Journalism paired with data is required for media survival

By Sergio Sicheri

El Comercio Group

Lima, Perú

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We all know the current situation in Venezuela. This is a country with the largest oil reserves in the world but that, due to poor handling of the sector exacerbated by various political issues, has eliminated the best oil production brand in the country from memory since the 1970s. At one time, the company reached a production of 3.8 million barrels, and today it does not produce even half a million, according to a journalistic note published in August of this year by the Deutsche Welle news agency.

There is a lot of information about the productive decline of this South American country. It is a situation that calls into question a phrase that in recent years has gained much fame in various exhibitions and webinars around the world: “Data is the oil of the 21st century.” The paradigm of what happened to Venezuela shows that the data is not oil, as indicated by Juan Manuel López Zafra and Ricardo A. Queralt Sánchez de las Matas in their renowned book Alchemy.

Media companies can collect data, but it is only valuable if it is put to use. Photo courtesy of Kyle Loftus from Pexels | Jean-Francois Fogel, Bruno Patiño, Press Without Gutenberg, Grasset.
Media companies can collect data, but it is only valuable if it is put to use. Photo courtesy of Kyle Loftus from Pexels | Jean-Francois Fogel, Bruno Patiño, Press Without Gutenberg, Grasset.

I agree with the thinking of both. It is true: You can enjoy a lot of oil and not have wealth. The same happens with data. You can have it in industrial quantities. But without proper handling and analysis, it brings to mind this famous Peruvian phrase: “Perú is a beggar sitting on a gold bank.”

At the same time, there is talk in different forums about “the death of journalism.” This is not new. The issue acquired a lot of force back in 2007, when Jean-Francois Fogel and Bruno Patiño wrote Press Without Gutenberg. They emphasised that the Internet meant the end of journalism as we understand it today.

I believe good journalism today is more alive than ever. It is true that different media are going through economic problems that arise from not understanding how to adapt to the changes that constantly challenge us as journalists and the accelerated advances of technology. Added to this, this pandemic has also hit various companies and not only the media. But to continue surviving over time, the neat handling and reading of data will be the key for those of us who are linked to the communication business.

In university, our professors said when we finished our studies, we would work in positions that did not exist in the market at that time. That was true. And today I realise every two years, new positions and fields appear to address the constant changes imposed on us by advances in technology.

Futurologist Mike Walsh in his book The Algorithmic Leader talks about a new profile that has become key in most organisations. He manifests something that seems fundamental to me: “Part of being an algorithmic leader means being able to take a step back when executing a task, activity, or mission entrusted and ask yourself: Is this the smartest way to do this?”

It is very true. We live infested with KPIs and dashboards. But in most cases, before we pursue the results, we must ask ourselves if the way we are doing it is correct. We must be skilled at trying, erring, correcting, and continuing to test. Data and data analysis force us to be fast, create, decipher, and think outside the box.

The media do not have time to adapt to new technologies. That is why it is important in this forced adaptation of the newsroom that they stay or look for profiles of journalists who not only question everything, but also use data through the tools that are at their disposal to measure and adjust in their day-to-day lives.

Again, journalism has not died. However, the new ways of exercising it demand journalists continue to immerse ourselves in data to adapt to the new roles the production of information requires.

It is said that content is king, but content distribution is almost as important as the story itself. And distribution is the queen! Each link that makes up the chain has to go through this trial-and-error process that must be constantly measured to ask ourselves if we are taking the right path.

Lets see how the companies that stand out today and are constantly converting have been using the good development and work of data. We have Google, Amazon, Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, and Netflix, among others. The media still has a lot to learn and accelerate. But as Richard Branson says in his book The Virgin Way: “You cant train your attitude; you have to hire it.”

The media today have to count on journalists with analytical thinking. Those that can beat an old algorithm or one that is constantly changing lead the game.

About Sergio Sicheri

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