Simon Rogers is the editor of the Guardian’s Datablog and Datastore and the recent recipient of the Royal Statistical Society award for journalistic excellence in its online category. The Datastore aims to present raw data in an understandable format and covers topics as diverse as politics, economics, education and Doctor Who.
Simon joined the Guardian in 1998 as Guardian Unlimited’s news editor. He has since worked as news editor and news editor working with graphics which eventually led to his current role.
When he started the Datastore, Simon thought his audience would be niche – developers and hackers – but it tends to be very mainstream, people who are interested in a specific subject and want to see the story behind it. He said, ‘People don’t trust journalists or what they say. This allows people to see behind the story which gives it resonance and impact if people can see it as true.
‘We encourage people to use our data and share it, something not many other people do. We make it all downloadable so anybody can have it and that’s a big part of the Datastore and Datablog. Because anybody can do this stuff we want to encourage as many people as possible so we can show their stuff on the site too; people have an engagement with that and an engagement with the site because of it.’
Data journalism is a ‘pure’ form of journalism, defined by Simon as: ‘Very traditional reporting – reporting is where you’re finding facts and that is what we’re doing day to day. There is no kind of varnishing: it’s what happened.’
While Simon feels there is little ‘room for commenting’ in his reportage, he said helping people understand what a story’s about is what is important, so analysis is used to guide readers round the data and numbers.
A big part of the Datastore’s mission is making data available though the ease with which this is achieved varies wildly; Simon explained: ‘Some of it is easy, some of it is a pain in the bum. Even with government data we have all sorts of problems getting information: it’s a constant bugbear for us and takes a lot of FOI requests and a lot of nagging, which actually works quite well.’
The Datastore is, of course, not the only source for data journalism and Simon considers everyone to be ‘kind of doing data journalism now’. Beyond traditional competitors like the Telegraph, Simon identifies independent groups such as ProPublica in America who are, ‘[A] little group who really punch above their weight by doing really brilliant investigations and smart apps’.
Simon talks about competition as an exciting part of his job and added: ‘It’s a collegiate area, people link to each other and discuss things with each other in ways they wouldn’t in other forms of journalism’.
Digital media is vital for the work of the Datastore. Free online tools can be used to report instantly in ways that tools for print cannot. Digital lends itself to Simon’s content with people’s use of Twitter becoming an important part of the Datastore.