News Corp, Columbia, NYU Collaborate on Data-Visualization Tools for Journos

Newscorp-MedialabConsider a new partnership among News Corps and two academic institutions an early Christmas present to journalists who enjoy tinkering with data but may not possess lots of technical knowledge.

A working group consisting of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia University and the Integrated Digital Media Program at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, as well as News Corp, promises to build “visual programming tools” designed for journalists who don’t speak hacking languages.

“The idea is to develop a robust tool for the rapid deployment of data-driven storytelling for journalists,” said NYU professor Luke DuBois. “This will be an open source tool that allows journalists to link in a data set, process it using a pipeline of commonly accepted statistical methods, and extract a wide variety of different visualizations that can be easily embedded within a narrative context.” DuBois is overseeing four graduate students who will focus on software development and user experience for this project.

At a time when data-driven journalism is hot, and readers are hungry to consume visually meaningful pieces of media, journalists could use some methods for streamlining the process of sifting through facts, making sense of information and creating useful data visualization for stories.

Not only will the finished product be open and simple to expand upon, DuBois said the data process will be facilitated with an “interactive flowchart” on the journalist side. Additionally, journalists will be able to check and “show their work” to the masses.

“This processing graph will be simple to publish as well, allowing journalists to generate a “chain of evidence” of how they arrived at a visualization from a raw dataset,” he said.

Additionally, the project, which will be carried out over the following months during a series of roundtable discussions, is meant to bridge gaps between the technical and editorial sides of the newsroom so that media organizations can put out more great data journalism with minimal headaches.

The partnership is being supported by News Corp’s NYC Media Lab seed project, annual undertakings meant to combine media and academic forces for the benefit of both fields. According to NYC Media Lab’s Julia Evanczuk, News Corp is a paying corporate member of NYC Media Lab, contributing half its membership dues directly over to an innovative seed project.

“They can decide what form they want that to take. [The projects are] a taste of what a partnership between a media organization and a university would look like,” Evanczuk said.

There’s no set timeline for the project yet, but we can look forward to the NYC Media Lab undertaking already — plus how it will benefit journalists at News Corp. As DuBois commented, the data tools will allow reporters to disseminate “reliable, interactive, visually rich informational content without requiring a large commitment in personnel and infrastructure at their publication.” Can’t beat that.