Portrait von Beatrice Figl

Bettina Figl: “Data journalism is ever more important in times of Fake News allegations”

04 October 2018

Data are the raw material of the digital age. Day by day the mountains of data created by many different organisations are growing. This also opens up new possibilities for journalism: ever more editors employ data journalists who are concerned with evaluation of the wealth of data that is available. Journalist Bettina Figl – who has carried out research on data journalism at the Reuters Institute in Oxford – explains what is behind data journalism and why it is so important today.

Bettina Figl




What is data journalism?
Data journalism means that large sets of data are evaluated in connection with a particular question and that the data are used as a central item within an article or story. The presentation of the data can take many different forms: as interactive graphics, a story in the traditional sense, or as a musical composition. Of course certain stories and themes are more suitable for data-based research and/or data-based handling than others, but I can’t think of any area from which data journalism per se would be excluded.

Journalists always have to work with data and facts. What is different in the digital age?
Today much more data is available than ever before, and we can process them and present them in a visual form much more easily using suitable tools.

Please give some examples of successful data journalism.
One of my absolute favourites is a musical composition which translates the election poll fall in popularity of the SPD into sound: “The sound of the deep decline of the SPD”.

The diversity of Berlin, illustrated by the stops on the M29 bus – which I often use as a lover of the Neukölln district: “M29 – Berlin’s most varied bus route”.

Above all I recommend everyone who is interested in data journalism to follow what the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper is doing in the area.

The story from Buzzfeed on the subject of collusion and fraud in the world of professional tennis entitled “The Tennis Racket”.

Or the database showing which doctors receive money from the pharmaceutical industry and which do not, called “Find your doctor”. Fortunately I was not able to find mine... thank goodness. 

"Data give us facts, and this is ever more important in times of Fake News."

Bettina Figl, Journalist

Why is data journalism so important today?
Data give us facts, and this is ever more important in times of Fake News. As far as possible, journalists should reveal their data sources.

So do all journalists have to learn coding?
No, but they should understand the possibilities offered by coding and scraping – in other words extraction of data from websites and documents – so they can work better with coders. However, knowing how to code is certainly no bad thing when it comes to looking for a job. ;)

What digital product has still to be invented?
I am still dreaming of a good and error-free speech recognition tool so I never have to type out interviews again (Feel free to send me your tips! <3).

What can you do without?
I find Alexa spooky.

Would you like to have a household robot?
Have Alexa clean my house? No thanks.

What technical application will always remain a mystery, even to you?
I could never get used to Snapchat.

When was the last time you were offline for 24 hours?
During a 2-day hiking trip in the summer.

Holiday without WLAN: Dream or nightmare?
Dream, but still you have to force me to accept it. Works best if there is really no Internet at all for miles and miles. A few years ago, Cuba was still more or less offline; I could really do it there! But it can be a nightmare – like at 3 o’clock in the morning in Nairobi, where the newly-qualified taxi driver was just as offline as I was and we both had no sense of direction ...

In the #explore series of profiles, exciting and inspiring men and women from the digital scene regularly have a chance to have their say: researchers, bloggers, start-up initiators, entrepreneurs, hackers, visionaries.