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Between objectivity and openness: the mediality of data for journalism

[journal article]

Lesage, Frédérik; Hackett, Robert A.

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Abstract A number of recent high profile news events have emphasised the importance of data as a journalistic resource. But with no definitive definition for what constitutes data in journalism, it is difficult to determine what the implications of collecting, analysing, and disseminating data are for journalism, particularly in terms of objectivity in journalism. Drawing selectively from theories of mediation and research in journalism studies we critically examine how data is incorporated into journalistic practice. In the first half of the paper, we argue that data's value for journalism is constructed through mediatic dimensions that unevenly evoke different socio-technical contexts including scientific research and computing. We develop three key dimensions related to data's mediality within journalism: the problem of scale, transparency work, and the provision of access to data as "openness". Having developed this first approach, we turn to a journalism studies perspective of journalism's longstanding "regime of objectivity", a regime that encompasses interacting news production practices, epistemological assumptions, and institutional arrangements, in order to consider how data is incorporated into journalism's own established procedures for producing objectivity. At first sight, working with data promises to challenge the regime, in part by taking a more conventionalist or interpretivist epistemological position with regard to the representation of truth. However, we argue that how journalists and other actors choose to work with data may in some ways deepen the regime's epistemological stance. We conclude by outlining a set of questions for future research into the relationship between data, objectivity and journalism.
Keywords journalism; data; data access; objectivity; truth
Classification Communicator Research, Journalism
Document language English
Publication Year 2014
Page/Pages p. 42-54
Journal Media and Communication, 2 (2014) 2
ISSN 2183-2439
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution