Category Archives: data journalism

VIDEO: How to use R to fetch data from a postcodes API

All this week I have been publishing videos about APIs, from how data journalists use APIs and the jargon involved, to understanding the data formats they return. In this final video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University — I explain how to use an R notebook to fetch data from one particular API, postcodes.io.

You can find the notebook with all the code on GitHub here.

VIDEO: Understanding JSON and XML (when using APIs)

In two previous videos this week I introduced APIs for data journalists, and explained some of the jargon involved. In a short third video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain how to understand the data formats you’re likely to come across: JSON and XML.

One useful tool to install in your browser to help with this process is JSONView.

Links mentioned in the video:

VIDEO: Understanding API jargon for data journalists

Yesterday I shared a video introducing APIs for data journalists. In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain some of the jargon you’re likely to come across when using an API.

That includes ‘functions’ and ‘methods’ that allow you to request certain types of data; ‘arguments’ that allow you to specify what you want data about, or what format; and API ‘keys’ that act as passwords to access the data.

Links mentioned in the video:

VIDEO: What are APIs — and how are they used in data journalism?

APIs can be very useful sources of data for data journalists. In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain what an API is and how they have been used in a variety of data-driven stories.

Links mentioned in the video:

VIDEO: How (and why) to create an R notebook for data journalism

Notebooks are one of the ways that data journalists document their work, and make it transparent for others to follow and reproduce. In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain what notebooks are and walk through how to create one in RStudio.

(Check out yesterday’s video on the pros and cons of R in data journalism for an introduction to R in general)

You can read Knuth on literate programming here; more on the pitfalls of “bad Excel”; and the story about the Excel spreadsheet that led to austerity here.

VIDEO: Why is R used by data journalists?

R — along with Python and JavaScript — is one of the most popular programming languages used by data journalists. In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain what R is and why you might choose to use it rather than spreadsheets alone, or other languages, in your work.

Oh, and a quick caveat: since Colab notebooks were added to Google Drive, I now prefer Python — but it’s a personal thing, and most of this video can be applied to either language.

The talk by FiveThirtyEight’s Andrew Flowers mentioned in this video can be found here.

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This is where data journalists get their ideas from (story cards)

I’ve written a piece for DataJournalism.com on the range of ways that data journalists get ideas for stories, from new data releases, tip-offs and exclusive leaks to simple questions, or taking an existing story as a template for a new one.

The piece also looks at how news events also provide the impetus for some “follow-on” story ideas, and the role that ‘play’ has in generating more creative (but also typically more complex) story ideas.

As part of the process I also created a series of cards, available as a printable PDF, which you can use to prompt these ideas in a classroom or editorial brainstorming situation. Please let me know if you find them useful!

VIDEO PLAYLIST: Finding stories in company accounts

Company accounts can be a goldmine of story leads — from “following the money” and uncovering complex webs of relationships, to simply reporting concerns and individual payments.

I’ve put together a playlist of videos covering a number of different techniques you can use to find stories. Those are:

  1. What stories can be found in company accounts
  2. How to find stories in the text section at the front of company accounts
  3. Finding stories in the cash flow statement
  4. Using accounts to find stories about relationships and potential conflicts of interest
  5. Tools and tips for journalists using company accounts
  6. Finding stories about tax, pay, debt and other leads

The entire playlist is embedded below.

You can also read my posts on teaching journalists how to find stories in company accounts; how one journalist used these techniques to tell a story about a social media platform for sex workers; and tips from a story about a fashion charity.

You can find resources related to the video in this GitHub repo including examples of accounts and links to stories using these techniques.

The video was first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and is shared here as part of a series of video posts.

VIDEO: Computational thinking in data journalism

I’ve written previously about the importance of computational thinking as a technique in data journalism, as well as some examples of that.

In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I explain what computational thinking is and how it can improve your ability to work with data as a journalist, with some exercises and examples that help you exercise your own computational thinking.

Links mentioned in the video include Adrian Holovaty’s post A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change; Politifact; and How BuzzFeed News Used Betting Data To Investigate Match-Fixing In Tennis;

Computational thinking challenges can be found here.

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VIDEO: Mapping for data journalists

If you’re using maps as a data journalist it’s important to be aware of the editorial choices you are making — and how they can skew your reporting.

In this video — first made for students on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University and shared as part of a series of video posts — I introduce critical cartography, the different types of maps you might choose to use to tell a story, and the different types of stories that they can tell.

I also give some examples of geography-based stories that might be better told with other charts, and list some tools and tips that can be used to tell geographical stories.

Links mentioned in the video include Theo Kindynis’s research on critical cartography; and Stories Behind A Line. And there are two related videos I refer to which are embedded below. First, a West Wing clip on mapping (more on that here):

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