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Local news organizations in Germany and data journalism

Patricia Cruz



The article “Local Data Journalism in Germany: Data-driven Reporting Amidst Local Communities and Authorities” by Florian Stalph from LMU Munich and Oliver Hahn and David Liewehr from University of Passau explored data journalism within local and regional news organizations in Germany.

Data journalism is often associated with large organizations such as ProPublica or with major, national and international newsrooms like The Guardian. However, early data journalism was often of local characteristic and the benefits of data journalism in local reporting are clear. 

The economic struggles such as lack of staffing have particularly reduced local newsrooms’ ability to utilize data journalism. Despite this, several German local news organizations have managed to conduct data journalism. Data journalism, in other words, has become at least somewhat democratized. 

The authors caution that the study is not meant to be representative of all regional data journalism and its status quo in Germany, but more in the vein of anecdotal collection of case studies. 

Local journalism differs from journalism at large, among other things, in expectations. While journalism in general is expected to serve a public watchdog -purpose, holding those in power accountable, in local journalism this role comes second. 

The primary role of local journalism is to act as a “good neighbor”, relaying news of local interest to its readers. This has led some scholars to even accuse local journalism of sycophantic coverage, as the journalists are often embedded and tied in with the elites. 

Data journalism is hard to define in a clear-cut manner. It consists of gathering and organizing data in support of journalism. Explaining and conveying complex facts are central to the work of a data journalist.

The study here consisted of nine semi-structured in-depth interviews, where the interviewees were data journalists working for regional and local newspapers in Germany. Eight were men, one was a woman. The circulation of the newspapers they worked on ranged from a bit over 80.000 to slightly under 300.000. 

The first research question was on the challenges the journalists face when obtaining data from governmental sources. The participants were, by and large, satisfied with the services available to them on national and regional level, some defining it as a “treasure trove”. However, on the municipal level the services were insufficient, particularly when it comes to geographic data. 

Despite the insufficient data, the journalists rarely used FOI (Freedom of Information) requests to attain data. They were described as creating friction with the authorities and there were thus misgivings about it, but it was nevertheless occasionally used. 

Typically, the journalists sought instead to maintain good relations with the authorities and then having the data they could get with a FOI without having to formally file the request. 

The second research question was about the structure of the work. Most participants felt only partially integrated to the editorial practices of the newsroom, data journalistic projects were instead managed by few lone journalists. Some of the journalists did not exclusively work as data journalists but had breaks lasting weeks from that work. 

The data journalists mostly relied on existing tools such as Excel, Datawrapper and Carto to conduct their analysis, as there was no time for development of in-house tools. The training in data journalism mostly relied on initiative. All in all, the major obstacle for all data work was lack of time, as it is time-consuming.

The third research question was on how the journalists utilized data to make local news stories. There were two main approaches: the first was to have a topic already at the ready and to search data for it, the second was to utilize pre-existing data. They sought to tie in the stories to local context by default in their work. 

Many of the interviewees viewed pure data as too abstract, and thus sought to have individuals in the stories for the readers to empathize with. The personal conversations also were needed to verify the data and provide a reality check. 

The last, fourth research question was on how the participants perceived their role in the context of local journalism. The answers displayed a diversity in goals and motivations. One emphasized the service function of data journalism via interactive maps, two considered data important as evidence. 

Information and explanation were considered important, as was the telling of reader oriented human stories. Data stories could improve the readers statistical understanding  and raise awareness on the shortcomings of the quantitative method. “Empowering journalism”, where readers would analyze the data and form political responses by it, were emphasized by some. 

The data journalists did not feel a duty to present their region only in positive terms. Only one reported that self-censoring on basis of expected reader response occurred by some colleagues, but not by the interviewee in question. Being rooted in region only influenced the choice of topics, but had no bearing otherwise. 

The study emphasizes that not only do local and regional newsrooms need to recognize the potential of data journalism, but also the regional and national data providers -as they were central in the success of data journalism. Stories were often personalized by local protagonists. The authors caution that the sample size is too small to draw wide conclusions, but the study nevertheless offers interesting insights.

