A Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow? Can Data Generate Revenue?

To make money out of costly data journalism, business and editorial departments have to start closer collaboration. That is a suggestion presented in a panel discussion called ‘A Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow? Can Data Generate Revenue?’ at the 2015 International Journalism Festival in Perugia.

Gregor Aisch, graphics editor at The New York Times; Sharon Moshavi, vice president of new initiatives at International Center for Journalists; Raju Narisetti, senior vice president at News Corp; and Mirko Lorenz, project manager at Datawrapper, discussed the current business models and how they can be improved.

Mr Aisch explained that The New York Times is making first attempts to bridge the business and editorial sections. Nevertheless, the disconnect is still prevalent. “We spend the money and the business side makes the money,” he said.

According to Mr Narisetti, a close cooperation between these departments is absolutely crucial. “Include the business side at the beginning, don’t search for the audience when the product is done,” he suggested.

Mr Lorenz pointed out that the new models should be built on the trust of the audience rather than on its attention. He pointed out that journalists’ accountability will be essential especially when producing opinion pieces. “Who will be able to give recommendations for life? I would love to see journalists being on the side of the user,” he said referring to The Wirecutter, a product review platform.

Ms Moshavi said that there are two key elements that enhance the success of data journalism projects: demand for the particular data and its scarce availability.

The speakers suggested that the successful models should be replicable to keep the costs down. Mr Aisch added that this feature is also important to be able to deliver timely reporting: “We definitely build things that are replicable. We have an internal toolset to cover breaking news.” He said that the graphics have to be built efficiently enough to allow publishing within minutes.

The New York Times dedicate manpower to both trending topics such as the World Cup and less popular issues such as the Detroit bankruptcy. The newspaper tries to find various channels to promote the content, especially through social media. “We don’t just expect people to find it on our homepage. Now, we’re trying to find audiences in different places,” Mr Aisch said.

In contrast, Ms Moshavi presented viable projects that have tiny budgets: The Health Star, a Kenyan platform about health sector data, Medicines Price Registry, a database ran by Code for South Africa, or Chequeado, a fact-checking project based in Buenos Aires.

Another problem mentioned by the panellists was the short life of data journalism outcomes. “Data products deteriorate very quickly as soon as you put them out there,” Mr Narisetti said. He also argued that the media should not turn a blind eye to the unfavourable statistics that show that ambitious content does not resonate adequately with the audience.

He believes that the newsrooms should provide tools to increase the engagement: “What’s wrong with saying I want more people reading what I produce. That doesn’t go against any notions of what journalism is or isn’t.”

Helena Kardova