Reporting On The Data: Giannina Segnini Delivered A Speech In HSE

“Don’t tell me there is information you can’t find. We are living in an amazing world where there is so much information and so many tools this information to decode. Your generation is likely to interpret a meaning of journalism.” – Giannina Segnini spoke to HSE students as a part of a new project organized by the Department of Media and by international students from Read Square magazine. She spoke to students about how a good journalist interacts with information and those who are writing and making news overseas.


Have you ever tried to count how many criminal cases against politicians, businessmen and public officials were revealed in Russia, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, and Finland? This daunting task requires the right tools. Giannina Segnini practices Data Journalism and teaches investigative journalism. How to decode all that is hidden within an official government Excel file and analyze it within a successful article?  Giannina spoke about her methods with RS.


- Investigative journalists in Russia are under pressure. Those who were working with revealing facts about bribes, corruption and illegal market were in a real danger. Is Data Journalism a safer tool for journalists do their business- be the forth force and reveal what is hidden?

— It doesn’t have to be more risky. Data journalism is none particularly more risky than any other kind of journalism. I think it is actually better, because it is more transparent. You are not chasing someone, you are not trying to disturb anyone, you are just looking at the facts. Journalists are not protected in the US. You know, if they are working as freelancers, those who go to Syria, they have no insurance. I’m talking about US journalists. There is not much protection. But that’s why you have to take risk into account… Don’t focus on the risk before even doing it. Yes, there is a risk. I don’t know how much of the risk is in Russia, because I don’t know the country. But there is always the risk. It is a part of the package. If you want a safe package, than you can going work for a bank.


- There are so many restrictions for journalists in any country. Journalists have to be very creative to find out what is happening instead of making a story of absolutely nothing.

— I know, there are the restrictions, but don’t focus on the restrictions, focus on the opportunities. You can start learning Python. The other recommendation – read stories! Read good data investigator stories. I am member of the jury for the Global Data Journalism Award, the largest award in the word for data journalists. So, I’ve been reading since we started like four years ago. It is a good experience, because I have to read everything from all over the word on data journalism. And you can actually see how it is improving year by year. Read those stories – that is a good source to start. Try to decode how they were made and try to adapt them into your reality.



- And in terms of educational process, what courses should be implemented in terms of a new MA program Data Journalism?

— Well, definitely, if it is master degree on data journalism, there are like several components, that have to be there. You need to have basic statistics class, course on Python, introduction to competition of journalism, because you need to understand all these concepts… I think you should learn the tools applying these tools to journalism. That’s great when you can scrape your first database, it feels like magic, but it feels even better if you scrape the database and you know you need it for the story. It is a context of journalism. Journalists and programmers – two worlds are coming together. I do everything in Excel. Then in Python. We are using Python notebooks, and they were integrated with libraries, newspapers. And in the end we have a couple of sessions on JavaScript.




- What is easier: to study a journalism or computer scientist to become data journalist?

Those are different things, it depends. I was working with journalists and with programmers. I hired programmers and they appeared to be 24-years super-geek. There was clash of generations first. It was a crazy experiment. Five years after these two programmers are doing an amazing job.  Journalists are succeeding too.