Ethics of data journalism

Data journalism basically refers to the use of data, numbers and other statistical tools to tell stories.  Although relatively new, it quickly grew in popularity due to the widespread availability of computers and smartphones.

In recent years, the amount of digital information available to the public has dramatically increased. As the amount of data grows, so does the demand for reliable information. While some journalists have struggled to adapt to this change, data journalists use their analytical abilities to produce meaningful stories, making them increasingly popular. Moreover, data journalism is influential because it provides insights into problems facing society and helps people make decisions.

According to a renowned Nigerian Journalist, Clement Oluwole, “Data journalism gives everyone the ability to share information and gain insight. We can better understand the world around us by using numbers and facts. It allows us to discover new trends, issues, and patterns. We also have the power to change things for the better.”

 Data journalism can be used in many ways, but most often, it is used to help journalists understand what is going on in their world

Journalism today is vastly different from journalism 30 years ago. The Internet has revolutionized how people access and consume media messages. It has also created new opportunities for journalists to reach millions of readers at once.

It has shaped everything from how reporters gather stories to how they write articles to how they distribute contents. This means that if you want to work at a newspaper, magazine, or other media outlet today, you’ll probably depend to a large extent on the Internet to be successful.

 It has also completely transformed the reader’s ability to get information. Thanks to the Internet, anyone in the world can easily access news from anywhere in the world. This makes the quality of journalism much higher than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Consequently, we also now live in an age where almost anything is available via the internet.

In spite of the numerous benefits of Data Journalism, just like it obtains in journalism, ethical principles must be followed in this field of journalism in order to ensure that stories are credible.

Interestingly, ethical considerations in data journalism are no different from those in any other area of journalism. But the ethical issues most likely to come into play are those around accuracy and balancing the right to privacy against the public interest.

“Probably the most basic ethical consideration in data journalism is the need to be accurate, and provide proper context to the stories that we tell. That can influence how we analyse the data, report on data stories, or our publication of the data itself.

“Accuracy is perhaps the central concern of journalists working with any form of data. Numbers, charts and maps possess an air of authority that other types of information often lack – and yet they are equally subject to manipulation. Journalists need to be careful both in the credibility they place in numerical and graphical sources – and in the way they present their own stories numerically and graphically, “an investigative journalist, Paul Okah said.

He added that a data journalist must always ensure that the data he relies on to write his stories are transparent and reliable. He must comply with verification and data analysis, which is a standard practice to cross-check data from various sources and contextualize them adequately.

Sometimes, however, the size or nature of the data makes verifying every row impossible, but there is still an ethical imperative to publish the data in order to ‘hold it to account’.

“In that case, we need to judge if publication is more important than protecting individuals for potential errors in them by the authority which has provided them, “Oluwole said.

Ethical journalists dealing with data ask the same questions of that data as they would any source. What is the vested interest of the person giving me this? How has this information been collected, and what or who (or when or where) might be missing from it? How were the questions phrased, and what questions were used to frame it beforehand? Can I find a second independent source of the same information, or a different interpretation? What is the margin of error?

As an increasing proportion of journalists’ sources involve data, “numeracy” becomes as important as literacy: confusing percentage increases with percentage point increases should be as shameful as spelling someone’s name wrong. We should be as concrete in our language regarding data as we are concrete in describing events and people, where there is no room for vagueness or confusion.

Furthermore, context is a vital part of the data journalism process. Absolute figures must be put into the context of the size of the local population, historical patterns, and even differing demographics. Trends must be checked against changes in boundaries or data collection and classification methods.

Also, in reporting opinion polls, the importance of context must be emphasised, including identifying the organisation that conducted the poll, the questions, method and sample size, and the broader trend of all polls or a particular pollster. This is vital in order not to deceive the readers. For example, language should “say polls “suggest” and “indicate”, but never “prove” or “show”” and “draw attention to events which may have had a significant effect on public opinion since it was done”. Doubts about sources should be reflected in reporting, or in the decision to report on a poll at all. This was not observed during the 2023 presidential election when journalists reported results of opinion polls particularly as its concern the three leading candidates- Ahmed Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Mr. peter Obi of the Labour Party.

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