Where Do Stories Come From? Examining the Exploration Process in Investigative Data Journalism

Dilruba Showkat and Eric P. S. Baumer. 2021. Where Do Stories Come From? Examining the Exploration Process in Investigative Data Journalism. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 5, CSCW2: 390:1-390:31.


Investigative data journalists work with a variety of data sources to tell a story. Though prior work has indicated that there is a close relationship between journalists’ data work practices and that of data scientists. However, these relationships and data work practices are not empirically examined, and understanding them is crucial to inform the design of tools that are used by different groups of people including data scientists and data journalists. Thus, to bridge this gap, we studied investigative reporters’ data work practices with one non-profit investigative newsroom. Our study design includes two activities: 1) semi-structured interviews with journalists, and 2) a sketching activity allowing journalists to depict examples of their work practices. By analyzing these data and synthesizing them across related prior work, we propose the major phases in the data-driven investigative journalism story idea generation process. Our study findings show that the journalists employ a collection of multiple, iterative, cyclic processes to identify journalistically “interesting” story ideas. These processes both significantly resemble and show subtle nuanced differences with data science work practices identified in prior research. We further verified our proposal through a member check with key informants. This work offers three primary contributions. First, it provides a close glimpse into the main phases of investigative journalists’ data-driven story idea generation technique. Second, it complements prior work studying formal data science practices by examining data-driven investigative journalists, whose primary expertise lies outside computing. Third, it identifies particular points in the data exploration processes that would benefit from design interventions and suggests future research directions.


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