The article “Local Data Journalism in Germany: Data-driven Reporting Amidst Local Communities and Authorities” by Florian Stalph, Oliver Hahn and David Liewehr is in Journalism Practice. (open access). 

Picture: Untitled by Erik Mclean.

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Article: Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online

Patricia Cruz



The study “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska from Georgetown University experimented on news consumers’ trust as brought on by transparency, and further, in the second experiment, explored the reasons for the findings in the first.

Transparency in journalism is defined as opening up the journalistic processes (production, decision making) to outsiders, i.e. making journalism more transparent. Karlsson (2010, 2020) further divides transparency into disclosure, participatory, and ambient transparency. 

Defining trust, on the other hand, in journalism has been tricky, as it has been associated with credibility. Kohring and Matthes (2007) define the four elements of trust: 1. trust in topic selectivity; 2. trust in fact selectivity; 3. trust in accuracy of descriptions, and 4. trust in journalistic assessment. 

This study recruited its participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. There were a total of 1092 participants. They were presented with a news story about nanoparticles – a topic that was unfamiliar to most and therefore had a low risk of partisan opinions. The article was presented in six different webpages that had differing transparency items in them.

There were 11 different trust items in the first experiment. Based on the results, the hypotheses were rejected. They were H1: A a) production transparency news item and a b) producer transparency news item will be trusted more than a non-transparent item. H2: A full transparency (both production and producer transparency) news item will be trusted more than a) a non-transparent article, b) a production transparency article, and c) a producer transparency article. And H3a: A full transparency news item will be trusted more than a full transparent article that includes biased information about the producer. H3b: A producer transparency news item with neutral personal information will be trusted more than a producer transparency article with biased information.

Nevertheless, the participants agreed that the journalist was trustworthy and that they sometimes trusted the news media. On results, it was speculated that the participants did not recognize the transparency features as cognitive heuristics and did not interact much with the transparency items. 

The second experiment was similar. There were a total of 379 participants, who were not the same as in the first one. They were assigned to read the same article as in the first about nanoparticles, placed again on five different webpages with varying transparency features.  

Further on, the participants were asked to recall the transparency features (such as hyperlinks, author bio, editorial explanations etc.) and to recall specific information from the article and the transparency features. 

The participants recalled items such as the photo (84% of the ones assigned to the webpage with a photo) only 34% could correctly identify the journalist. Similarly, 53% of those who had seen an editorial explanation recalled it, but only 26% could recall a detail from it. Participants also had trouble recalling the individual transparency features they were exposed to.

It was noted that the participants had better recall on items that were part of the actual story than the ‘digitally outsourced’ transparency items. It is possible that this information is not adequately processed or they failed to acknowledge the utility of this information. 

In conclusion, it still remains unclear how the link between transparency and audience’s trust is created. The question remains on whether news consumers recognize transparency features as markers of journalistic quality.

The article “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska is in Journalism Studies. (open access). 

Picture: scrabble tiles spelling trust by Ronda Dorsey.

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News ideology and media storms in France and Israel

Patricia Cruz



The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner from Hadassah Academic College looked at the nexus of news ideology and media storms using two media storms to analyze the topic: the Yellow Vests Movement (2018) in France and the Occupy Movement (2011) in Israel.

Media storms are defined as events or topics that take up a substantial part of the coverage for a period of time. They typically peak after few weeks in the beginning and then begin to fade. They have been studied widely with various terms being applied to them like “media event” or “media hypes”.

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the amount of studies on media ideology. Measured against the hypothetical gold standard of pure objectivity, media bias can be seen when coverage varies from source to another in different weighings and so on, with professional considerations having been overtaken by ideological ones.

