Reviving an ongoing series of profiles of young journalists, I interviewed Leeds university journalism student Jack Dearlove about his work in data journalism. Jack works as a BA on BBC Radio York’s Breakfast show and is also a third year Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Leeds, where he is News Editor for Leeds Student Radio.
How did you get into data journalism?
I started exploring data journalism when I saw how the Guardian was publishing stories attached to the raw spreadsheets on their guardian.co.uk/data blog. I liked the way they could bring a little extra to a story by digging up a big old spreadsheet and letting people play around with it.
I’m really a spreadsheet guy, doing the classic autofilter and then ordering things by the biggest and smallest values and slowly going down each line in the spreadsheet. This can take a while but it’s the only way you can be sure you’ve seen the whole picture.
I’d like to get into ‘scraping’ but haven’t really had the time to play around with it. But any technique that means data that I might not have naturally come across is something I’d love to get the hang of.
How do you use it in your work for the BBC?
I’ve worked for the BBC for nearly 4 years and it’s something i’ve built into my role as my job has changed. It will certainly be something that I use when it comes to future job interviews though, because hopefully it sets me apart from your standard journalist.
I think my colleagues were quite sceptical at first, but I have a very supportive and data savvy Assistant Editor who’s just as keen to use the techniques as I am. So there’s an air of curiosity, as there is in many newsrooms.
How does it fit into your studies?
It doesn’t really, my course hasn’t featured much about Data Journalism over the past two years and is unlikely to in its final year. It will be something I use when it comes to ‘news days’ though, to cook up a couple of stories before we start chasing others.
The truth of the matter is that I’m quite glad it’s not taught: you can’t really force it on someone because it takes quite a lot of time and effort to get anything from, so it’s not for everyone.
Where do you hope to go from here?
I’m not really sure. I graduate in a year’s time and I’m sure I’ll just be happy for employment. Longer term though I want to be the guy that makes radio people talk about. Not just on the days when something major is happening, but day to day, I want to make radio that I’m consistently proud of and that the audience love.
What tips would you give to other journalism students wanting to get into this side of journalism?
Don’t expect it to deal you an exclusive story every time you look and remember that the data is really raw, it’s missing a lot of context. Especially with ‘expenditure over £500’ data. It’s worth remembering that a sudden drop in series of payments to a particular company after a couple of months of relatively solid expenditure could be because it’s simply dropped below the £500 mark.
Treat it just like any other skill, like going through council minutes. You’re the journalist, don’t expect anyone else to be going through that data.