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Read this: How data journalists became the rock stars of news

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How data journalists became the rock sta…

BBC sounds music Radio podcasts hello, I'm Andrea catherwood, and this is the media show from BBC Radio 4 in the time of national crisis journalists alter the way they operate should they go out of their way to focus on the positive secretly uplifting stories NHS Heroes the thousands of people who recovered from quran and the inspirational fundraisers is from Bedfordshire he's aiming to complete the challenge before his 100th birthday.

That's at the end of the month after receiving treatment as opposed to this so this is the problem isn't it? There is no clarity a load of old flannel talking about controlling the virus and you as a leading high-profile conservative politician haven't got a clue about what is rule actually mean Piers Morgan

On Good Morning Britain grilling at the MP Andrew bridgen earlier in the week, but critics call this brand broadcasting gotcha journalism, they say it's out of step with the mood of the nation is not the time for apportioning Blame have a duty to lift the country's mood or is that incompatible with journalism job speaking truth to power also on the program 3 months ago if you've met someone at the party and they told you they were a data journalist.

You might have moved swiftly on today well.

Not only would you love to talk to anyone you let alone go to a party but data journalist have become the rock stars of the news business a Child by the Financial Times at cleaning the spread of coronavirus is the papers most viewed page of all time.

We've got its creator John burn-murdoch and also Caleb are the data editor of The Guardian

To talk about the rise of data journalism, but first let me introduce you to the rest of our panel Beth Rigby is Sky News political editor not long now until the afternoon press conference at number 10.

When do you find out if you get to ask a question just took us through how it all works for broadcast journalism to print on the print lobby that they arranged amongst themselves and they did it out between different national newspapers and websites I meant for the broadcaster and we get three questions today and Number 10 will decide which organisations have a question so we put a request in every day and sometimes.

I'll names out of the hat and sometimes it isn't they obviously tend to favour or prioritise if you like?

Broadcast to say pick me the BBC and ITV always get a question and then it's the mix of other channels and radio stations to also with us today's Tim Montgomery larger than Britain's best informed observer of the Tory Party who was the founder of influential website conservative home former comment editor of The Times and until the last election was a visit to the government.

Do you watch the press briefing every day? Do you feel that it's kind of compulsory viewing at the beginning.

I think that's like a lot of people out a little bit repetitive at times.

I think it's hard for the government to retreat from holding it now because to do so would look like a retreat from accountability.

I think the tiredness that I think the government and other public have with journalists questions.

I think is produced the sort of questions from the general public and Innovation that I think it's been a mix.

Success no, I'm afraid because of the repetitive nature of the day.

I have tuned out of it and the Jack Blanchard is the editor of politico London PlayBook if you don't subscribe is a must-read newsletter for all Westminster Fanatics in normal times and operator like you.

I know spends a lot of time hanging around I guess in the corridors of Power Rangers bar to get your script.

Is there a working from home equivalent is it all on WhatsApp it's really tricky actually trying to get gossip and that you might find wandering around portcullis house so up and down the corridors of Westminster from your bedroom is much more difficult.

Yes, there's a lot of is a lot of WhatsApp groups.

There's a lot of late night phone calls, but it's not quite the same.

It's I have to it's not quite the same and you'll hear MPs complaining about this well, because I love got up just as much of the journey ok, we'll have more on that.

A few minutes the first let's start by unpicking something which has become a fixture of the pandemic and to some extent is dictating how the media is covering the crisis that daily briefing from Downing Street normally 5 p.m.

On weekdays Up In Arms that turned out because there was a suggestion that the prime minister that afternoon would only take questions from members of the public questions like this one where schools have remained accessible to children of the workers.

Are they now expected to allow children to return where their parents are from Industries that are being actively managed to return to work.


Thanks very much Simon and members of the public like Simon later Downing Street so that was never the plan.

What do you think happened did number 10 initially planned to exclude journalist from The Event and then back time.

People in number 10 saying that that was plan and sure enough the next morning when it was quite like the fact that it wasn't a planet anymore.

We don't know exactly what happened.

I was delighted to see that they managed to find space for us as well as a member of the public the public in a different way than they do journalist.

I don't think that they answer the public in a different way.

I just think sometimes the questions are a bit different but the focus is a bit different.

