Full disclosure: The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, which houses the Reporters’ Lab, is a sponsor of the Computation + Journalism Symposium.
A month before hundreds of tech-savvy journalists gather in Louisville, Ky., for the 2013 Computer Assisted Reporting Conference, a different melding of the minds more than 300 miles away will focus on the role information and computer science will play in data journalism’s future.
The 2013 Computation + Journalism Symposium, scheduled Jan. 31 through Feb. 1 at Georgia Tech, is open to those in both fields interested in tackling topics from data visualization to text analysis.
Five years after the first such symposium, program coordinator Nick Diakopoulos said the anniversary is an opportunity to move the conversation forward and examine how things have changed.
“The idea was that we wanted to have something of a retrospective,” Diakopoulos said. “Five years is a good time to look back and see what’s been done.”
A lot has happened in a half-decade. Northwestern graduated its first cohort of engineering/journalism students (among them, NPR hacker journalist Brian Boyer). Stanford and Columbia partnered to establish the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, which will combine the strengths of their engineering (Stanford) and journalism (Columbia) programs.
The trend is even international, as Diakopoulos points out. At the University of Bergen in Norway, where he’s done some consulting work, a Ph.D. researcher is examining the intersection of computation and journalism.
There are plenty of other examples, but they all present similar opportunities to inject new ideas across disciplines with the goal of creating better journalism.
“Historically in academia, you have these silos where each department is its own entity and there are no incentives to go out and talk to people in other departments,” Diakopoulos said. “That is changing. But the general consensus is that the more cross-pollination there is, the more possibilities there are for folks to see something that works in another field and apply it to their own field.”
That sort of collaboration — fostered by bringing more traditionally academic computer scientists and working journalists into the same room — is key not only to the production of new journalism tools, but to figuring out how to fit those tools into a newsroom’s workflow.
“One of the things I want to try to promote is thinking about how work gets done [in the newsroom] and how that is reflected in the tools,” Diakopoulos said.
Confirmed speakers already include journalism academics like Columbia’s Emily Bell and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Phil Meyer, alongside working journalists like Wired’s Clive Thompson and Reuters’ Maurice Tamman. There’s also an open call for demos from journalist and technologist alike following the first day’s sessions.
And in addition to a roster of information/computer scientists from IBM, Tableau Software and Stanford, Diakopoulos is hoping to attract attendees from a range of subdisciplines “already predisposed to being interested in people” (those who study human-computer interaction, for example).
“These kind of computer scientists are already thinking about how people are using technology,” Diakopoulos said.
The end result is a symposium that tackles a range of issues from the frames of both computing and journalism.
“We’re interested in both sides. I don’t think it would be helpful to come in and say, ‘Technology is the solution to everything,’” Diakopoulos said. “I think it’s important to think about knowledge transfer in both directions and to be critical about whether technology is really helpful.”