NCAER’s National Data Innovation Centre (NCAER-NDIC) hosted a webinar entitled, “DataTalk: An Online Conversation between Data Journalists and Data Producers”, on Thursday, 15 June 2023.
In recent years, the field of data and statistical journalism in India has grown in sophistication and depth. However, this also puts substantial demands on data systems. At the same time, data systems have faced tremendous challenges, particularly with the absence of face-to-face data collection during the pandemic. As we recover from the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to build a more robust data infrastructure and empirically grounded public discourse. This will also enable us to return to some of our traditional data collection activities while utilising innovations and tools developed during the pandemic. However, this is only feasible if we can create a common ground between data producers and journalists.
The panel discussion with eminent data journalists and leading data producers focused on the challenges and opportunities faced by both sides. Following are some of the questions that were discussed at the webinar: How do journalists cope with deadlines when deciding which data to report and how? How can data producers work with data journalists to place information in the public domain without fearing being misquoted? What skill sets do both sides need to make this a fruitful collaboration? What are the constraints under which each side operates?
The panellists in this discussion included some of India’s leading statistical journalists and data producers. The discussion was moderated by NCAER Professor, Sonalde Desai.
Sonalde Desai is a Professor at NCAER with a joint appointment as Distinguished University Professor in Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland. She directs the NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre (NDIC). She is an internationally known demographer whose work deals primarily with human development in developing countries with a particular focus on gender and class inequalities. At present, she is leading the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), India’s only nationally representative panel study spanning two decades.
Rukmini S. is an independent data communicator based in Chennai, India. Her work focuses on inequality, gender, caste, and politics. She was earlier National Data Editor of The Hindu and HuffPost India, and has written for a range of Indian and international publications. She won the Likho Awards for Excellence in Media in 2019. In 2020, she received an Honourable Mention for the Chameli Devi Jain Awards for an Outstanding Woman Journalist. Her pandemic podcast, The Moving Curve, won an Emergent Ventures COVID-19 India Prize in 2020. Rukmini’s work on estimating COVID deaths in India won a 2022 Sigma Award, the global data journalism awards, and a Jury’s Special Mention (Investigative Reporting) at the Asian College of Journalism Awards 2022. Her first book, Whole Numbers & Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India, was published by Westland in December 2021. It won the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award (Non-Fiction) 2022. Her second book will be published by Westland in 2023.
Pramit Bhattacharya is a columnist who writes on statistics and economics. His Truth, Lies, and Statistics column appears in Mint, and the Simply Economics column in Hindustan Times. He was earlier the data editor at Mint, where he helped set up one of the country’s first data journalism units, Plain Facts in 2014. He won the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award 2015 in the ‘Commentary and Interpretative Journalism’ category.
Mahesh Vyas is Managing Director and CEO of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt Ltd. (CMIE). He has been an observer of the Indian economy over the past four decades. He is the chief architect of CMIE’s databases including, Prowess, CapEx and Consumer Pyramids Household Survey. Prowess is India’s largest database on the performance of Indian companies, CapEx is India’s largest database on the implementation of investment projects to create new capacities in India, and the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey is India’s largest panel household survey. Mahesh writes regularly on the Indian economy for CMIE’s Economic Outlook service. His writings focus on labour markets, consumer sentiments, performance of enterprises, and capex investments.
Abhishek Singh is a Professor in the Department of Public Health and Mortality Studies at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, India. He has published more than 100 research papers in peer-reviewed national/international journals. His areas of interest are mortality analysis (including maternal mortality), maternal and child health, gender issues, designing, implementing, and analysing large-scale surveys, among other things. He was instrumental in designing and implementing NFHS-4 (2015-16). He was visiting faculty as a Gates Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and during the 2011-2012 academic year, was a recipient of the prestigious Leverhulme Fellowship to collaborate on research with faculty and students of the School of Health Sciences and Social Care University of Portsmouth UK. He is currently heading the Centre of Demography of Gender at IIPS and leading the Gender Equity and Demography Research (GENDER) project. He is also a co-Principal Investigator of NFHS-6.
P.C. Mohanan was a member of the Indian Statistical Service till 2015. He has worked in various capacities in the Central Statistical Office and the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). In the NSSO, he was involved in surveys on employment and unemployment, migration, literacy, and housing, among others. He also worked extensively for making government data open to research access. He was also a member of several Government Committees like the Post-Sachar Evaluation Committee, Expert Committee on Agricultural Statistics, Technical Group for Estimating Housing Shortage, and Committee on the Slum Index. He has published papers on various topics, including employment, migration, and housing conditions. He also contributes to newspapers on statistical issues. After retirement, he worked as a short-term consultant for international agencies like FAO, UNDP, and ILO. He was appointed as a member of the National Statistical Commission in 2018. Currently, he is the Chairman of the Kerala State Statistical Commission.
Jayant Banthia is former Registrar General and Census Commissioner who retired as Chief Secretary, Maharashtra. He has extensive experience with housing and population censuses, in both India and a range of developing countries such as Nigeria, Myanmar, and Lebanon. As a member of the Indian Administrative Service, in addition to being a demographer trained at the London School of Economics, he brings both an academic and a policy perspective to this discussion.