The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism

Hacks, Hackers, and Peer-to-peer Learning

MOOCs and online resources like “For Journalism” will offer those already in the industry a better, more flexible place to get started, along with those looking to break in a place to enter. Some journalists, however, won’t be comfortable learning from a book or online alone: They need someone to answer questions and explain analogies. In other words, there’s going to be continuing need for in-person, human-to-human interaction around learning. “Journalism schools still teach journalism as a very hierarchical, often solitary pursuit,” said Tasneem Raja. “That’s not the way it works in data journalism, and the best learning is still gonna be on the job. That requires cross-pollination between folks with different skill sets. We need a pairing model across newsrooms, not just in the nerd corner.”People who want foundational skills need to get hands-on with dirty data and the tools needed to clean, organize, and present it. There are a number of non-governmental organizations that provide such forums, workshops, classes, and education, including DataKind,247Foundation,^248^ the World Bank,249Knowledge Foundation,^250^ Code with Me,251and Hacks and Hackers,252chapters and thousands of members around the world. Many “hacker journalist” projects and classes require collaboration with people outside of the journalism school, said Anderson, especially if professors don’t have the needed skills to teach the students. d. Journalism Schools Rise to the ChallengeWhile many data journalists enter the profession without a journalism degree, as is true for many people writing and reporting today, industry demand for data skills is leading to changes in the academy. In 2014, the University of Missouri is far from alone in teaching journalists how to treat data as a source. For instance, if the Knight Lab at Northwestern University’s Medill School can guide promising young data journalists like Dhrumil Mehta into journalism, they’re doing something right.253with the graduate school offering classes on enterprise reporting with data254JavaScript,255with programming backgrounds.256pairing journalism and computer science students together to develop interactive projects.257building capacity to teach in these areas by collaborating with computer science departments. For instance, in England, Cardiff University will introduce a masters in computational journalism.258the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the Lede Program259post-baccalaureate certification course that offers training in data, code, and algorithms to journalists.260students with the technical skills required to enroll in the dual Journalism/Computer Science master’s program that Columbia began to offer in 2010.261practitioners with data journalism skills onto the faculty. At Missouri, Chase Davis teaches students how to apply data science to all the news that’s fit to print.262schools could be doing more to adjust to the changing needs of students, he emphasized that the current situation is not all educators’ fault:It takes intellectual agility and natural curiosity to effectively develop hybrid skills. I don’t think that’s something we can teach solely through curriculum. That’s why I don’t think every journalism student should learn how to code. Being able to write a few lines of JavaScript is great, but if you let your skills dead end with that, you’re not going to be a great newsroom developer.Folks on our interactive and graphics teams at the Times have remarkably diverse backgrounds: journalism and computer science, sure, but also cartography, art history, and no college degree at all. What makes them great is that they have an instinct to self-teach and explore.That’s what journalism schools can encourage: Introduce data journalism with the curriculum, then provide a venue for students to tinker and explore. Ideally, someone on faculty should know enough to guide them. The school should show an interest in data journalism work on par with more traditional storytelling. Oh, and they should require more math classes.In Philadelphia, Temple is helping to ensure the future of data journalism263professor Meredith Broussard, a computer scientist-turned-reporter. She starts her students by grounding them in the social sciences, a context that recalls Philip Meyer’s formative approach to precision journalism:We read Joel Best’s Damned Lies and Statistics and talk about how data comes into being. Then, we go on to data analysis and we practice different ways of representing data. This might be infographics, or data visualization, or pivot tables in Excel. I focus on teaching the students how to use technological tools in the service of doing a story. We cover a variety of digital tools, and we analyze examples of journalists and scholars who are doing intellectually exciting work.Broussard said that data journalism is now part of the curriculum at Temple at every level:At Temple, our students have a well-rounded education that includes essential reporting skills, critical thinking, multimedia storytelling skills, visual analysis, and much more. In our intro class this year, the students learned about Journalism++, Vox,, and a handful of other exciting journalism projects. We had Aron Pilhofer from the New York Times as a guest speaker to talk with the students about what it’s like to do data journalism in a world-class newsroom. Students encounter data journalism again as curriculum units in mid-level classes: Our multimedia storytelling class does a unit about online data journalism, and our journalism research class introduces students to data analysis using Excel. Everyone has to fulfill a quantitative requirement, ensuring that all the students have basic statistical literacy. I teach an upper-level class called “Data Journalism” in which the students do advanced data analysis with Excel, create data visualizations, work with databases, and create an original data journalism project. This semester, I had amazing student projects. Innovative news apps, visualizations I never imagined, infographics that were playful yet powerful. My students always impress me.In Florida, the University of Miami is now deeply integrating data and visualization into its curriculum as well, explained Alberto Cairo, director of the visualization program at the Center for Computational Science at the university and professor of practice in the journalism department. Visualization classes are now part of the core program for undergraduate journalism majors and in the university’s master’s degree program, along with mandatory introductions to design and Web design. He said in an interview:We have hired two professors to teach data journalism and Web development classes. These classes are closely tied to the current Web design and visualization courses. Besides our journalism programs, we have an MFA in Interactive Media, and also a minor for undergrads. Journalism students can take classes in those programs as part of their electives (and vice versa). That is leading to strengthened ties with science departments across the university.In California, veteran data editor Cheryl Phillips was named a lecturer at Stanford,264experience as an award-winning investigative reporter to teaching classes on relational data, basic statistics, investigative reporting tools, and mapping at Stanford’s Computational Journalism Lab. She spoke of evolution in education in an interview:I think it’s no secret that a lot of change is starting to take place in schools. Cindy Royal had an interesting piece about platforms just the other day.265We need to take a more integrated approach. Classrooms and their teachers should collaborate on work. For example, a multimedia class produces the visualizations and videos that go with the stories being written in another class. Stanford already does this.Like Broussard and Davis, Phillips says that data journalism shouldn’t be limited to just one class but infused into every part of the university curriculum:Every type of journalist can learn data-related skills that will help them, whether they end up as a copyeditor, a reporter, a front-line editor, or a graphics artist. In general, I want to make sure the students are telling stories from data that they analyze. [They should be] not only learning the technical stack, but how to apply the technical knowledge to real-world journalism. I am hoping to create some partnerships with newsrooms as well.