Investigative reporters have long used computers to sort and search databases in pursuit of their stories. Investigative Reporters and Editors and its National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, for example, hold regular computer-assisted reporting training sessions around the country. And the country’s major journalism schools all deal in some way with computer-enhanced journalism. The emerging academic/professional field of computational journalism, however, might be thought of as a step beyond computer-assisted reporting, an attempt to combine the fields of information technology and journalism and thereby respond to the enormous changes in information availability and quality wrought by the digital revolution.
I would be remiss to write about computational journalism and not mention Irfan Essa, a professor in the School of Interactive Computing of the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who teaches a class in computational journalism and is often credited with coining the term. He says both journalism and information technology are concerned, as disciplines, with information quality and reliability, and he views the new field as a way to bring technologists and journalists together so they can create new computing tools that further the traditional aims of journalism. In the end, such collaboration may even wind up spawning a new participant in the public conversation.
“We’re talking about a new breed of people,” Essa says, “who are midway between technologists and journalists.”