Handling game changing data: a how to

Over the last couple of days Simon Rogers, Editor of the Guardian Datablog and Datastore, has afforded us an insight into how the Guardian dealt with the game changing wiki-leaks releases over the course of last year in his blog “Wikileaks data journalism: how we handled the data”.

In three separate releases last year – The Afghan War Logs, The Iraqi War Logs and The US Embassy Cables – Wikileaks provided the Guardian with unprecedented amounts of raw data to turn into digestible information.

The total figure of documents The Guardian was left dealing with reached into the hundreds of thousands (including one 92,201 row spreadsheet).

Rogers’ article goes into scant detail about how all the information was specifically dealt with – the complexities of verification are alluded to but not gone into in any great detail- but the article still provides great insight into the reality of taking on such a huge project.

The need to simplify the information before it could be absorbed was paramount, focusing in on certain topics they knew would have legs and using specialist searches – and there are a few hints and helpful facts here and there.

Unfortunately Rogers’ gives very little explanation for some of The Guardian’s failings. One of the best things about the recent trend in data blogging is how it has allowed readers to access the information, searching it and finding what is important to them.

What The Guardian produced was good-looking an eminently usable, however we at the Data Day found it ultimately lacking in many respects.

During the Wikileaks Cables, for example, the ‘search keyword’ option was not a search engine but rather a drop down menu that only allowed the reader to choose from a predetermined list of search options.

The point of the article seems to be making is that Rogers believes the Wikileaks releases have changed journalism forever – and he has a point. Thanks to Wikileaks actions, whether you agree with them or not, Data Journalism is now on the map for all news sources.

This has potentially endless repercussions. Rogers has previously stated that he thinks data journalism has given a huge boost to true ‘investigative’ journalism, opening up raw data to a far wider public.

If data-journalism does one day change the world, as Rogers believes it could, this article may well become a major chapter in the new world order. At the very least, however, it is well worth a read.

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About Sam Francis

Freelance journalist. Former MA Investigative Journalism student at City University, London. Lover of data, admirer of information, seducer of computers.
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