Google data editor to news media companies: understand, plan, engage

What are some ways to harness the power of Big Data? 

Understanding sentiment about news topics, spotting stories before they go viral, and developing better business acumen are three tools that some media giants use to leverage data for success. 

This requires an understanding of data journalism: taking apart the Big data that’s all around and making it small and manageable and easy to understand, because, according to Google Data Editor Simon Rogers, “numbers without context are just numbers.”

But the good news is that anyone can do this. According to Rogers, a key first step is finding out what people are interested in. “Journalists aren’t always experts.” Seeing what’s bubbling to the fore of conversations – looking at those Twitter hashtags, say – is a great way to gather data.

So, you’ve got your data. But just having a bunch of it isn’t really helpful. If you want to tap into the payoffs of data, then think about where you’re headed, what you want to show – for instance, changes in public attitudes or burgeoning public trends. Were the 2011 London riots concentrated in certain parts of the city? (They were.) What part of the world was particularly keen to snap up the midnight release of Beyoncé’s 2012 album? (America, predictably.)

And last, how can you tell this information in an engaging way? Interactive maps are an option, suggests Rogers. With a healthy dose of consumer-centered thinking, maps can be as informative as they are appealing to the eye. And they don’t require the aptitude of a software engineer.

Rogers doesn’t pretend to have the gifts of a data scientist or a statistician, but he can still conjure up a user-friendly map of all of the subway stops in London in about 45 minutes.

In short, trend-spotting stories that are resonating with the public and then disseminating them in an easily digestible way are part and parcel of using big data successfully. And luckily, “none of this is new,” says Rogers.

Taking in data has always been the modus operandi of journalists, and making people hungry to consume it has always been their end-goal. The only twist now is not to let the media’s digital shift obscure business sense in the quest toward big data success.

About Brandon Tensley

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