A few months ago I started noticing a proliferation of editorial content using data as the narrative foundation. The first place it occurred to me was on the OkTrends blog, which publishes research compiled from hundreds of millions of OkCupid user interactions. Their insight opuses on “The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like,’” and, “Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex,” for example, are some of the best reads on the internet. Then I began to see it in other places. Slate.com published an article on “What Rotten Tomatoes data tell us about the best, worst, and most bizarre Hollywood trajectories;” The New York Times teamed up with OkCupid to publish a story about “the sexual availability index” — aka, what’s the best night of the week to meet someone at a bar (spoiler: Wednesday). And on it went. Once I started paying attention, these stories were everywhere. And these weren’t simply infographics — statistics visualized in fun, creative layouts — which are, themselves, already ubiquitous, these were narratives; journalistic reportage…. driven by data.
In a June Media Shift article, Nicholas White, co-founder and CEO of The Daily Dot, which bills itself as “The hometown newspaper of the World Wide Web,” called data “a new kind of source.”
The news industry is built on the assumption that if you give a reporter a notebook and a few days to ramp up, he can write authoritatively on any subject. That’s not enough anymore. In today’s information-rich world, reporters need to bring more to the table.
The old skills still matter. In some sense they’re more precious than ever. But they aren’t enough. Data needs to be interpreted well, and we need people who can use technology in highly advanced ways to produce the insight readers crave. We need to ask the data the same tough questions we ask experts and other sources. We’ve enlisted sophisticated mathematicians in the cause of journalism. We’ve hired an editor that loves to geek out over data. There’s a lot of nuance and expertise in this process.
The article was titled, “The Necessity of Data Journalism in the New Digital Community.”
The data had become the story.
One night I dropped the bon mot, “the data is the story,” over wine with Hilary Read, co-founder of HUMAN, a live communications agency, and next thing I know she’s taken the idea and run with it, and I’m part of a proposed panel for SXSW Interactive 2012:
Data is the New Creative. Let’s Debate!
We’ve hit our tipping point. Where creative once was king, it now takes its marching orders from data. The question is–will it stick and where has all the good creative gone? Come join HUMAN as they take on two savvy digital strategists to debate the merits, the pitfalls and ultimately the humanity of data dominated creative. This session will be a mixture of theatrics, metrics and live data-generated artwork that is sure to entice even the most cynical enthusiasts. We won’t know how it will end until we get there. Come help us decide–Is data really the new creative?
You should vote for this panel at SXSW 2012: HERE.
And in the meantime, you can rep for your team — Data vs. Creative — HERE