By Declan Bradley
As an editor of the Quest, my job is often exactly what people imagine it to be: chasing the story, getting that perfect quote or compelling anecdote — traditional, long-form journalism built on individual experiences. But as a computer science student, my passion is and always has been data: the vast seas of information, insight, and connection that resist interpretation by their sheer complexity. So when I had the opportunity to participate in the Data Visualization Society’s summer mentorship cohort this summer, studying under Julia Wolfe, Americas Graphics Editor at Reuters, I jumped at the chance. During one of our project meetings, she gave me a piece of advice that really struck me: you have to interview your data just like you would a source. You can never know it fully, but ask it the right questions, and a picture starts to emerge.
That’s the common thread, I think, that draws me to journalism and to the sciences. The importance of the great interview, and more importantly the insightful question, are as old as journalism itself, and likewise have been written into the bones of computer science ever since Turing proposed his famous test. On the other side of the barrier — whether that barrier be obfuscation, deception, or complexity — exists something unknowable. But by asking the right questions, we can find a way to understand it anyway.
Insight will be a new column in the Quest that seeks to recenter the great question as the driving force of compelling journalism. Inspired by the Washington Post’s Department of Data — which answers reader questions from across the country using statistics and data analysis — each entry will seek an answer to a single question submitted by you, the Reed community. It will both continue and replace my old column, By the Numbers, which focused solely on data visualization, as well as expanding the scope of that coverage with narrative journalism and explainers. Unlike most of the Quest’s coverage, Insight’s primary goal will not be to report previously unknown facts, but rather to gather and analyze existing sources of information in order to bring light to the hidden and clarity to the opaque.
But that work relies entirely on you: our readers. Send us your questions! Obvious or bizarre, abstract or weirdly specific, there are no uninteresting investigations (if I thought there were, I wouldn’t be a journalist, would I?) Send us the things you’ve always wondered about, anonymously or otherwise, at email@example.com, or stop me at any of our newsroom meetings and let me know what’s on your mind. The Quest is here to serve you, the Reed community, and with Insight, we’re getting back to basics.
Insight is the Quest’s irregularly syndicated column of investigative reporting, big data analysis, and news commentary. Have a burning question about Reed, or the world around us? Send it our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.