I would like to say just on this issue about having the public and I think it's a great idea.

There is such demand for questions to be answered from politicians.

We get thousands of emails into from the public asking questions and we innovate ourselves Kay Burley great you and a with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock the other day when he came in and he took.

Questions and any took a few from Pay as well, and it was a really interesting piece of television and I hope it was also really informative for the viewers in terms of the public questions.

They ask great questions the other day.

What are they trying to do that trying to get practical answers to think sometimes are also trying to get practical information.

I remember my colleagues am asking can children use playgrounds autonomy from done at the sun at whether or not you could go and see your girlfriend or boyfriend at the beginning of a really important issues actually that affect us all and also asking different sorts of challenges, when it looks like there might have been policy mistakes or miscommunication that could have an impact on people's lives and we're also trying to elicit new information.

As well maybe some detail about how is the disease spreading.

What can you tell us about the reproduction rate? So they all these different factors go into work.

How are you trying to question and just to go back to Tim and some of these ideas about questions.

I think that sort of really a capsule for people saying that that's a question.

They don't know 60 million more than 6 million people in this country some people won't like the questions.

You asked some people will ask different questions that different types of different types of absolutely think that the public should have a right to ask questions, but the public questions should never knock out the journalist questions to ask the politicians facing questions from the public.

Do you think that they they perhaps answer them in a slightly different way and that perhaps they have to give a concrete answer as opposed to the kind of aunt.

Often give the journalist where they try not to say very much at all.

I think there is more and expectation when a member of the public can ask a question and the member of the public have lost and have immediately resonates with and the wider listening ship and viewership unit may be a story of them being exposed to the cold by us at their work place the word about that.

It might be their feelings about a relative in a care home that sort of gives it a question from the public authenticity and they are there isn't possible for you know you can't be telling their own personal stories at every moment so if a politician ducks that kind of question put to them.

I think it's more dangerous for them politically you touched on this earlier, but I wonder if the government feel that painted itself into a corner a little bit by holding these daily briefings now that we know.

Looks looks set to go on for the foreseeable future I do really have to keep doing these everyday.

I mean if you were advising Boris Johnson know, what would you be saying about this daily briefing have to do it for you? I don't think it is helping many people to gonna say course the government has got to be accountable and avoid contact during a crisis like this, but at the same time.

I think there is a time frame for understanding the crisis that is is the big gap between the public and the public understand that this is a crisis of unprecedented form and in a crisis of unprecedented Foreman and nature.

You're going to have problems getting PPE to front-line staff immediately you're going to have all sorts of logistical problems.

There's there's an understanding there that seems to be absent from a media.

That is very focused on hitting the 6:00 news headlines.

The following days newspaper front page there's an impatience in a media industry that by it's nature is constructed on the 24/7 timeframe and the have a longer more patient frame of mind.

I think it's that rather than that gap rather than any sort of partisan bias in the media.

That has caused some of the tension between the public and and the broadcast and print Media we are all in this story as our members of the public social distancing from our families worried about an elderly relative so set aside from from members of the public.

It's just that we have a slightly different job to do in the odd job is to try and hold the government to account and it's not about being impatient.

About when you see problems bubbling up with PPE or in care homes are being too slow to lock down which was a lot of the public concern actually back in March our job to try and answer or ask those questions up partly because it coming through public policy and then give better outcomes may be shared on social media over the last few weeks.

You may well have seen it already.

It says journalism is missing the mood of the country.

We don't want blame.

We don't want an argument as if it were a general election.

We want tribution to the National effort to get out of this crisis.

We want hope optimism and faith in our country.

We need less negativity touched on it there judging by pick up that that that has had it does seem to have struck a chord does the author have a point I think the thing is I think it was Jack actually.

This morning email should you don't go into journalism to be like this not to be like hard job is to ask difficult questions and sometimes that with some people and some people really dislike it there are over 60 million people in this country some people think you should go hard at some people think you should not we try and do as journalist it just asked the best question at the moment to get the best answer and also to try and affect positive change our policy still doing business as usual it does appear that there are still some one-on-one briefings some leaking some testing of policies has there been a noticeable change when everyone's in different places, but we using the technology as best we can just want to come back and what you were just talking to Beth about that.

You were quoting is written by someone who used to work.

