Telum Talks To...Kuek Ser Kuang Keng, Founder of Data-N

Telum Talks To...Kuek Ser Kuang Keng, Founder of Data-N

Kuek Ser Kuang Keng is the Founder of Data-N and has been providing data journalism trainings and consultancy to media in Asia. He has more than 15 years of experience in digital journalism and used to work in several newsrooms including Malaysiakini, NBC and He is also the Competition Officer of the Sigma Awards, the only international awards for data journalism.

How is data journalism different from journalism? Is it just about the skillset?
I would say it is more than the skillset. It is a fact- and research-based methodology that aims to understand the root cause of a problem instead of just reporting the problem which is the typical approach of most traditional journalism. Data journalism requires journalists to apply critical thinking skills and the power of data to measure and analyse the problem.

You founded Data-N to offer data journalism training package since 2015. Can you tell us more and why did you start this?
My journey from a journalist to an entrepreneur started in the United States. In 2013, I received a Fulbright Scholarship to do my Master’s in Journalism at the New York University where I was trained to help media organisations embrace digital innovation. At that time, I had so much new knowledge and ideas, that I wanted to share with news organisations in Malaysia and experiment them in their newsrooms. Thereafter I was selected as a Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellow at the City University of New York. This programme helped me turn my passion of sharing new knowledge into a business model and the result is Data-N. It is a platform for me to share my knowledge, skills and ideas with fellow journalists in Asia. I picked data journalism as the main programme as I believe the three core elements in data journalism: critical thinking, data literacy and digital capacity, are the essentials for journalism to survive and thrive in the digital era.

You have partnered with Google News Initiative on several training sessions. Are journalists somewhat sceptical when they hear the word "Google" attached to the training programme?
Not at all. In fact, many journalists were excited when they know the programmes are supported by Google and they get to attend the training at the chic Google Malaysia office. The partnership with GNI not just helped us in terms of reaching to more journalists in this region and building up our credibility, they also introduced us to many of their tools, training materials and experts that have enriched our training content.

Can you talk to us a bit about what a training session typically involves and what you're trying to achieve?
When I started the training programmes under Data-N 5 years ago, one problem I wanted to fix is the typical one-size-fits-all training syllabus that is cost effective but not result effective. Each newsroom is unique in terms of the problems they want to solve, their scale, technology infrastructure and culture. Hence, I would design and customise the training together with the participating newsroom or journalists to achieve what they want to or solve problems they want are facing. The process is very user-centered and design thinking-ish. There’s no typical training session. I have done lectures in traditional classroom settings, project-based training and mentorship, among others. In general, my goal is to help newsrooms and journalists to develop knowledge and skills to create quality journalism that’s more impactful and engaging. However, different newsrooms have different ways to achieve that and my job to is figure it out together with them and if there’s any part in the process that I can help with my skillset in data journalism, then there’s an opportunity for my training programme to come in.

Data journalism has become prevalent as a new and effective narrative in presenting news in many developed countries. Do you think Malaysia media has been exposed to using data journalism enough?
It is definitely not enough but it is an emerging trend in Malaysia. In the past 3 years, I’ve started to see more Malaysian journalists and newsrooms using elements of data journalism in their reporting and story production. For example, we have Kini News Lab (, a new team under Malaysiakini that is currently leading the data and interactive journalism scene in Malaysia. We also saw more data-driven stories coming from The Star. There is a group of journalists at The Star who are assigned to build their data journalism portfolio. I hope my training and consultancy programmes in Malaysia contributed to this new trend.

What are some of your favourite data journalism stories?
This is a difficult question because there are so many of them. As a part of the organising team of the Sigma Awards - the only international awards that recognises the best data-driven stories - I have the opportunity to look at outstanding data journalism from all over the world in various languages. I would recommend both the winning and shortlisted projects in last year's Sigma Awards ( if you want to learn about the best and the latest in the world of data journalism.

Did you track how many journalists you have trained and do you have a goal for this?
I did not track but my estimation is more than 1,000 including both local and foreign journalists. The number of journalists is not my goal. I prefer to work with fewer journalists over longer period of time to help them produce quality data-driven stories that could encourage their newsrooms to embrace data journalism rather than giving short, one-off trainings to a large number of journalists who don't necessarily use the skills in their news production.

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