Data journalism is the punk of our times

Nils Mulvad has a great reporter’s name and a nice summary of what data journalism actually is in this interview for the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

One observation that he alludes to here is how we’ve always had data journalism in sports – in fact, its one of the key aspects of sports journalism. Data and competing statistics are the pivot of many sports debates, and often conclusions hinge on them.

Why is political reporting and debate so often immune to backing all assertions with data? Imagine a sports report that consisted of a couple interviews with fans about the performance of a player. Would that be considered acceptable, asking a few drunks in the crowd whether they thought one moving part was responsible for victory or defeat?

So why do we accept anecdotal political stories about the success or failure of a political figure or policy based on the quoted opinion of one or another political hack?

The plural of anecdote is not data – it’s journalism. Data journalism fixes some aspects of this dilemma.

How to build a better block

This blog post at NYTimes.com profiles a neighborhood group similar to the one I co-founded in uptown DC. I was pointed to it by a DC ANC commissioner and activist who said our movement reminded him of theirs.

A couple key differences – their movement was started by professional planners and designers, while ours was started by folks with nothing but gusto. Also, many of the Texas environments that they are reforming are actually failed suburban refits trying to go back to their urban days. Kennedy Street is and was always an urban environment, just one that lost its customer base to crime and cars. Different problems to solve, but we are using some of the same tactics.

Airbnb doesn’t ruin cities, people do

At Urbanful.com, a former Time reporter makes many points about how AirBnB may be ruining city life. Some are better than others, but all of them would make the existing hotel industry (as well as local government tax collectors).

Nothing wrong with this, as the argument is worth raising, must most of the problems are created by people – not the company. It’s not AirBnB’s job to make sure people pay their taxes, are courteous to neighbors, or that property owners are good to their customers. And the problems on the margins can be regulated by noise and use ordinances demanded by community groups in negotiations with Airbnb renters.

People can ruin cities – in this case, people who try to regulate away the nuisances of living in them, while intending to reap the many other benefits.

The “Things used to be worse” excuse

Sometimes people make obvious statements just to defend a position without vision or ambition. This is one I hear all the time:

Kennedy Street used to be so much worse.

There are two type of people who I hear this from all the time. One type is the NIMBY, which fears change for its own sake, and has – in some cases real and justified – reasons for this. The other type is the politician who has done nothing for the neighborhood, and gets impatient with the spirit and energy of those who are doing more.

This episode of the FBI files profiled the First and Kennedy Crew and their struggle with the G-men from the 1990s. During the summer, there were shootings in many booming neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and H Street NE. There’s been no major reports of violence from these blocks this year. Sure, it has further to go, but let’s help it get there faster.

Just because we’ve come this far doesn’t mean we should always be looking back.