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Database journalism was born in the 1950's as a synonym for computer-assisted reporting. Since then, computers have become ubiquitous, to the point that database journalism in its original meaning has come to merge with the very definition of journalism.

The developments of the internet have given database journalism a new definition, according to which it defines a process where the database becomes the center of the journalistic work (as opposed to the story in traditional journalism). Another concept is Digital Journalism in Database, that sees the DB´s like a new paradigm for dynamic digital journalistic sites. This is the model which has databases as definers of structure and of organization, as well as the presentation of content of a journalistic nature, in accordance with specific functionalities and categories, which will make possible the creation, maintenance, updating, availability and circulation of dynamic digital journalistic products.

Computer-assisted reporting

Computer-assisted reporting is the use of computers to gather and analyze the data necessary to write news stories.

The spread of computers, software and the Internet is changing how reporters work. Reporters now routinely collect information in databases, analyze public records with spreadsheets and statistical programs, study political and demographic change with geographic information system mapping, conduct interviews by e-mail, and research background for articles on the Web.

Collectively this has become known as computer-assisted reporting, or CAR. It is closely tied to "precision" or "analytic" journalism, which refer specifically to the use of techniques of the social sciences and other disciplines by journalists.

CAR's greatest growth has been in recent years, coinciding with the adoption of computers for everyday use. Its roots, however, go back decades. One researcher argues the "age of computer-assisted reporting" began in 1952, when CBS television used a UNIVAC I computer to analyze returns from the U.S. presidential election[1] . One of the earliest examples came in 1967, after riots in Detroit, when Philip Meyer of the Detroit Free Press used a mainframe computer to show that people who had attended college were equally likely to have rioted as were high school dropouts[2].

Since the 1950's, computer-assisted developed to the point that databases became central to the journalist's work by the 1980's. In his book, Precision Journalism, the first edition of which was written in 1969, Philip Meyer argues that a journalist must make use of databases and surveys, both computer-assisted. In the 2002 edition, he goes even further and states that "a journalist has to be a database manager" [3].

The techniques expanded from polling and surveying to a new opportunity for journalists: using the computer to analyze huge volumes of government records. The first example of this type may have been Clarence Jones of The Miami Herald, who in 1969 worked with a computer to find patterns in the criminal justice system. Other notable early practitioners included David Burnham of The New York Times, who in 1972 used a computer to expose discrepancies in crime rates reported by the police; Elliot Jaspin of The Providence Journal, who in 1986 matched databases to expose school bus drivers with bad driving histories and criminal records; and Bill Dedman of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his 1988 investigation, The Color of Money, which dealt with mortgage lending discrimination and redlining in middle-income black neighborhoods[1].

In the last 15 years, journalism organizations such as the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR, a program of Investigative Reporters and Editors) and the Danish International Center for Analytical Reporting (DICAR), have been created solely to promote the use of CAR in newsgathering. Many other organizations, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, offer CAR training or workshops. Journalists have also created mailing lists to share ideas about CAR, including NICAR-L, CARR-L and JAGIS-L.

In 2001, computers had reached a critical mass in American newsrooms in terms of general computer use, online research, non-specialist content searching, and daily frequency of online use [4]

This shows that computers and computer-assisted reporting have become ubiquitous in most Western news organizations. Using computers and databases is even, according to some, part of the definition of a journalist. Therefore, database journalism as a form of computer-assisted reporting has, by the beginning of the 21st century, come to merge with journalism.

Databases as journalistic hubs

The Daily Telegraph's presentation of a database for the UK general election, November 2008.

The development of the internet brought about a redefinition of database journalism. It is now considered as "supplying databases with raw material - articles, photos and other content - by using medium-agnostic publishing systems and then making it available for different devices."[5]

The first projects in this new database journalism were probably mySociety in the UK, launched in 2004 and Adrian Holovaty's in the US, released in 2005[6]. Adrian Holovaty then wrote what is now considered the manifesto of database journalism in September, 2006[7]. In this article, Holovaty writes that most material collected by journalists is "structured information: the type of information that can be sliced-and-diced, in an automated fashion, by computers"[8]. For him, database journalism is opposed to traditional journalism. When the latter puts the story as the finality, database journalism stores facts in databases and publishes them according to ongoing editorial needs.

2007 saw a rapid development in database journalism [9]. Interactive maps have become a central feature of database journalism, often supported by mashups. A December, 2007, investigation by The Washington Post (Fixing DC's schools) aggregates dozens of data items about over 135 schools, possessed in several ways, whether on a map, individually or through articles.

The importance of database journalism can be assessed by the Knight News Challenge's awarding $1,100,000 to Adrian Holovaty's Everyblock project[10], which aims at gathering and presenting as much data as possible in 11 American cities. The Pulitzer prize received by the St. Petersburg Times' Politifact in April, 2009, has been considered as a Color of Money moment by Aron Pilhofer[11], head of the New-York Times technology team, hinting that database journalism has been accepted by the trade and will develop, much like CAR did in the early 1990's.

Seeing journalistic content as data has pushed several news organizations to release APIs, including the BBC, the Guardian, the New-York Times and the American National Public Radio[12]. By doing so, they let others aggregate the data they have collected and organized. In other words, they acknowledge that the core of their activity is not story-writing, but data gathering and data distribution.

Beginning with the early years of the 21st century, some researchers expanded the conceptual dimension for databases in journalism, and in digital journalism or cyberjournalism[13]. A conceptual approach begins to consider databases as a specificity of digital journalism, expanding their meaning and identifying them with a specific code, as opposed to the approach which perceived them as sources for the production of journalistic stories, that is, as tools, according to some of the systematized studies in the 90s.


  1. ^ a b Melisma Cox , The development of computer-assisted reporting, paper presented to the Newspaper Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Southeast Colloquium, March 17-18, 2000, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  2. ^ Bowen, Ezra (1986-07-07). "New Paths to Buried Treasure; Computers are revolutionizing investigative journalism". Time Magazine.,9171,961680-1,00.html.  
  3. ^ Philip Meyer, Precision Journalism, p.1, Rowman & Littlefield , 2002.
  4. ^ Bruce Garrison, 2001. Diffusion of online information technologies in newspaper newsrooms, Journalism, volume 2, pp. 221-239.
  5. ^ Wiebke Loosen, The Second-Level Digital Divide of the Web and Its Impact on Journalism, First Monday, volume 7, number 8 (August 2002).
  6. ^ Adrian Holovaty, Announcing
  7. ^ Adina Levin, Database journalism - a different definition of “news” and “reader”
  8. ^ Adrian Holovaty, A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change
  9. ^ Rich Gordon, Data as journalism, journalism as data
  10. ^ Everyblock's page on [1]
  11. ^ Aron Pilhofer, A PolitiFact Moment for Journalism
  12. ^ Jeff Jarvis, APIs: The new distribution
  13. ^ Suzana Barbosa; Beatriz Ribas (2008), Databases in Cyberjournalism: methodological paths


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