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Computing for Democracy. Data journalism and the pursuit of objectivity

Sylvain Parasie will present his next book project

Event, Research Seminar

Salle du médialab, 13 rue de l'Université, 75007 Paris


"Over the last decade, many journalists have embraced computation as a  means to address the multi-faceted crisis facing their profession – the  contraction of news organizations’ financial resources, the decline of  investigative reporting, and relentless suspicion of partisanship.  Taking advantage of the growing availability of data and algorithms  since the late 2000s, these journalists aim to demonstrate greater  objectivity, become less dependent on their sources, and serve their  customers more efficiently. Many news organizations, both in the US  (e.g. ProPublica, New York Times’ “The Upshot”, FiveThirtyEight.com,  etc.) and in Europe (The Guardian, Le Monde, Die Zeit, etc.), have  embraced “data journalism” as a way to bridge the gap between journalism  and science, and ultimately to boost journalism’s contribution to  democracy.

This book is about how these emerging practices affect  the whole journalistic profession and the role of journalism in a  democracy. As journalists produce news based on the collection,  processing, and analysis of data, they come to depend on a broader array  of actors (data providers, software developers, computer scientists,  and statisticians) who do not share their values regarding what  constitutes worthy or useful information. How can journalists ensure  that these emerging practices benefit democratic life? As citizens, can  we expect these news products to make us more and better informed and  more involved in public life?

Computing for Democracy answers  these crucial questions by drawing on empirical studies conducted in the  United States and France. It combines historical analysis and the study  of contemporary news organizations. My main argument is that if we take  this pursuit seriously – in other words, if we consider data  journalists as knowledge producers in the same way as biologists or  physicists – it becomes possible to identify the conditions under which  the adoption of a computational perspective on news actually increases  the journalistic contribution to democracy. I argue that when  journalists manage to collectively maintain a high level of reflexivity  regarding their practices in the new division of labor, this allows them  to produce more robust and useful news."


Sylvain Parasie is a professor of sociology at Sciences Po. Student  of the Ecole normale supérieure, he gratuated in economics and social  sciences. He was a lecturer and then a professor at the University of  Paris Est/Marne-la-Vallée.

Since 2010, his work has focused on how  digital technologies are transforming the way people learn, debate and  engage in the public space. He was particularly interested in how data  displace established ways of producing and consuming journalistic  information in the United States and France. His research also focuses  on digital survey methods.

Practical Information

This seminar is open to all within the limits of available places. Please register in advance.