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Data journalism is the use of data and number crunching in journalism to uncover, better explain and/or provide context to a news story. According to the Data Journalism Handbook, data can be either the tool used to tell a story, the source upon which a story is based, or both. It often involves the use of statistics, charts, graphs or infographics.
Data journalism has emerged as a new branch of journalism, thanks to the sheer scale of digital information now available and the software that may be used to crunch that data into useful forms. Data journalism is a corollary to big data, which aims to find exploitable patterns in user data and other information generated by businesses.
In the past, journalists worked by being on the scene and reporting the news in front of them. Today, however, news unfolds differently, often over the Internet, as multiple sources add information through blogs, videos and social media. As a result, the need to be able to access and filter that continuous stream of information has become much more important in newsrooms. By using data, a journalist's focus shifts from being the first person on the scene to being the one who provides context to an event and aims to explain what it really means.
For example, in 2010, the Las Vegas Sun created a provocative series on hospital care by analyzing more than 2.9 million hospital billing records. In doing so, they uncovered numerous incidences of preventable injuries, infections and surgical mistakes, including some that led to patient deaths. The data that was meticulously collected and polished by the Sun helped to inform Las Vegas residents about the state of their hospitals and led to new legislation regarding hospital care.