Going beyond anecdotes

You don’t need to be able to write code to become a successful data journalist. But what is essential is an editor who understands what you are doing, can ask the tough questions and appreciate the power of data journalism.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 25, 2013

Professor Steve Doig, the Knight Chair in Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in Arizona, promotes an unfussy approach to data journalism where simple excel spreadsheet skills and knowledge of how to find and access data, and a journalist’s inquisitiveness are foundations of success.

“Data journalism lets you go beyond the anecdote,” he told a meeting of French newspaper editors in Paris last week. “It lets you step back and look at the larger view, and then put the evidence in. You still need anecdotes to tell the story.”

Doig divides data journalism skill sets into two camps. Those who can take data, look at patterns and find the story and then those who can take those results and make them ready for presentation. There are only a few wizards who can do both tasks effectively.

His toolbox has five items: a web browser, ability to access public records, Excel, in rare cases a heavier programme such as Microsoft Access to bring different tables together and a geo mapping tool.

Equipping editors with the right skills to build and manage data journalism teams is the subject of a special Editors Masterclass on the Newsroom Data Revolution being held on the eve of the World Editors Forum in Bangkok on June 2.

It will give editors strategic insight to launch or improve data journalism projects in their newsrooms, show them the skills and tools you need to find, analyse and visualize data for improved storytelling. It will also showcase what others are doing, identify where the opportunities exist and how to replicate. It will tackle the issue of big data and what it means for newspapers.

The Masterclass is organised in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and will be hosted by Justin Arenstein, Chief Strategist and Knight Fellow for the African Media Initiative and International Center for Journalists. It is free for conference goers.

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