Why data sites need journalists

An article in the UK’s Guardian explains why data needs journalists (and vice versa).

The Guardian‘s John Keenan writes:

“According to Alfred Harmsworth, founder of both the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, news is “what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; the rest is advertising”. By this yardstick, Harmsworth would have agreed that the WikiLeaks Afghan war diary  is a remarkable news event. But he would have had no truck with the argument mounted by WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange that the move represents a triumph of transparency over interpretation. “Hard news catches readers,” Harmworth believed. “Features hold them.”

Keenan agrees, writing “Without the analyses, comment and explanation provided by experienced journalists, the documents would have sat on the WikiLeaks website attracting the interest only of those with a fervid interest in the conflict. The White House and the Pentagon would have barely stirred.”

He notes that there is an increasingly persistent push to make public information available to the public – if it’s already in electronic form, it’s a fairly simple task. You could always go to the library, or visit one of the new raw data sites that have been popping up and spend your down time shifting through thousands of pages of legalese, financial records and Government Speak. But honestly, would you? This is Keenan’s case for the role of journalism, where people are paid to do our dirty work, and tell us what we need to know.

“Data sites are proliferating and many of them are excellent – UN Data, and the Guardian‘s own Datablog among them. But consider this: Julian Assange did not upload the classified documents and wait for the world to beat a path to his door. He entered into a partnership with media outlets he knew would give prominence to the material. Like Alfred Harmsworth before him, Assange understands that without the oxygen of publicity, data dies unread.”