How do journalists argue using documents and data?

Professor C.W. Anderson recently presented his latest research project at a colloquium at UNC. The session was recorded (and embedded below), and after watching it, I think that the project is pretty interesting from the argument-in-journalism perspective.

Anderson’s project, as I understand it, is to place historical context around the way journalists use and have used documents to report.

Scholars of journalism have watched for a long time how interviews and first-person witnessing of events become building blocks of news stories. They also examine what has changed in journalists’ use of interviews and witnessing over many decades.

According to Anderson, for any historical period, we can ask three questions these journalistic processes: How journalists collect interviews (or witnesses, or data); how journalists analyze them; and how the results are presented to readers and users.

Now, Anderson wants to study the use of documents and data journalism in a similar way: How are documents and data collected, analyzed, and the results eventually presented to readers and users?

The question of presentation is key. If and when journalists present an argument (or presented an argument, historically) that has documents or data journalism as a pillar, what is done with them to try to make a persuasive case?

With knowledge in hand of how journalists use data and documents to argue conclusions, using the analytical tools of argumentation, informal logic, and critical thinking is the easy next step. How strong are those arguments? Are they stronger or weaker than non-data-driven arguments? What is missing from them? And so on.


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