The Data Journalism Handbook

“The Data Journalism Handbook” by Jonathan Gray, Liliana Bounegru and Lucy Chambers (O’Reilly Media)

In their handbook, Jonathan Gray, Liliana Bounegru and Lucy Chambers offer a series of inspirational case studies that illustrate the breadth of current data journalism. The projects they highlight are wide-ranging and come from well known news organisations (at least in the UK) such as the BBC and the Guardian, to smaller groups; ProPublica and Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires, for example.

One of the nice aspects of the book is that it characterises Data Journalism, without applying a premature definition; the discipline is evolving and hard boundaries could be restrictive. However, the Data journalism in perspective section by Liliana Bounegru gives some useful background, linking Data Journalism to computer assisted reporting and highlighting the discipline’s focus on general trends, rather than specific events. In addition, for those coming from a journalism (rather than a ‘data’) background the book contains a reasonable amount of unintimidating, practical advice: Pete Warden’s section in Chapter 4 (The web as a data source) and Martin Rosenbaum’s section in Chapter 5 (Data stories) are especially good in this respect. Indeed, many of the case studies describe how a group was formed, how infrastructure was developed or how data were wrangled. These are important tasks, although it would be nice if more attention was paid to ‘impact’ – that is, what has changed as a result of these projects? (aside from an increase in traffic to a news organisation’s website!).

Where the book fails, however, is in terms of the ‘added value’ that I was expecting from an O’Reilly edition. Although I reviewed an early release copy, some of the test is a little ragged and there are several simple, but annoying typographical and grammatical errors; more than one of the case studies would benefit from an editor’s oversight. No doubt the original authors were writing under considerable time pressure and without payment. However, if the book is going to be sold, then these niggles should be addressed.

In summary, The Data Journalism Handbook is a nice overview of the discipline and has much to offer a journalist who wants to get soaked in the data deluge. However, at present the benefits of reading it online far outweigh the costs of purchasing the e-book.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through O’Reilly’s Blogger Review Program.)