DMC IDay 2017

Earlier this month on 7 Oct, the Hong Kong Baptist University held a university-level Information Day, introducing undergraduate programmes (see this news issued by the University). The Department of Journalism is a part of this exciting event. This year the Department is joining hands with the Department of Computer Science (COMP) to launch a new interdisciplinary concentration eneitled “Data and Media Communication” (DMC), starting from 2018/19. Here is a simple official webpage. Basically, the new concentration – being added to the existing counterparts in the department – Chinese Journalism, International Journalism, and Financial Journalism – aiming at providing both data analytics training and journalistic education to students.  It is an effort for the department to meet the challenge of the transitioning news industry, as well as the willingness to march into the frontier of the interplay of data science and humanities/social sciences in general.

The event sailed through, with the great help from the six hard-working student helpers from other programmes, especially when we do NOT have any student to cheer for us! Mr Pili Hu, the newly appointed lecturer in our department, formerly the data manager at Inituim, offered an array of excellent data-driven journalism works, so that we could demonstrate and show the visitors the power of the combination of journalistic sensitivity, design, infographic, and data analytics. We also owe big favors to Melody, Hung Gor, Chung Gor, and not to mention the strong support from Alice, our Dept. Head, as well as Dean Prof Huang.

Well I guess it is not appropriate – also not the intention of this blog – for me to further promote and explicate this new concentration. But may I – as a humble associate director of this infant programme – share several observations and reflections from the information day and Q&As with the visitors.

First, the visitors’ enthusiasm and interests in data-driven journalism were far beyond our expectation. A simple indicator is that all the pamphlets and souvenirs were out of supply. High school students, parents, year 2 AD students, and faculty members from other academic units, gathered around our booth, asking questions. They were not just passers-by. Secondly, it seems that most students are intimidated by the term of “data” – they regarded “data” as “high math skills.” Actually, for the application of data science in journalism, “math skills” is not the most important ability, instead, it is the “data sense” that one should be cultivated – where to find data, how to interpret data, how to make sense of data, and “how to lie with statistics.” All these are not about “science” and “math,” but the same keen attention to the “misfortune of human beings” and the willingness to contribute to the public goods. Thirdly, it seems that there is an overlapping of the interests of “data-driven journalism” and “financial journalism.” Common-sensically, both are focusing on “data.” But I would say these two areas are distinct. To me, it appears that financial journalism is more specialized and having demanding requirements on specific domain knowledge, whereas data-driven journalism is more like a “telescope” (or microscope, a tool, a lens) to uncover the myths of the social realities. Finally, my humble understanding on the interplay between journalism and data science shares with the quotation of Prof Jonathan Zhu at CityU: “Students from humanities are worried about [how to compute]; whereas those who with science backgrounds are worried about [what to compute].” That’s the long-lasting and enduring challenge facing both clusters of students.

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