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Ethical Pitfalls of Data Digging in Journalism
Unformatted Document Text:  Ethical Pitfalls of Data Digging “There’s a big difference between the anecdotal (interview subjects) and the definitive (data),” said Derek Willis, Newsroom Developer at the New York Times. “The appeal of doing data work in reporting is that you can get even close to or even at the definitive (with data.) You can separate information from ‘We think we know’ from ‘We know what we know. ’You can ask data really different questions and get certain answers” (Willis). But data reporting is not without faults and it is there that most of the ethical pitfalls — some of them unique and others common to all forms of reporting — are most evident. Not only is data dependent on a correct statistical interpretation but the data itself can be flawed. “Data science is a loaded weapon and nearly everyone who picks it up shoots themselves in the foot at least once,” said Groskopf. “Any given project may require a hodge-podge of programming, statistics, social science, geography, creativity, insight, and brutal realism. Perhaps worst of all, each project requires that the journalist become a domain expert on the subject at hand — or defer verification to sources who may not be timely, objective or reliable.” Groskopf also points out that data reporting without journalistic analysis and context is fraught with danger. Equally Also important is the issue of how data will be consumed by the public. Computational journalists often adapt databases… to be public facing but the act of publishing data is not the same as reporting. “Data is not the natural language of the audience,” said Willis. “Your job is to make it digestible. ‘Can you turn the data into a story and make it understandable?’ The rational approach is to see it as a reporting tool; a means to an end.” 13

Authors: Leach, Jan. and Gilbert, Jeremy.
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Ethical Pitfalls of Data Digging
“There’s a big difference between the anecdotal (interview subjects) and the 
definitive (data),” said Derek Willis, Newsroom Developer at the New York Times. “The 
appeal of doing data work in reporting is that you can get even close to or even at the 
definitive (with data.) You can separate information from ‘We think we know’ from ‘We 
know
 
what 
we know. ’You can ask data really different questions and get certain 
answers” (Willis).
But data reporting is not without faults and it is there that most of the ethical 
pitfalls — some of them unique and others common to all forms of reporting — are 
most evident. Not only is data dependent on a correct statistical interpretation but 
the data itself can be flawed.  
“Data science is a loaded weapon and nearly everyone who picks it up shoots 
themselves in the foot at least once,” said Groskopf. “Any given project may require a 
hodge-podge of programming, statistics, social science, geography, creativity, insight, 
and brutal realism.  Perhaps worst of all, each project requires that the journalist 
become a domain expert on the subject at hand — or defer verification to sources 
who may not be timely, objective or reliable.” Groskopf also points out that data 
reporting without journalistic analysis and context is fraught with danger.
Equally
 
Also
 important is the issue of how data will be consumed by the public. 
Computational journalists often adapt databases… to be public facing but the act of 
publishing data is not the same as reporting. “Data is not the natural language of the 
audience,” said Willis. “Your job is to make it digestible. ‘Can you turn the data into a 
story and make it understandable?’ The rational approach is to see it as a reporting 
tool; a means to an end.”
13


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