What do we mean when we talk of "Computational Journalism"?
Firstly we might try to define what we mean by invoking current examples from the online zeitgeist such as Google News, Yahoo News, or MSN Newsbot - aggregation sites using computation to provide a different interface to a range of news online. Other examples revolve around the numerous blogs, collaborative news sites (such as open source reporting NewAssignment.net), or "citizen journalism" (for instance community driven news site Bluffton Today). These types of behavior are all enabled and facilitated by the networked computing environment and increasing pervasiveness of digital cameras and phones. Another take on Computational Journalism involves the use of New Media (i.e. interactivity) to tell more contextualized and relevant stories about news events. Interactive infographics, videos, maps, panoramas, and slideshows are being used more and more by news outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post (among others).
Looking at and citing examples of what the convergence of computing and journalism are doing to online media is fun, but I think there could be a lot more to it than that. Perhaps we should try to understand Journalism and Computing in their own rights first and then defocus and cross our eyes (for a moment!) to see where that might bring us.
So, what's Journalism then? Journalism consists of collecting news information and disseminating that information with a layer of contextualization and understanding provided by the journalist. Traditionally, journalism has also entailed an ethos of working on the side of the citizenry to provide them with the information they need to make informed civic decisions in the process of self-governance.
And what's Computation? Computation is what you do with computers! No really, computation can be thought of as algorithms designed to run on computers in order to solve any number of different problems. Computation here is defined broadly, but fundamentally, we're talking about media computation: the ability of the computer to process things like text, video, audio, pictures, or any combination of those. This involves computational areas such as information retrieval/science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, mobile computing, natural language processing, computer vision and image processing, multimedia analysis and synthesis, information visualization, computer supported cooperative work, and computer interfaces.
Taking our conception of Computing with that of Journalism, what again is "Computational Journalism"? The application of computational algorithms to the goals of journalism: to collect, contextualize, and make sense of news information. At heart it is an Information Science, guided by the practices and processes of the Journalist and facilitated by forward looking technologies meant to empower journalists (both traditional and citizen) and news information consumers in their goals.