The ideology is often seen in framing – as in this case, left-wing media tends to frame the protests positively and right-wing negatively. This was one of the topics in this study.
There were two data sets for the study: the Israeli one and the French one. The Israeli dataset consisted of coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom, Maariv, Haaretz, Makor Rishon (a national-religious newspaper), and Yated Neeman (an ultra-religious newspaper). Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon, and Yated Neeman are right-wing, the rest are left wing.

The French dataset consisted of coverage from Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Obs – listed here from right to left ideologically. The articles from both datasets were coded either positive, negative, or neutral based on several criteria.

The results show that media storms are a multi-media phenomenon, affecting a number of newspapers at once. The findings also demonstrate a media bias: if professional considerations were the only thing that mattered, the coverage in left- and right-wing media would have resembled each other.

Instead, there was a trend of negative coverage in right-wing media and positive in left – and what is more, the lines of coverage moved to opposite directions, showing increased polarization. There were differences between the storms: in the Israel case the newspapers chose their sides early and there was no significant move, but in France the lines diverged as the media storm went on.

News ideology also operated through production bias mechanisms, such as sizing of articles or their placement in the newspaper (front page or somewhere else). Due to the differences of the two cases, the hypotheses regarding the decline stage of the storm were hard to assess.

The author notes that the study has implications for future research. It proposes that media storms may be high-risk events that even challenge the ideology and interests of the news organizations. As important, politically charged events become media storms, they may become political storms instead.

The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner is in International Journal of Communication. (free access).

Picture: Storm Approaching by Johannes Plenio @jplenio.
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Covering women’s sport: My sports journalism career highlights

Patricia Cruz



There has never been a better time to work in women’s sport and for early-career sports reporters, the opportunities are endless.

Here, multimedia sports reporter Milly McEvoy shares how she has covered everything from the Olympics and Paralympics to international women’s cricket and football tournaments, only a year after finishing her sports journalism course.

In June 2021, fresh off finishing my Multimedia Sports Journalism qualification with in Manchester, I made the move down to London to join Sportsbeat as a reporter.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but what has come in between also feels like a blur – it has involved international rugby and football, the British Athletics Championships and domestic cricket and netball (and lots more) in person. 

I have also covered the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, remotely and I have had the opportunity to interview sportspeople involved from the grassroots to the top of the game. 

On top of all that, I spent two months covering the Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. 

As I came to the end of my history degree in 2020, I already knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, but I started thinking about what form that would take. 

I quickly settled on women’s sport. 

I had always kept an eye on women’s sport, and proudly say the first sporting event I ever attended was a Women’s Euros football match in 2005, but my interest in sport came from what was easily available – and even two years ago most women’s sport wasn’t. 

2020 was a slippery slope to full-on obsession including listening to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final on 8 March in the early morning on the radio. 

Even across the airwaves, the sound of 86,174 people packing into the MCG showed to me that there was plenty of appetite for women’s sport, people just need to be able to see it – and read about it. 

Fast forward two years and Australia were winning another World Cup, but this time, I was there to see it with my own eyes before heading to the press conference to speak with captain Meg Lanning. 

What had led to that point at around 9pm on 3 April 2022 was two months covering one of the most exciting tournaments cricket has ever seen, and I’m luckily not yet jaded enough to have cursed having to rewrite my match reports as momentum swung wildly in several games. 

I learnt so much from covering that World Cup producing over 120 previews, reports, reaction pieces and features, but my favourite one was the last thing I did in Aotearoa, speaking with a slightly hungover Grace Harris the day after she had won the World Cup. 

Having returned to the UK, I enjoyed a full circle moment in July as I covered the Women’s Euros, and just like the 2020 T20 World Cup, I watched from afar as 87,192 fans cheered the home team to victory. 

Except, this time I was writing the match report for the Lionesses and I couldn’t get into the Wembley press box because there were so many people eager to cover women’s sports. 

It feels like England’s win will be a turning point for women’s sport, one that is long overdue, and I am excited to be part of what is to come and grateful and proud to have been a small part of what has already been. 

You can find out more about our multimedia sports journalism course here.

For a taster of our award-winning journalism training, sign up for one of our free workshops here.

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