Data Journalism in India: Nascent but noticeable

Shyamanuja Das

In a well-discussed (and well-tweeted) article published on the Global Investigative Journalism Network website, India’s Media – Missing the Data Journalism Revolution recently, journalist and academician, Priya Rajasekar, argues that Indian media, by and large, is still to wake up to the opportunity of data journalism.

Probably the first in-depth analysis on the subject in India, the article is fairly complete in terms of capturing the viewpoints of the entire spectrum of stakeholders—the academicians, the practitioners and other influencers. It even goes to explore the reasons behind what it calls the Indian media’s “not subscribing to the idea (of data journalism)”.

The basic assumption — that Indian media has not really taken to data journalism seriously — is not exactly way off the mark, if one takes into account only the traditional media. India surely does not have the likes of a Guardian Datablog and NYT Upshot.

But then, how many of the traditional media brands even in the developed markets have such initiatives? India’s The Hindu  actually has a dedicated section on data stories, though its nowhere near Guardian and NYT sites.

There are online ventures, though. Though not quite the Vox and FiveThirtyEight of India, some of them are making an impact. A few are dedicated to data journalism, while others are news and analysis sites but do have a few good data journalism stories. Some traditional media houses have also started exploring the area in a more focused manner, which interestingly, is being noticed by even the common readers.

Two events in the recent past have helped the cause in a big way.

One, of course, was the General Elections held in April – May 2014. India’s is the largest elections on earth, not just in terms of the size of the electorate but also in terms of number of political parties. India has more than thousand political parties, out of which about 60 are recognized national and state parties. That makes analyzing vote shares and linking that to seats won fairly complex and interesting. With the Election Commission sharing raw data, we saw a lot of good analysis this time. DataJourno carried a round-up of election coverage here.

The other was release of crime data by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Though NCRB has been sharing this data for many years now, thanks to the growing awareness about data analysis, almost all newspapers did multiple stories this time, analyzing the data. Crime against women and regional trends in crime dominated the coverage.

Here is a round-up of some of the data journalism initiatives in India. These are among the most noticeable efforts, though the list is not exactly comprehensive. One clarification: there are quite a few other sites that have fairly decent content based on analyzing data. But they are not really journalistic stories, for there are no ‘stories’ in most of them. In fact, that is a big confusion that exists in data journalism—what is journalism and what is not. But then, that is a topic by itself and is not restricted to India. So, we will keep that for another day.

Here is the list, with examples wherever possible.

In addition, two other newspapers must be mentioned for their data journalism efforts, though they do not call it by that name. Mint, a business newspaper and Times of India, India’s largest selling English newspaper.  Mint was the first newspaper to start visualizing stories much before the excitement about data journalism started. It also does a number of data analysis stories but they are restricted to mostly macroeconomics, not of immense interest to the lay readers. The Times of  India, has started a regular section in its print version, called STATOITICS (TOI is a shorter version of its full name), where it presents interesting data through simple visualization.

The trend is new but is surely catching up. One challenge, though, is that number crunchers who can write some English are posing as data journalists, taking advantage of lack of presence of real journalists, many of whom are intimidated by numbers. So, instead of being the hot new area within journalism, data journalism has ended up becoming a poor cousin of data science and analytics.

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