How is data found, compiled and published? Which techniques can be adopted to ensure resource efficiency and enable easy collection, collation and sharing of information? Here is a brief guide to popular approaches.
The analysis of how digital technologies are being used to strengthen freedom of expression in the Global South found a broad array of approaches. Some were created with the rise of digitization, while others have been around for a long time. Most media projects studied combine several approaches to create new ways of offering more freedom of speech and better access to information of different groups of society. It is common for media entities to use a variety of techniques in their work and the following list is only a selection of the most popular.
Crowdsourcing is when a project collects and collates information from a large group of people in the form of an open call. These people or crowds, as the name suggests, are normally people actively engaged within the subject matter or are witnesses to an event.
Getting information from a crowd has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it enables newsroom and media agents to receive large quantities of information quickly and cheaply. On the other, this information is predominately raw, unedited and unverified, which means that it often needs to be checked and edited. With much more information coming in through crowdsourcing, media outlets are inundated with data to process. This can be overwhelming and in many cases become difficult to differentiate. Media need to ensure that they have enough staff or volunteers to check and verify this data before engaging fully in this technique.
Open data is data that is freely accessible and not costly to access. Open data is a way for organizations or state institutions/authorities to share information to a wide number of people across diverse landscapes and is ideal for ensuring social participation and inclusion as there is no restriction to access. This information is also free for citizens or media outlets to use, reuse, process, analyze and redistribute and is not restricted by copyrights or patents.
Databases are organized collections of information that provide a user with a logical and systematic way to store and retrieve data. Databases are basically large electronic repositories that facilitate the easy storing and searching of information. They offer access to many people simultaneously. How a database is configured is decided by the needs and desires of the producers and users. Therefore databases can be designed to meet varying requirements.
Visualization is the use of graphics to present data in a more user-friendly and understandable manner. Visualization can take the form of diagrams (charts, graphs and matrixes), images or animations. It is a good way of breaking down complex information sets that facilitate easier analysis and of illustrating connections and relationships between datasets. It provides the reader with an image rather than words to convey a message.
Mapping is the visual depiction of information on a map. The map is predominately a geographical representation but it can also be used to depict time or ideas. Media organizations use mapping to illustrate location specific events and provide the audience with a visual picture of the situation. Mapping is another way to combine datasets in order to show information in an easy and more user friendly manner.
Software tools are computer programs used to create, maintain or otherwise support other programs and applications. These are used by media organizations in order to share information on a specific platform. For example, software tools are used as a platform for receiving information from audiences in order to share infographics or datasets. A software tool is able to take the information gathered and represent it in a specific way based on the applications design. It simply means that instead of a person manually interpreting data and producing chart or graphs, the software tool is programmed to do this automatically.
Monitoring is the process of observing a specific situation, controlled environment or series of events to determine any changes over time using predetermined measuring tools. A situation is monitored for changes in certain attributes which are relevant to the implementer of the monitoring activity. For example, media organizations can monitor press freedom in a country based on past and present indicators determined at an independent level. This enables situations to be analyzed in context and over time but also to be compared and considered at a macro level.
Storytelling is the art of imparting information in an easy to understand and logical manner. It brings together a variety of information woven into an interesting and often thought-provoking message, in the form of a well-researched story. It enables the author to not only share important facts but to grab the audience’s attention by providing context, personal experience and insight to the information as well. This is a good way for media organizations to reach a large audience and for information and ideas to be shared openly.
Audio news is information that reaches audiences in an oral rather than written form. This is a crucial tool for reaching a wide variety of people. The most common example of audio news is radio but also growing in popularity are podcasts, audio books and magazines, and mobile phone radio apps. Audio is a vital technique for reaching busy people on the go and commuters, but also those who cannot read or have no access to newspapers or the Internet (due to financial or infrastructural limitations). Audio devices are often on in the background as people go about their daily lives and they are accessing and consuming this information even if it isn’t with full attention.
Independent journalism is journalism that is free from any outside influence. This influence could take the form of business, political or governmental control or bias. Journalists that carry out independent journalism often work for non-governmental organizations or businesses and are committed to ensuring the ethical and truthful dissemination of information. Independent journalism is considered a fundamental component of a democratic society and is vital in a digital age where so much information is available and impartial verification and authentication is paramount.
Citizen journalism means local people are involved in the process of collecting, collating, reporting and sharing information and news. It is considered an alternative form of reporting that offers the chance for more local stories to be shared and heard. On the other hand, citizen journalists do not necessarily work according to professional journalistic standards such as factual accuracy or impartiality. With the rise of social media, citizen journalism has become an integral component of the media landscape and more and more media organizations are utilizing this to train members of the public in these activities as well as in basic journalistic skills and behavior.
Blogs are online opinion sites where information is shared normally by one individual on an open website. Readers are able to comment on the posts and these create some form of discussion. Posts are individual articles that are visible on the blog. Blogs are normally presented in a chronological manner with the most recent posts being first. Activists, experts, enthusiasts and the general public use blogs as platforms to share ideas, opinions and information on a variety of subjects. They are an easy and cheap way to engage with the public and to reach a broad audience.
Fact checking is the process of checking factual assertions made in the public sphere. In this context, we are referring to statements, interviews and publications that have been produced of a non-fiction nature. Some media organizations are able to dedicate teams to check and verify the factual accurateness of political, social and academic texts and statements. This provides society not only with a watchdog initiative but could also make producers of information more careful about the accuracy of their statements and the audience more discerning of what information to accept.