demand new standards and tools but, above all things, a renewed version about our job.

Simon Rogers claims that data journalism is here to stay, because it is a standard of the industry and because, in spite of the changes it promotes and demands, at the end of the day it is all about making what we have always done: storytelling.

The first thing the book makes clear is that, although data journalism is a trend, it is not new. And he tells the history of several study cases that illustrate this, even making reference to cases published in print media.

Another key dimension of the book is the emergence of two game changers in a global context of demand of transparency: on one hand, the launch of data.gov on behalf of Obama's administration in the United States, and, on the other hand, the publication of War Logs by Wikileaks. For the author, the latter is a strong proof of where journalism is heading to: a combination of traditional journalistic skills with the power of the technology.

The book also exposes a discussion on new narrative forms that demand big data, and pays special attention to design and visualization of information, as well as to the need for standards and the automation of processes to reduce mistake margins to the minimum, mistakes that are often committed by human work in data mining.

It is estimated that the volume of global data grows approximately 40 percent every year. So the world of data is reproduced in quantity every two years. Roger is positive that this is just beginning: "If you think there's a lot of data around now, wait until the end of this decade".

In this context, Facts are Sacred proposes that the new role of journalists is to mediate between state-run and private organizations that produce and publish data and those who have access to that information but need some help to understand or don't have time to process it.

Rogers knows that the tools with which we count on to access, process, analyze, distribute and publish information are changing, but the mission is intact. Data journalism is not, for Rogers, a matter of graphics, visualizations, tools and algorithms. It is all about, in his words, "telling stories the best way as possible".

By the end of the book, the author shares a list of 100 data of different nature they came up with when working in this first stage of Data Store. The one I like the most is this one: 613, the number of times The Beatles used the word "love" in their recorded songs. The word "you" was used 2,262 times.