Little brother also wants to play:
A case study of how small countries are
adapting practices of data journalism
Turo Uskali & Ester Appelgren
• Computational, data-driven, or data
journalism has become the new mantra for
many news organizations across the world
(Royal, 2010; Sirkkunen et al., 2011; Parasie &
Dagiral, 2013; Mair et al., 2013; Howard,
• The educational and research literature on
data journalism have so far mainly focused on
well-known Anglo-American cases within
prominent news organizations.
• In this paper we argue for a wider, and
potentially more nuanced, international
research, especially in less resourceful and
• According to the Global Editors Network’s data
journalism competition, the year 2013 could
be defined as the year, when data journalism
went global; altogether 520 entries were sent
to the GEN’s competition from 64 countries
• Here we summarize the
main results of two
separate data journalism
research projects in two
culturally similar, small
Sweden and Finland.
Empirical data and Methods
• The empirical data that form the basis of this
paper is based on semi-structured interviews of
the most experienced Swedish (N=10) and the
leading Finnish data journalists (N=4) during 2012
• The questions originally revolved around six
common themes: 1) the concept of data
journalism, 2) attitudes at both an individual and
an organizational management level, 3) access to
data, 4) the workflow of data journalism in the
newsroom, 5) cooperation and 6) ethics.
• RQ1: How are smaller countries and their
newsrooms adapting to the highly Anglo-
American development of the craft of data
• RQ2: Are Swedish and Finnish journalists
consciously mimicking the development of data
journalism taking place in the United States and
• RQ3: How is the craft of data journalism currently
taking place inside news organisations in Sweden
• “Everything started when I was reading these
data based stories from the US and the UK. It
was called data journalism. And then I
googled, whether there was already
something in Finland or Sweden called as data
journalism, but there were no results at all.
Google even asked, if I meant
• In Sweden, data journalism in the beginning
was dominated by the American CAR model.
• By contrast, the Finnish data journalists did
not mention CAR as an important factor for
their career as becoming a data journalist.
• Actually Finnish investigative reporters did not
typically spend the CAR-part of the NICAR
conferences inside, but outside being tourists
and renting a car.
• The idea of mimicking, copying Anglo-
American topics, themes and practices
existed, and exist.
• “I have realized that we can save a lot of text if
we learn to do visualisations right. Therefore, I
have looked into how they are doing this in the
US and they have made some amazing stuff.”
• Much of the data journalism practices are
concentrated to a few of the most resourceful
• At the local level in Sweden and Finland, so
far, only a few regional news outlets that have
published data journalistic stories.
• In Finland, the lack of education is currently
and clearly the single most important
impediment to spreading data journalism
activities outside the leading national news
• All journalism schools have started basic
courses on data journalism, but it will take
years before we can produce enough data
• Data journalism in Sweden and Finland until
now seems to have been closely following the
traditions of investigative reporting.
• This practise may be changing, as commercial
newsrooms develop a faster form of data
journalism; templates, story models, for
example in Helsingin Sanomat.
• Swedish commercial newsrooms are currently
embracing the possibilities with data
journalism tools in a somewhat playful
• In Finland data desks have started to produce
• Similarly to how a little brother wants to play
with the older kids, Swedish and Finnish data
journalists are greatly inspired by the Anglo-
American published data journalism and the
tradition of sharing expertise.
• Whether different online tests, for example,
should always be defined as data journalism,
• This issue is especially salient, because there
also a danger that data journalism is becoming
as a fancy marketing term instead of bearing
any real substance, and any links to data or,
more importantly, to journalism.
• General journalism education has an
important position in spreading the basic data
skills to the smaller newsrooms.
• It is still too early, however, to establish
whether or not data journalism is a successful
innovation in Swedish and Finnish newsrooms,
because only the biggest companies have had
enough recourses and skills to do it.
The Third Nordic Data Journalism
Conference 21.-23.4.2016 in Helsinki
The Second Nordic Data Journalism
Conference in Ålesund, Norway