As everyone from businesses to governments to individuals go digital, the amount of raw data being recorded and stored is growing at a dizzying rate. Often this data contains useful information that it is in the public interest to analyse, but it exists in a format that very few people can understand. The solution to the problem? Find experts who can convert large amounts of data into easily accessible stories. In other words, find data journalists.
These are some of the ideas fuelling Danish daily Dagbladet Information's new initiative, Nordisk Nyhedshacker 2012 ("Nordic News Hacker 2012"). The project, run in collaboration with The Guardian, Google and Syddansk Universitet's Center for Journalism, invites journalists or data experts to create a piece of data journalism - which could be anything from a data mash-up to a new mobile app - and submit it to a panel of judges. The creator of the winning entry will be given a $20,000 scholarship by Google and will be invited to work with the Guardian Data Blog in London for one month. The Center for Journalism contributes by advertising the competition and incorporating elements of data journalism into its curriculum.
Nikolai Thyssen, editor of Dagbladet Information, says that the point of the project is both to recognise achievements that have already been made in data journalism, but also to "find some talent out there".
"One of the challenges for the news industry is to get talented people interested to work with news," says Thyssen. For now, his expectations for the initiative are fairly modest: "if we have say, let's say... 20 or 30 people coming up with great ideas and great projects I would be thrilled. This is just the beginning. And this... opens up some lines of communication going outside our own little world."
The initiative is partly inspired by some of the data journalism based on the vast stores of information released by WikiLeaks. Thyssen describes WikiLeaks as a "breakthrough for us within the newspaper in the sense that developers and journalists who had never spoken together before all of a sudden had a great cause to work together."
What's more, for Thyssen, WikiLeaks showed that data journalism was "not just something that was journalistic hobby project. It was something that was on the front page of the newspapers."
Nordic News Hacker hopes to spread this kind of attitude. It includes a closed master class on data journalism for about 50 people interested in data journalism - including both journalists and developers. Details of the class are still being finalised, but the paper is hoping that the class with be a chance to find some talent among people who don't already think of themselves as journalists.
This is not the first time that Dagbladet Information has reached out to people outside the normal sphere of journalism. Last September it organised a "crowd-sourced think tank" to provide Denmark's new prime minister with ideas after her first 100 days in office. It's also not the first time that the paper has shown interest in digital journalism. In 2010 it set up a data blog - "the first of its kind in Denmark" - inspired by the Guardian.
The Guardian's data blog is a major source of inspiration for Thyssen, who says that it has demonstrated that "all kinds of stories can be told with data". He states that the Guardian doesn't only create data visualisations on subjects like large financial data - subjects that are typically used by other news organisations' data teams. Instead the paper also creates data visualistaions of stories that would usually belong to the newspaper features section, such as a data story from last December about divorce rates in England and Wales. "That's why I reached out to the Guardian," says Thyssen and "the Guardian was happy to be the prize."
Likewise, Thyssen says that Google "wanted a chance to show their interest in innovating journalism". He is also positive about the possibilities for expansion in journalism education: "Hopefully we'll do this again next year and partner up with even more journalistic schools," he says.
Thyssen is not alone in trying to support data journalism. Knight Foundation and Mozilla created a partnership a year ago to create a "bridge between the technology and the news community" and fund technological expertise in the newsroom. Recently the project expanded to offer data journalism workshops and resources for data journalists online. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism also recently organised a "two-day hackathon".
As the movement grows, Thyssen is ambitious when it comes to the future of data journalism as a whole: "the best thing that could happen would be that it becomes an integrated part of the way that we do journalism," he says, "so instead of it being "Hey look at us! Look at us! We're doing data journalism!" it's part of the way that we work".