Analyst or Reporter: Implications for Data

I was watching the news the other day and started thinking about the differences between news analysts and news reporters. Many channels now have folks with titles like senior news analyst, senior Washington correspondent, policy analyst, and so on. When did reporting “news” become more than just actually telling folks what happened in a particular place or during an event? When did saying Joe Smith, Reporter stop being enough? This definitely got me thinking about how we use certain terms to identify what someone actual does within an organization.

I went looking for some clear definitions and found the following via Wikipedia: 1) News Analyst is someone who examines, analyzes and interprets news received from various sources, and 2) News Reporter is a type of journalist who researches and presents information in certain types of media. Analysis is the interpretation of information while reporting provides specific facts/details about a particular situation.

The challenge for most organizations, including governmental agencies, is to remember that reporting and analyzing are closely related to each other, but not necessarily the same thing. With incredible advances in technology, IT and DBA personnel often become critical to the extraction of data related to an organization’s health. They know where it lives and how to get at it. They are often tasked with collecting and providing vital “numbers” when called upon by managers and other stakeholders. However, their skill sets may not be in taking that information, presenting it to a customer or citizen, and drawing actionable conclusions to help the end user.

Impactful organizations understand the value of both collecting and interpreting data. Having both reporters and analysts is critical if you want to get the most out of your data—big or small. Reporters collect data and supply information from various data sources, while analysts take the raw data and craft it in incredible ways to reveal hidden stories about trends, findings, and outcomes.

I have worked with data and the analysis of that data in some capacity for 15 years now. I’ve been called graduate researcher, content acquisition specialist, and now client performance analyst (among other things that I don’t want to repeat here about being a data “jockey”). I believe my job is about taking information and transforming it into something that others can use to make more intelligent decisions about their organization or business—analyzing. Looking at information and thinking it through systematically. For instance,

  • Why do we see increases in subscribers over time?
  • Why do most messages sent by a governmental agency get opened between 4:00 and 5:00 pm?
  • Does the number of subscribers for agencies fall within a confidence interval for similar-sized agencies?

With ever larger data sets and information being collected, the art of taking raw data and creating analyses that organizations can act upon will continue to be incredibly powerful. If you are a reporter, and have interests in analyzing data, you should push to do so and take the initiative to show your manager what you can do. And for the analysts out there, be proud and don’t let yourself become just a reporter. The power of data is in the wisdom it can help provide.

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Dennis R. Still

Thanks T. Jay for your comment. One mistake that I have seen again and again is folks undertaking a data analysis perspective and then not thinking about the context in which it is derived. You have to always balance the data side with the context in which it is presented. Numbers reveal powerful things, but they also can lead to slight nuanced changes in an organizations mentalilty that can have much more impact for customers/consumers/citizens in the long run. Part of the reason I wrote the piece was to just lay out the notion that not all IT experts are data analytic experts.