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Is data journalism the future of media?

Data use in generating journalistic stories is at the core of new degree and courses, and the focus of upcoming weekend workshop.

A thorough understanding of the relationship between society, digital technologies and data is not only essential to ensure survival in a dynamic media industry but also because journalists are increasingly at the forefront of promoting social and political change.

With this in mind, the Multimedia Journalism Program at the Department of Communication Arts, together with the Canadian NGO Journalists for Human Rights, is running a three-day workshop on data journalism for human rights this weekend.

The event, which will focus on methods to identify and combat hate speech against refugees with data-driven stories and multimedia skills, is highly relevant and timely.

“It’s primarily for students of our new course on the social life of information, but it’s also open to students from other courses and universities,” said Assistant Professor of Digital Journalism and Social Communication Monika Halkort, who will be running the workshop which is part of the new Data and Society course she developed.

“Data can be used in strong impactful ways―through analysis and visualization― to engage audiences and promote civic activism,” she explained. “It can also be used to spread false information and, as such, it is essential that we build skills to counter self-appointed propaganda activists with decent information and learn how to read data critically.”

To address this need, the Data and society, offered this semester for the first time, is one of a number of new courses developed to complement the B.A. in Multimedia Journalism launched this year following the redesign of the previous B.A. in Communication Arts. “The course focuses on introducing data as a critical political force and understanding the political and ethical responsibilities that come with it as we increasingly start to generate our stories through data,” said Halkort, who teaches the course, as well as another on data journalism which focuses on the use of data in generating journalistic stories.

Two additional courses, multimedia journalism basics and multimedia feature, which are also new, teach students how to integrate video, data visualization, and animation into journalistic texts. “The focus is not only on how to produce them, but also how to structure stories with these components in mind and not say everything in words but actually speak through these visual means.”

Such a multidisciplinary approach is sorely lacking in Lebanon, added Halkort, but is an essential skill in journalism in the digital age. “Most newspapers have a weak and traditional online presence while others are dying without ever having considered what they can do online.”

While Halkort is concerned with the increase in misinformation, her main area of interest and research revolves around the ownership and social impact of mapped information. “There are new politics of visibility and invisibility, bias, and power at stake when we gather and use data and approach communities and society through statistical representation,” she stated.

Halkort has contributed to the study of the relationship between digital data and social impact through a number of studies, one of which took her to the Nahr El Bared refugee camp in north Lebanon to consider the impact of data gathering by NGOs on the life chances of its residents. She references this field work, detailed in the recently published journal article “Liquefying Social Capital. On the Bio-politics of Digital Circulation in a Palestinian Refugee Camp” and other pertinent examples in her classes.

“I also reach out to other disciplines and ensure all my multimedia classes are linked to a civil society organization to teach students how to use these new tools to promote issues that foster social interest.”

 

The workshop on data journalism and human rights will run from 10-12 February inclusive, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Those interested in attending the free three-day workshop may contact Monika Halkort directly to ensure availability of spaces.


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