Comment call: Are you teaching data journalism?

On Monday The Guardian published an article about data journalism and the future of journalism. As part of that I was asked what university courses taught data journalism. I could only think of Glyn Mottershead at Cardiff and – probably – Steve Hill at Southampton Solent.

So let me ask: are you involved in – or study on – a course that covers any aspect of data journalism? That might be statistics, computer assisted reporting, or mashing, or something else. Please comment – I’d really like to know what’s out there.

12 thoughts on “Comment call: Are you teaching data journalism?

  1. Nicola Hughes

    Thank God there’s someone else! I’m a digital media producer at CNN and am trying to self-teach data journalism. I’m an ex-student of Glyn’s. I began my blog this July and have used it (along with @datamineruk) to conntect with the Hacks/Hackers movement and ScraperWiki. I have found Open Data Master Classes and there’s a full day data journalism course being run by in January.

    I have a data-miners list on twitter which lists developers, open data advocates, data journalists and data visualization people. I have a list of contacts. Just yesterday at a ScraperWiki event I met James Ball who did the data analysis for the Iraq War Logs.

    I think there’s more being done outside of formal education. Would love to get every interested party together.

  2. Andy

    Hi Paul

    I’m doing a fair bit of data journalism. Lots of awareness and some practical stuff as well. There is always space to do more. But given the space I have my approach is focussed on introducing the concepts and tools and then trying to give as much scope for them to explore them when relevant.

    We look at data mashups,how data journalism is finding a new following outside the CAR and specialist reporting routes etc. They get pointers to things like manyeyes, scraperwiki and pipes. I try several exercises to get them thinking about data. One is a little test (part of a number aimed at basic skills building which includes audio, video and maps) to pick a dataset from the guardian datablog. Import in to Google docs and then make a chart from it for a short article based on the stats they pick. A simple task but great for getting hands on with the tools and thinking about how to integrate it in to their storytelling.

    The students are also driving the process. Students have turned up along side staff at Hacks and hackers days (and won prizes). they’ve used manyeyes and other visualization tools in their work. Just this morning I had a question about embedding a manyeyes visualization in their newsday webistes.

    There isn’t a lot of space to go too deeply in to the mechanics of things like yahoo pipes etc but I feel certain they come away knowing that Data is going to be a part of what they do. Those who are interested have plenty of links to follow.

    Every so often a special project will pop up and allow us to play a little more. We’ve got one on the go at the moment where we are collaborating with a University in Finland and we are putting together a team to look at the data part of things.

    So I hope they get a solid jumping off point to explore.

  3. Steve Hill

    Thanks for the link! I have to say that I’ve only recently started covering this kind of stuff and I’m by no means an expert.

    As has been discussed in many conferences it is possible to go down a very technical route, which just isn’t suitable for many of our students who comes from arts backgrounds and often have quite weak existing data skills. Fear of numbers, past failure in this area, often resulting in lack of interest can be a problem. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. At the risk of ‘dumbing down’, I go in very gently.

    My route in? Data journalism fits neatly with sessions I do on the creation of info-graphics in print (InDesign). IMHO students tend to have quite good skills on the ‘output’ side and can come up with increasingly creative ways to present data in attractive ways, but are less interested in some other bits that involves spreadsheets and getting hands dirty with databases. I need to get better at delivering this kind of stuff and am interested in discovering interesting routes at the back end.

    But student feedback has been generally good and both tutor and students have had unexpected ‘light bulb’ moments. If nothing else, students understand the concept of ‘data smog’ and that there is an increasingly important role for journalists here. I take that to be quite a good first step on which to build.

    1. Andy

      I agree about the light bulb moments. I get them too and it’s really nice. I agree that the graphical end is often the best way in. Once they get hooked on the pictures the ‘how do they do that?’ motivation creeps in and they are well in.

      Sometimes though its enough that they can go away and say with some authority that they are aware of what data journalism is and offer an informed opinion or make an informed choice.

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  5. Jean-Sébastien Marier

    Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) offers a “Reporting Methods” course to its first year Master of Journalism students. I took this course last year, which was thought by two reporters from CBC and the Canadian Press. We learned about filling Access to Information Requests and basic data-mining. Yet, my knowledge of database management and PHP coding is mostly self-thought. I wish we had a course focusing exclusively on data analysis.

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  8. David Brake

    Will be touching on this with most of my second year journalism students when teaching feature writing and will go into more depth with my Masters students. Am looking forward to finding out the extent of open data available in Asia…


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