To solve journalism’s existential problems, the field needs to forge a close relationship with information science. At Columbia Journalism School, Medill, Missouri, and elsewhere, bridges between computer science and journalism are being hastily constructed. Every week sees new collaborative computer science and journalism meetups or hackathons. Enlightened news organizations already have APIs (application programming interfaces) so that outsiders can access elements of their data. But much of the activity remains marginal rather than core to business planning and development.

“Data are everywhere all the time,” notes Mark Hansen, director of Columbia University’s new Brown Institute for Media Innovation. “They have something to say about us and how we live. But they aren’t neutral, and neither are the algorithms we rely on to interpret them. The stories they tell are often incomplete, uncertain, and open-ended. Without journalists thinking in data, who will help us distinguish between good stories and bad? We need journalists to create entirely new kinds of stories, new hybrid forms that engage with the essential stuff of data—the digital shadows of who we are, now, collectively.”

In the remaking of the field, the shadow of information is something journalism should no longer be afraid of.

 

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Emily Bell is director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a member of CJR's Board of Overseers.