Does Ampp3d have a problem with bias?

At news:rewired I got put on the spot about whether there is a problem with Ampp3d being biased. Here’s what I think…

I’m loving editing Ampp3d. It’s harder work than I imagined. And doing data journalism day-in day-out is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure.

Ampp3d Vince Cable screenshot

One question keeps cropping up though – is Ampp3d biased? And if it is, is that a problem?

Well, I don’t think bias is the right word. That implies fiddling the numbers. We are absolutely scrupulous about accuracy, unless we’re obviously trying to make a point by being funny. But Ampp3d definitely takes “an angle”, which is something that data journalism has tended to shy away from. It’s an important part of the experiment.

We’re writing for the Mirror, which is the biggest selling left-leaning daily paper in the country. It’s obvious that our journalism would reflect that, and we write stories from a progressive left point of view. And I’ve got no problem with that.

But we are totally committed to sticking to facts and statistics that are accurate and verifiable. Having an angle doesn’t change that.

I understand why people keep asking the question, but there is something rather frustrating about it. If you are writing the horoscopes for a newspaper, you get paid for writing fiction. If you are a columnist, you can vent fact-free opinion, and even have the PCC back you up when you’ve caught making things up. But, put some numbers in your story, call it data journalism, and suddenly people are on your case looking for bias.

We all understand what data journalism from a broadsheet looks like, and it is very good. We’re trying to find out what data journalism from a tabloid looks like. I want Ampp3d to be fast and funny and popular as well as being factual and accurate.

I don’t think it should have “the view from nowhere”. That’s great for where it is appropriate, but it isn’t the natural tone and register of people on the internet. And it isn’t what makes stories resonate with people, or makes them compelling to share.

Having “an angle” hasn’t stopped us fact-checking David Cameron and finding him to be broadly telling the truth, or examining Labour’s claims on the 50p tax rate, or even sometimes writing a piece that is critical of some numbers that have been featured elsewhere in the media including by our colleagues. I think those are all good and right things for us to be doing.

And part of that is going to be political. As my colleague David Ottewell said on the news:rewired panel, data journalism can, should and must be about the things that affect everybody’s lives, schools, hospitals, crime. And about holding power to account by looking at whether their words and promises match up to the stats.

But I also think there’s a lot of fun to be had with numbers in the news, whether it is Wayne Rooney’s salary, flying EasyJet into the sun, making charts out of Lego or having a graph fight with Guido Fawkes. I want Ampp3d to have a spark and a “Zing!” that nobody else expects from their data-driven reporting.

But ultimately, as I said at news:rewired, the audience will decide. Ampp3d is an experiment with a period of time to prove it can reach an audience. If we’re turning the audience off with the angle, it’ll be reflected in our user numbers, and we’ll stop doing it. Simple as that.

But at the moment, I very much hope we get the chance to carry on. It’s the most fun I’ve had with numbers since watching this as a kid…