Sensor journalism is a way of reporting and gathering data that is becoming more popular today. According to Lily Bui’s presentation, sensor journalism is the collecting of data from sensors and then using it in your story. The reporting process can be based off of three types of data: top down, down up, and hybrid. Top down is data that comes from an authority, like weather stations, and then is used for stories. Top down is a process that we have used in class by finding data from the City of Boston website, and then creating visuals and conclusions from what the information shows. Top up, however, is when an individual outside of a large institution collects data for their own reporting purposes. A hybrid, on the other hand, is a combination of the two. Bui used the example of Weather Underground, which is a website that allows people to post data in order to validate the data that the website has itself. According to the Tow Center article “Sensors and Journalism,” “reporters are using sensors in an era when the rapid development of technology is moving data into the mainstream of journalism.” I believe that this is true, and that technology has definitely provided journalists with opportunities that we never had before. With sensor journalism, we are able to use technology in order to make our own hypotheses and conclusions, and then can also create stories for the general public.
This brings more opportunity for journalists, as we are able to find any data that is not immediately available to us.
For example, when we did the conductivity workshop, I brought in a sample of water from the Bobbi Brown Gym water fountain. As an athlete, I knew that the water that comes out of the fountain is originally cloudy. The question at hand was whether the cloudiness came from air, or from contaminants. Of course, this information is not available to me online. This is where an opportunity from sensor journalism presents itself. Because we were able to build these censors, I discovered that the water was safe to drink. Without conducting that experiment, we would not have known. Although, in this case, the usage of sensor journalism did not turn into a story that I could potentially report on, it also helped to prevent a false accusation. In other words, the found data allowed me to make my own conclusion without having to interview Emerson and the athletics department about the fountain.
Patrick Herron’s presentation was also an example of how new technology, like sensor journalism, is moving data into the mainstream. Herron’s presentation on the Mystic River is proof that sensor journalism can help us to both detect problems, and fix them. Although he was more on the technological and scientific side of sensor journalism, finding out that the Mystic River has contaminants in it could be a large story for a journalist with that data. Without the sensors that Herron used, we would not have known the extent of how polluted the water was, and what needed to be done to fix it. Sensor journalism, in turn, is a further way in which journalists can communicate larger problems to the general public.
Because this way of reporting gathers more data and background research than ever before, sensor journalism also promises truthful and to-the-point storytelling. Rather than counting on websites and sources for background research, we, as journalists, can count on our own gathered data and then help that to distinguish the important aspects that we need to ask during our interviews. The pros of this, of course, is that we can receive data quickly, and also understand it better because we are the ones conducting the experiment. The downside, however, is that in order to get the data correctly, we need to know how to build and use the technology.
In order to get journalists to tell stories with sensors, they have to be able to use the sensors first. Classes like Data Vis is something that will help to build that factor for the future, however, also needs to be taught to current journalists in the field. Sensor journalism is such a great way to take advantage of the information that we can gather around us, to add to our stories and make them more impactful. Without the correct teaching, however, it could turn into a journalist’s inability to tell stories: an inability to gather data, and then also an inability to decipher it correctly. I believe that sensor journalism could have a huge impact on the future of reporters, but to say whether it could be positive or negative depends on how current and future journalists will be taught.