Does anyone know anything about ‘Big Data’? No, don’t jump, I know, everyone knows something. Sure, Big Data has become a BUZZ-word and it is hard to admit that you heard something about it but you don’t really know what it is. And now, to another question with an obvious answer: what is Journalism? Yeh, yeh, I know, this is already an insulting question. Everyone reads a newspaper, watches TV news, and even reads some news online. Sure, everyone knows what Journalism is. So, here is a third question, a really tough one: how does Journalism relate to Big Data? Ok, now I caught you. You know nothing, but don’t be embarrassed, you are in good company; most of us have never heard about this connection, and it does not really bother us.
Yet, there is at least one guy who knows a lot on the topic. This is Professor Seth C. Lewis from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota. Professor Lewis, who visited the Media and Information Department last Thursday, had several personal meetings with faculty, a nice lunch (so I heard), and gave a very interesting talk at the PhD Students Seminar. The title of his presentation was: “Boundaries of Journalism in a Moment of (Big) Data”.
So, Big Data is not just about the volume of Data that the new technologies generate, and it is not just about the new technological tools that enable us to mine these Data. Professor Lewis emphasized in different ways throughout his talk that Big Data has social and cultural meanings as well. And as to Journalism, Big Data opens up the boundaries of this old occupation, expands its space, threatens its professionals, brings in new types of actors or participants, and challenges its values and ethics. One of the interesting parts of Seth Lewis’s talk was the comparison between journalists and hackers: the first are often characterized as data finders while the latter as data miners. And finally, at least the question I take home from this lecture is: how do we keep the community beyond journalism informed about these developments?