Doing data in a journalism course

It’s a subject that isn’t going away and it’s also one that generate a huge amount of debate – data journalism. If ever there was a perfect hook to hang all of journalisms best and worst it’s data journalism! But a recent flurry of tweets and a nice ‘there’s no reason not to try this stuff’ post from Matt Waite focussed on one part of the debate – how should we be doing more of this in our j-courses and who should be doing it at.

It was something that Matt kicked off with a tweet:

Quite a few people pitched in (an assortment of tweets below):

There is an interesting point in there about adjunct courses – essentially but not exclusively online courses – which I think is fair. There’s no better way to  put journalists (and students) off than combining maths and computers!

As I said in my response, we do ‘data’ across all of our courses and I thought I’d share an example of the kind of intro practical stuff we are doing with first years (year one of three year degree). It’s done in the context of a broader intro to data and journalism and it’s developed and expanded throughout the three years (more so as we are shifting things around in the courses.) including a dedicated data journalism module.

My take at this stage is that data journalism is worth considering as part of a more structured approach to journalism. The students are no doubt fed up of my Process into content mantra.

Anyway. Two slideshows below are an intro – context lecture and the other is the related workshop. And, yes, I know there is a fair bit of visualization in there – charts and maps – which some data people can get quite sniffy about. We are careful to make the point that not all data is visual but I do think a visual output can be a quick win for capturing peoples interest. It’s just the start.

Again, these are just the slides, there is the usual amount of narrative and discussion that goes with this. They are presented as is:

Let me know what you think if you get a chance.

2 thoughts on “Doing data in a journalism course”

  1. Simply put, really elegant slides that convey your ideas beautifully.

    Working with data in an objective way is something that I figured out on my own (having come from a generation not habituated by computers). That old crocodile software Lotus 1-2-3 probably served as invaluable training in dealing with data, because it was so ‘manual’. Today though, despite the advances of Excel and other spreadsheet software, I have noticed that many journalism students simply cannot work with data at all and are actually only comfortable with interview-style narratives. In South Africa, I am sure that this also has something to do with our basic education system allowing students who struggle with the full-on academic Mathematics to do Maths Literacy, but these students still need to work with data. Clearly, as your slides point out, this means that they are missing a hugely important skill (not to mention potential front page stories).

    I think this is a really important topic and something that our Faculty will definitely consider in the Curriculum Design phase of our next Journalism qualification.

    Thanks again for sharing these. They are definitely worth thinking about!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Cheryl and glad you liked the slides.

      I agree to some extent with what you say about the comfort level students have with maths. Even if they are good at maths I think we are actually asking people to make a bit more of a conceptual leap – making stories with maths/data. I think that’s a more fundamental challenge for j-schools; seeing the stories in the things around us. If people aren’t geared up about finding and telling a story from something they see walking down a street then getting them to see a story is a statistical outlier is a steep hill to climb :-)

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