Not exactly and impartial adviser and I'm afraid you can't judge public opinion by how many retweets someone get in that which is part of the whole problem is the people think that by looking at people being angry on Twitter they think they're very active in the mood the country when they put size doing this if you look at actual scientific polling.

There is support for the way that during this are approaching ipsos mori.

Did one at the end of this month which showed that there was a net positive 15% people supporting the wage earner smashing questions of the president and similar numbers for the TV and radio journalist in general people actually like the way that journey to the process if you look at the polling you think that journalists are perhaps out of step with the public mood perhaps suggesting and I don't think we are.

110 journalist to be patriotic in the sense of cheerleading for the government, but I don't think they want them to be unpatriotic either and I think there has been an element in which the journalist seems to be celebrating.

I should have when things go wrong when difficulties are encountered the lack of context and appreciation of what is the scale of the Challenge that the government is facing one of the most important and memorable things I've heard that these daily press conference was the chief of the defence staff talking about the the Challenger getting PPP across the country and say it's the largest most challenging logistical exercise.

He'd ever been involved with tell me what the public so just let me finish the point is that between the public's awareness and appreciation of the unprecedented nature of this.

Amazon of the journalist expectation that things are going to be sold immediately best absolutely no celebration of any of this.

It's a horrible situation and an our job is to try and raise questions and let's take PPE part of the reason that we began asking more questions about PPE was that we would be affected by Frontline NHS staff who would genuinely very very worried about it, and it wasn't just you know it wasn't just individuals it was it was the organisation to doctors and nurses and clinicians.

I know that you've got to go so many thanks for taking the time to speak to you today Beth Rigby Sky News political editor newspapers and TV screens are full of charts and graphs that plot spread of coronavirus curves Peaks trajectories.

It's all the work of data journalist visual journalists.

Adjective is it might be the purest form of journalism does it solve all the issues that we've just been arguing about stats famously, don't lie of course but the Financial Times this proven hugely influential at the moment their team has been making a regular calculation of excess deaths in countries all over the world in fact the Russian deputy prime minister name check yesterday and projected the papers calculation that Russia's true pandemic was Far higher than has been admitted for John Murdoch John burn-murdoch.

Is your data visualisation jealous at the ft? Is it all about context? Is that why we are so drawn to these visual representations of where we are with trying to find some meaning in something that is so unfamiliar to us a huge part of it.

So I think there's multiple things going on 1 one this one.

It was fairly clear what the role these chats would find it was so this was in in the first week of March I think the first version of these graphics was published on on the ft.

And this was really showing at that time was this was back when everyone knew that Italy was undergoing a tragedy, but what we didn't know was whether a country is well.

That was someone in Spain or France or UK we didn't know where we were headed for that same outcome and what the charts really did was and this is what they were specifically designed to do was to show how many days behind Italy if we're on that same path.

Are we in these countries or are we perhaps spending are closed down in the manner of a South Korea so I think in the first instance.

It was really giving people a roadmap giving people think they're actually allowed them to say could Britain be facing similar seems to what we've seen on our news channels over the last 2-weeks in Italy I think since then the utility.

Paint a little bit and and what were all the same now and they speak Swahili to the Debate just been having about the Politics of how this is all perceived what we see now is this desire to hold government to account or at least to know is the government in Britain or in Sweden or New Zealand and dealing with coronavirus better than governments elsewhere now of course book people can answer that question without using data without using charts, but numbers I think doing this case provide a level of objectivity now.

I'd be the last person to say that data journalism is anymore in the objective to any other kind of reporting and writing but what we are able to do and the excess deaths measure that you mention is a great example of this is to really try and say look there's a lot numbers flying around the rod of viewpoints flying around being attached to those numbers what we're trying to do here is go away and go to the statistics websites have all of these different countries.

Pouring over spreadsheets written in English Spanish in Cyrillic and Japanese to try and bring together these data from all around the world and we can then say here is one number one comparable number for all of these countries in the world the Citizens of those countries or international observers or just curious statisticians can look at and and try to make sense of what the hearing and you know people to look at these numbers when they hear the government press conference and do I believe what the government is saying here or not? Ok? Let me bring in kalyan, Bazar kalan.

Can't be said enough of course that behind Every statistic is a personal story and in the case of death rates a tragedy that you look behind the data.

