BETWEEN THE UNIQUE AND THE PATTERN: Historical Tensions in our Understanding of Quantitative Journalism

Cite: C.W. Anderson. (2015). “Between the Unique and the Pattern: Historical Tensions in our Understanding of Quantitative Journalism.” forthcoming in a special issue of Digital Journalism, Journalism in an Era of Big Data: Cases, Concepts, and Critiques, Seth Lewis (ed).

ABSTRACT: This article proposes that the underlying ideas of data journalism are not new, but rather can be traced back in history and align with larger questions about the role of quantification in journalistic practice. This article sketches out a theoretical frame (assemblage theory) in which quantitative journalism is best understood by examining the objects of evidence that journalism mobilizes on its behalf. The article illustrates this perspective by outlining three historical tensions in notions of quantitative journalism: tensions between records and reports, individuality and social science, and isolated facts and broader patterns.

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