The research project VALID investigates how journalists routinely deal with large volumes of data. Based on interactive visualisations, the consortium develops digital tools designed to help journalists obtain information from large volumes of data from various sources.
The Panama Papers with the richness of information they have made public are a prime example of the potential as well as the challenge that media publishers and the news industry face when it comes to drawing meaning from the ever increasing digital output.
Adapting established methods to data journalism
The VALID project uses visual analytics technologies that were developed by computer science for the processing and quick interpretation of large amounts of data and adapts them for use in data journalism. The project consortium aims to overcome three barriers that currently pose challenges to data journalism:
the usage barrier (usable systems),
the technology barrier (dealing with complex and heterogeneous data) and
the workflow barrier (embedding in work routines).
Most journalists have no programming skills and are not trained in data analysis, while using the tools that are currently available call for sophisticated technical expertise. Furthermore, journalistic investigation almost always involves linking complex and heterogeneous data with each other in a meaningful way. An example: When editors want to understand the influence corporations have on voting behaviour in a parliament, they may have to both access voting data and look into the CVs of politicians to find connections. Visual analytics technologies can be of great help to journalists, because they can be used to detect anomalies that are easily overlooked by humans.
Focus on practical use
VALID therefore aims to develop a both user-centred and problem-oriented approach in design and evaluation in order to ensure that the methods, concepts and research prototypes can be used in practice. The developed tools are designed to help journalists deal with complex and heterogeneous data. The project also involves the development of a number of guidelines and best practice examples for data processes in journalism. All results will be made freely available to the public. The collaboration with renowned Austrian media companies and the further development of the prototype in cooperation with industrial partners will ensure that the results will be used in the long term and contribute to the economic strength of Austria as a media location.