Just took us through how you used to find where the stories are.

Yeah, so at the very early stages of this crisis.

We were really questioning the figures so ever looking not just reporting out the figures that these things but questioning what exactly related to and I think you can have it over time we've come to understand a little bit more about this test what it does and doesn't account for and the figure that we get everyday still doesn't account for all of the deaths related to cover that we know about it any one time from that we started to focus a little bit more.

Who is this actually affecting and so we're very much focused on the human stories, so we've looked a lot at the impact impact on the eame on the most deprived in England and Wales or the death rate is twice that in the most deprived Communities compared to the most affluent.

Really, I think you don't want to get to grips with what's just happened in this first wave of deaths.

I think that that's really what we need to understand who has this impacted the most and how.

I know that you've done a lot of reporting on that at the Guardian what would you say to the criticism but perhaps you are looking at this in a very negative way the country's mood needs to be lightened by some stories some of the good news stories about people who have to recover from coronavirus criticism and that is a question.

We've been asking as well.

Why do we not do stories about the people who recovered you turn the corner in time that is something that we will get to bed.

It's it's just writing to me that these questions about positivity in journalism and patriotism seemed to preclude asking questions of people who are making decisions based on data and my real concern is that you know we've just passed the peak in the first wave of death.

Play at the very beginning because there is so much more to come so you not be on the desk.

There is going to be a huge economic impact of lockdown and job losses that comes next and if we don't use data and if we don't ask the difficult questions of people who are making decisions know that will have repercussions for months and years to come you know I think we would be remiss not to do that.

Thank you.

We would see the repercussions of it as well in public policy has worked.

So you know that the stories are difficult and you know this is dark the Dark Times that we're living through but I don't think that you know neglecting to focusing on the positive the right now is because we're trying to inform public policy in the best way that I can but the data that we have and that's our duty is there.

John what's the next area of data the ft is looking at you said that you've changed your phone as a couple of times and I wonder if for example antibody test became Commonplace would tracking that day.

I certainly am I mean within a wee-wee really look at this as the stories move.

I don't think we're not hit trying to second-guess where the focus will be here, but the topic of testing more generally.

I think it's only going to become more important.

So we all know that the government and its press conferences at the moment is talking about the need to monitor the are number and the the number of new infections in order to monitor when we might be able to further when the government might be able to pay that these restrictions but of course one of the other critical factors is the capacity to test and Trace with we've seen just in the last week or so new clusters of infections emerging in countries like China and even South Korea Who been held up as one of the

Best responses to the virus so far and but what's clear there is that lockdown can only be used and these new clusters can only be spotted early and dealt with when the ability to test hundreds of thousands of people per day regularly.

Not just one occasion me to make the headlines.

Is there so testing I think it's up to you something that will be looking at more at the se of the coming weeks as we try to get a better handle on when different countries or regions within countries have the ability to actually locked in confidence that sorry to ease lockdown in confidence that they'll be able to spot an address any new outbreaks of images a result of the decision to give away all your journalism for free because it's not behind the paywall is it has that ended up actually being a positive positive thing for the ft.

Is that driving more subscribers to you?

So I can't speak about specific subscribers who coming from this page because that's not really the way detracts these things.

We when we get a new subscriber the result of someone read several articles over the period of time rather than one page, but you know I do think we have to took that decision because we felt like we felt like that.

We would also hearing from readers that we have a real public service here and the idea of asking people to pay just to read an article of such public utility across the world.

I think I felt uneasy with as it did not read it and said that was an easy decision that but also you know this is about showing readers that the Financial Times doesn't just cover financially of course we do covered and of course the device is having a huge impact on economy and business worldwide, but yeah, this is really about taking an opportunity to provide people with information.

They were running incredibly valuable but also

Opening a window on the ft to a lot of people who might otherwise not come away and show them the range of work that we do and the range of formats with you to present that such as these visualisations.

It's fascinating stuff.

I'm afraid you're going to have to leave it there because you're out of time my thanks to all our guests today at to Calabar of the Guardian John burn-murdoch of the ft.

Jack Blanchard earlier.

We heard from Beth Rigby of Sky News but I'll be back at the same time next week.

Thanks to our studio engineer today and my heart and thank you for listening.

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