Facts are Sacred is the new book by Simon Rogers, the award-wining editor of guardian.co.uk/data and a news editor on the Guardian, working with the graphics team to bring figures to life on the page. He was closely involved with the Guardian‘s ground-breaking decision to crowdsource 450,000 MP expenses records, as well as the organisation’s coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq ‘Wikileaks’ war logs.
The book, which is available in hard cover and a very inexpensive kindle edition, describes the changing world of data journalism, touching on big data, open data and citizen hacktivism.
Simon describes the methods and approaches taken by his colleagues on the Guardian, and shows how everyone can get involved in creating, analysing and visualising data.
It is clear that in the last four years things have changed dramatically. Governments, their agencies and local authorities have all started to provide open data with varying levels of commitment, standards and approaches; but the fact that they have these limited made inroads is positive and significant and we need to press to make open data and transparent government the norm. Nor does it mean that the job is done. The challenge remains for journalists and citizens alike in contextualising the data, analysing it, checking accuracy and uncovering what the data tells us.
That exposes a need for more, not less, citizen involvement, which itself necessitates better skills in data analysis, understanding statistics and being able to paint a picture (or at least create an infographic) with the data exposed.
Using examples from the 2011 riots, hurricane Sandy, MPs expenses, and more Rogers tells an engaging story of how the Guardian, in particular, interacted with its readers, challenged the government, used open source tools, and broke new ground in not only using data to source new stories, but also in starting to lay the foundations for live data reporting and analysis. This is something that could not have been imagined only 10 years ago, nor when CP Snow, celebrating 50 years as the Guardian’s editor, wrote in 1921 “Comment is free but facts are sacred” from which the title is drawn (let alone when the Guardian’s own first edition in 1821 carried some tabular data about Manchester schools).
This is an excellent book, which takes the pulse of data journalism as it stands in this early phase of open data. It offers us all a chance to develop our skills in data analysis and citizen journalism and reminds us that we all can hold authorities to account, and collaborate to develop further tools and crowd-sourced analysis.
Ian Watt6 May 2013