04 Sep 2021

Data give structure to news stories: Rukmini S

RTI is the best way to get data in India, says independent data journalist.

Data serve as concrete material for any news story, said Rukmini S, an independent data journalist, while speaking about the importance of data journalism. Data bring structure to the old ‘‘he said-she said’’ form of stories.

Addressing IIJNM students on Saturday, September 4, she said one need not be a mathematician to become a data journalist.

“A data journalist is, first and foremost, a journalist. Any journalist who can think and has a commitment to logic can be a data journalist. One needs to have an ability to look at numbers in a calm and rational way and make sense of what they are saying,” she added.

Data journalism has gained popularity in recent years because of the reader’s desire to cut through the rhetoric and narrative form of journalism. Today, most newsrooms have a data journalist or at least a fact-checking person. This push for evidence in news stories came about 10 years ago, she said.

Rukmini stressed on the fact that a news story should be based on evidence; an evidence-based story is not a separate form of journalism.

RTI, an indispensable tool for any journalist, is the best way to get data in India. Data are an unbeatable way to advance a story.

However, there is no proof that data journalism is without biases. “You can lie with words, and you can lie with data,” Rukmini said.

“Data can also be subjective and out of context. The aim should be fairness instead of impartiality and a complete absence of bias, as that would be a utopian situation.”

To be a data journalist, one needs to have experience in ground journalism, said Rukmini, who covered colleges, courts and police stations early in her career. Only when a journalist has done shoe-leather journalism can he/she incorporate numbers in stories.

A former data editor of The Hindu, Rukmini has written an upcoming book titled ‘Whole Numbers & Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India’. She is a columnist for Mint and IndiaSpend, and hosts a pandemic podcast called ‘The Moving Curve’.

By Saumyangi Yadav

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