Algorithms are revolutionizing data journalism, providing an unparalleled tool for power control. This way, they bring us closer to rebuilding lost trust with citizens. By journalist and Assistant Professor Valia Kaimaki*
In addition to the captivating visual presentation of the analyzed pre-election political discourse, this work raises important considerations for democracy and the field of journalism. Algorithms are revolutionizing data journalism, providing an unparalleled tool for power control. But how can data be effectively utilized in reporting? And how can the nature of (political) reporting itself be transformed?
Traditionally, journalists relied various sources, such as their memory, archives, arguments put forward by the opposition, their own political judgment, and, in more recent times, the incorporation of statistical methods. These methods have already begun to reshape the way power is understood and controlled. In fact, processed numerical data have emerged as a valuable asset in reporting, particularly when dealing with economic topics.
The utilization of algorithms in reporting presents a valuable chance for journalism to restore the trust of citizens—a trust that was eroded, among other reasons, when it relinquished its fundamental role: exerting scrutiny over all manifestations of power.
In the present day, new horizons are opening up. Let’s examine, for instance, the realm of sentiment analysis in the context of pre-election speeches. One of the immediate advantages is the ability to scrutinize consistency: when the emotional tone fluctuates from speech to speech or varies among different audiences, it raises legitimate doubts about the reliability of a politician. Similarly, the measurable assessment of populism or polarization can significantly enrich both political analysis and reporting – the same applies to mentions of specific topics, social groups, and more. The array of tools available, coupled with the imaginative thinking they occasionally necessitate, is genuinely remarkable: Consider, for instance, the “radial dendrogram” technique, which captures the frequency of named references made by each political leader. When the frequency of occurrence of a particular term reaches at least 7 in the total number of speeches by the political leaders, it becomes evident that during the first election period, Kyriakos Mitsotakis made references to nine social groups, while Alexis Tsipras to 19!
Most importantly, in the realm of media, the ability to promote certain agendas has been curtailed, as control now extends to them. As for the social sciences and humanities –which encompass journalism, its study and practice– they have now attained the status of “hard sciences”. Gone are the estimations, sophistries, and incestuous relations between media and power, as reality and facts (I am not using the term “truth” to avoid veering into other discussions) have become measurable, often predictable, and certainly accessible to all.
Data journalism, which incorporates the utilization of algorithms in reporting, presents a valuable chance for journalism to restore the trust of citizens—a trust that was eroded, among other reasons, when it relinquished its fundamental role: exerting scrutiny over all manifestations of power. However, this endeavor necessitates resources, both material and human, that are currently lacking. It demands time, which is in short supply. Above all, it necessitates a paradigm shift in the way the media operate, a change that the media themselves will resist. The path ahead may be arduous, but there is no other alternative.
*Valia Kaimaki is a journalist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Digital Media and Communication at Ionian University.
Translation: Anatoli Stavroulopoulou
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