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‘Snowball editorial’: the journey that brought you the Data Journalism Handbook 2


‘Snowball editorial’: the journey that brought you the Data Journalism Handbook 2

Picture of Letizia Gambini
Letizia Gambini — Project Manager
December 17, 2018

Editors Jonathan Gray and Liliana Bounegru share their insights

Recently we published the first 21 chapters of the new Data Journalism Handbook. The Data Journalism Handbook 2: Towards a Critical Data Practice explores working with, assembling, experiencing and investigating data, platforms and algorithms, as well as organising data journalism in the newsroom. It features projects from a community of hundreds of newsrooms and data journalists. And it also reflects the global nature of data journalism today.

The book is the result of months of hard work, coordinating authors from all over the world, coming from the fields of academia, journalism, design, civic tech, civil society and beyond.

To give you some insights into the process of creating a book of such scope, we interviewed the editors Jonathan Gray and Liliana Bounegru, researchers who co-founded the Public Data Lab. With 21 chapters published in beta and around 50 more to come in the full version, we asked them to share how they edited the book and what they learned in the process.

First of all, despite being called a “handbook”, it seems that this edition is more than just a “hands-on” material. Can you tell us more about how this book is different from other data journalism resources out there?

Indeed, the new edition of the book takes a step back from a more “hands-on” material and provides space to reflect on different aspects of contemporary data journalism practice.

We have felt the need for such a book when teaching data journalism — and in particular to complement more practical materials. This provides a richer context for introducing data journalists’ particular blend of methods and approaches for working with data. It examines not just the “how” but also the “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” and “for whom”.

In editing such a book, you have to make choices. How did you go about selecting the contributions? Which criteria did you use?

We’re not going to lie: this was a really difficult process as there is such an abundance of interesting projects, practices and perspectives that we wanted to include. Thus we felt compelled to do as much homework as we could.

We spent time with as much material as we could — including trawling through all past entries to the Data Journalism Awards for the past several years; looking through as many outlets and portfolios as we could find; looking at links from the #ddj hashtag on Twitter; asking everyone we had contact with for suggestions for themes, contributors and projects. As we went, we accumulated reams of field notes on what the Handbook should attend to.

In social research, there is this idea of the “snowball interview” where you ask interviewees for suggestions for others to interview. In a way, our process could be described as a kind of curated “snowball editorial”, in that we tried to absorb all of the leads we could, and find all of the paths we could, before sending invites.

We also approached the book in several waves, where we waited for material to come in before considering what else we needed based on our evolving (and personal) map of the field. Throughout the process, our mantra to ourselves was to consider how we were giving voice to a blend of perspectives, geographies, themes and genders.

Whom did you have in mind as the readers of this book?

We started by mapping out who was using the previous book as a starting point.

I think we ended up with eight main kinds of readers, but the three main ones appeared to be:

  • data journalism students on programmes around the world (where it is adopted as a key reference point)
  • practitioners looking for ideas or perspectives on data journalism (including but not limited to journalists)
  • researchers from a variety of backgrounds interested in making sense of the field.

We were also influenced by our own students, teaching activities and guest lectures to classes in Amsterdam, Berkeley, Copenhagen, London, New York, Paris, Utrecht and beyond. Graduate students of the data journalism programme at King’s College London played a role as imagined readers of the new edition with its focus on “critical data practice”, as this is an approach which was piloted on that course.

How did you ensure diversity in the book? What have been the challenges in including more “unheard” voices in data journalism and how did you deal with them?

As mentioned above, our approach to the editorial was giving voice to a diversity of perspectives, geographies, themes and genders.

Several of the chapters also explicitly address questions around inclusion, participation, voice and the politics of data journalism — including gender and feminism; colonialism; giving voice to the marginalised; and “data sovereignty” for indigenous communities.

A chapter from Anita Say Chan (not yet published in the beta version of the book) also challenges the “myth of digital universalism”: the notion that digital innovation flows from creative “centres” to derivative “peripheries”; and she calls for renewed attention to a greater diversity of sites and practices of digital innovation.

These are small steps, and there is much work to be done to improve diversity amongst both data journalism practitioners and researchers. As a caveat we’re also aware that we’re based in Europe, mainly operating in English and other European languages and very much dependent on our friends and colleagues in the Global South to help us to identify other voices in their communities.

The book provides an inevitably partial picture, but we hope to inspire others to spend more time learning about data journalism projects and practices around the world.

How is the book “collaborative”?

As we say in the introduction, the book was intended to be a “collective experiment in accounting for data journalism practices and a collective invitation to explore how such practices may be modified.”

We’ve been inspired by our friend and colleague Bruno Latour (one of the pioneers of science and technology studies and co-founder of the médialab at Sciences Po), who has been experimenting with the book as a format, including how various publics are invited to engage and give input around it.

The final version of the book will have been the result of many discussions, workshops, calls, meetings and many emails with our contributors and others. The result is not just one frame (as one might expect in a textbook), but many different perspectives on the field of data journalism.

We certainly had our own ideas about what we set out to do with the book, but its final form is a collective accomplishment.

Additionally, we hope that the online beta will provide an opportunity to gather feedback on these chapters as well as the overall shape of the book, which may result in further discussions and modifications to the chapters before the print version is published.

What did you learn in the editorial process for the Data Handbook 2?

If our editorial for the first book started with a collaborative “book sprint” in London, the second book has started with our curated “snowball editorial”, along with online discussions and an online beta version to test out the chapters before the final version is published. We will also be testing the full book in the classroom before the final version is published.

One of the questions that have accompanied us throughout the process is: what can we do with the format of the book? What are the advantages of this particular form, and how can we play to its strengths as one format among others?

We could have contributed to a continuously updated forum with different discussion threads, a wiki, discussions around a hashtag, a collection of blog posts, or a series of workshops or events around the world. So why a book? And why a book that has a single published form rather than, say, a living book?

One of the nice things about a book is actually that the contribution of a chapter requires a sustained period of care and reflection in constructing a narrative, an argument or an experience.

We hope that the process has also provided space for some of our contributors to articulate their thoughts in a way which they otherwise might not have done.

It is still a learning process for all of us, and we’re not done with the new edition yet — so perhaps we can get back to you.

When will the next chapters be released and how? What about the actual book?

Beyond the online beta, we have published a working version of the full table of contents for the book.

The full version of the Data Journalism Handbook 2 will be released on Amsterdam University Press next year as an open access book.

Translations in Spanish, German and French will also be coming soon, and we’re interested in partnering with more organisation to translate in more languages as with the previous edition.

And now, does the editorial process continue? Can readers give you feedback or get involved?

Readers can leave their feedback in the form on the chapters and if they’re interested in testing out further material from the book in the context of teaching or training, they can get in touch with us. We’re particularly interested in hearing from those who are considering adopting it for university or higher education courses for undergraduate and graduate students.

You can read the Data Journalism Handbook 2 beta here.

The Data Journalism Handbook 2 is being produced by the European Journalism Centre and the Google News Initiative, in partnership with Amsterdam University Press.

If you’re interested in helping us translate the book, please write to

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