Using ObservableHQ notebooks for gathering and transforming data in digital research

We’ve recently been experimenting with the use of ObservableHQ notebooks for gathering and transforming data in the context of digital research. This post walks through a few recent examples of notebooks from recent Public Data Lab projects.

In one project we wanted to use the CrowdTangle “Links” API to fetch data about how certain web pages were shared online and across different platforms. After gaining access to relevant end points, we could adopt different means to call the APIs and retrieve data: such as using something like Postman (a general-purpose interface to call endpoints), or writing custom scripts (for example in Python or Javascript).

Code notebooks are a third option that lies somewhere in between these options. Designed for programmers, notebooks allow for iterative manipulation and experimentation with code whilst keeping track of creative processes by commenting on the thinking behind each step.

Notebooks allow us to both write and run custom scripts as well as creating simple interfaces for those who may not code. Thus we can use them to help researchers, students and external collaborators to collect data, making it easier to call APIs, setting parameters, or perform manipulations.

ObservableHQ is one solution for writing programming notebooks, it runs in the browser and is oriented towards data and visualisations (“We believe thinking with data is an essential skill for the future”). Hence, we thought it could be a good starting point for what we wanted to do.

Screen capture of a notebook
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Investigating infodemic – researchers, students and journalists work together to explore the online circulation of COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracies

Over the past year researchers and students at institutions associated with the Public Data Lab have contributed to a series of collaborative digital investigations into the online circulation of COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracies.

Researchers and students contributed to a series of “engaged research led teaching” projects developed with journalists, media organisations and non-governmental organisations around the world.

These were undertaken in association with the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project Infodemic: Combatting COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories, which explores how digital methods grounded in social and cultural research may facilitate understanding of WHO has described as an “infodemic” of misleading, fabricated, conspiratorial and other problematic material related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These projects led to and contributed to a number of stories, investigations and publications including:

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New edition of Data Journalism Handbook now open access with Amsterdam University Press

This blog is cross-posted from lilianabounegru.org. Further details can be found in this thread.

Today The Data Journalism Handbook: Towards a Critical Data Practice (which I co-edited with Jonathan Gray) is published on Amsterdam University Press. It is published as part of a new book series on Digital Studies which is also being launched today. You can find the book here, including an open access version: http://bit.ly/data-journalism-handbook-2

The book provides a wide-ranging collection of perspectives on how data journalism is done around the world. It is published a decade after the first edition (available in 14 languages) began life as a collaborative draft at the Mozilla Festival 2011 in London.

Book sprint at MozFest 2011 for first edition of Data Journalism Handbook.

The new edition, with 54 chapters from 74 leading researchers and practitioners of data journalism, gives a “behind the scenes” look at the social lives of datasets, data infrastructures, and data stories in newsrooms, media organizations, startups, civil society organizations and beyond.

The book includes chapters by leading researchers around the world and from practitioners at organisations including Al Jazeera, BBC, BuzzFeed News, Der Spiegel, eldiario.es, The Engine Room, Global Witness, Google News Lab, Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), La Nacion, NOS, OjoPúblico, Rappler, United Nations Development Programme and the Washington Post.

An online preview of various chapters from book was launched in collaboration with the European Journalism Centre and the Google News Initiative and can be found here.

The book draws on over a decade of professional and academic experience engaging with the field of data journalism, including through my role as Data Journalism Programme Lead at the European Journalism Centre; my research on data journalism with the Digital Methods Initiative; my PhD research on “news devices” at the universities of Groningen and Ghent; and my research, teaching and collaborations around data journalism at the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London.

Further background about the book can be found in our introduction. Following is the full table of contents and some quotes about the book. We’ll be organising various activities around the book in coming months, which you can follow with the #ddjbook hashtag on Twitter.

If you adopt the book for a class we’d love to hear from you so we can keep track of how it is being used (and also update this list of data journalism courses and programmes around the world) and to inform future activities in this area. Hope you enjoy it!

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