Can data based journalism help fund the media?
It almost sounds too good to be true! You get better journalism, because your research is based upon hard facts. And you get surplus material, that then can be used in order to generate money for your media. A pure dream? At least a dream serious enough, that a large media house experiments with it.
The basic idea is simple: In order to do good journalism in a time of electronic administration, we as journalists gather large amounts of data, analyse them and write our stories. For example you get thorough statistics about the health situation in one country, you analyse them and write a handfull of stories on one disease only occuring in one region, about another disease difficult to cure and and what else journalists find relevant according to journalistic criteria. Well-researched job, editor is happy.
But now the data are gathered. Right here on the journalists computer in the publishing house. We are allowed to re-use them according to the EU-wide PSI directive. Can we re-use them to make money for our media? Should the publishing house instead of complaining about vaining incomes from advertisements rather employ a data-analyst and consultant to re-use the data and sell them to a new type of clients? Is it thinkable, that income can be generated on this bi-product of quality journalism rather than on the old advertisement-tradition, where journalistic stories are used to fill the gaps in between the adds?
At Deutsche Presse Agentur DPA, the large German news agency based in Hamburg, one department has started to experiment with the idea. Right now it is far too early to make any conclusions about the new business model. But apparently the idea is strong enough for DPA to pick it up and develop it.
Some weeks ago I talked with Sebastian Möricke-Kreutz, in Germany a pioneer among the computer assisted reporting projects, who is deeply involved in the journalistic part of the DPA-Regiodata project.
Möricke-Kreutz gathers data from all over Germany, and offers his subscribers – for example regional newspapers - a regionalised version of the data. Employment statistics for Potsdam, the capital of the province of Brandenburg, of course focus on the fact, that Brandenburg has most women on the labour market in Germany. Stories spread from music schools for children to murder statistics, from figures about cancer over figures about skilled labour and figures about the consumption of beer and wine to figures about crime by municipality or even more detailed – depending on available data. Stories are delivered complete including data analysis, regional angles, rankings and regionalised news graphics.
Based upon the preparatory work by DPA-Regiodata, subscribing newsmedia can choose to print the story as it is, or to let their own journalists dig even deeper – given the fact, that they have enough material to confront local authorities with hard facts and can combine this extra information with insight into the local situation. With the extensive data-material, local journalists can, for example, confront their mayor, Möricke-Kreutz explains. How comes, they could ask their local politicians, that our town looks like a black whole on the map compared to neighbouring municipalities?
Möricke-Kreutz and his colleagues gather data according to modern journalistic methods, approaching statistical offices, filing freedom of informations requests, web-scraping already accessible data and so forth.
“RegioData delivers individually adjusted statistical data for the subscribers, partially from exclusive sources, for a variety of subjects,” according to the DPA annual report 2007. “Next to the media use we see a vast potential for clients in the non-media field,” the report stated.
This potential is currently being developped. Not easy in times of economic instability, however still a viable concept, according to Andreas Meijer, teamleader at DPA-Regiodata in Hamburg. DPA is used to faciliating information tasks for their clients, that they themselves would not be able to do. Re-using the gathered data would be one more option in that field – except that this time the clients would be a new target group within business, organisations and parties.
The DPA Regiodata editorial group was gathered less than two years ago, the service started early 2008, and new sources and subjects are still being explored - a young project. Data-providers however already have started to be keen on cooperating, Meijer tells, given the good experiences. Statistical offices in the many German provinces, just to mention one example, view the model as a new option of communication to the citizens.
At the same time DPA is looking into possible target groups for the re-use of the data. For non-media services of RegioData “the market is still very unclear,” according to Meijer, few models of media- and data-services exist yet, usually services focus on either or. But it is a very exciting field, they are digging into. “That’s why we do it.”
Author: Brigitte Alfter
This comment was published on journalismfund.eu