The Data Journalism Handbook: How Journalists Can Use Data to Improve the News
Edited by Jonathan Gray, Liliana Bounegru, and Lucy Chambers
(O’Reilly, paperback – Kindle)
Arise, ye downtrodden, unemployed newspaper and magazine writers and editors yearning to be working again as journalists. Data journalism apparently is hiring.
Data journalism? I didn’t know, either, until I read this intriguing and hopeful collection of essays, how-to reports, and case studies written by journalists now working as, or helping train, data journalists in the United States and other parts of the world.
Data journalism, according to Paul Bradshaw of Birmingham City University, combines “the traditional ‘nose for news’ and ability to tell a compelling story with the sheer scale and range of digital information now available.”
Traditional journalists should view that swelling tide of information not as a mind-numbing, overwhelming flood but ”as an opportunity,” says Mirko Lorenz of Deutsche Welle. “By using data, the job of journalists shifts its main focus from being the first ones to report to being the ones telling us what a certain development actually means.”
He adds: “Data journalists or data scientists… are already a sought-after group of employees, not only in the media. Companies and institutions around the world are looking for ‘sense makers’ and professionals who know how to dig through data and transform it into something tangible.”
So, how do you transform yourself from an ex-investigative reporter now working at a shoe store into a prizewinning data journalist?
A bit of training. And, a willingness to bend your stubborn brain in a few new directions, according to this excellent and eye-opening book.
Yes, you may still be able to use the inverted-pyramid writing style and the “five W’s and H” you learned in J-school. But more importantly, you will now need to show you have some good skills in (drum roll, please)…Microsoft Excel.
That’s it? No, not quite.
Google Docs, SQL, Python, Django, R, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, screen scrapers, graphics packages – these are just a few more of the working data journalists’ favorite things. Skills in some these, plus a journalism background, can help you become part of a team that finds, analyzes and presents information in a clear and graphical way.
You may dig up and present accurate data that reveals, for example, how tax dollars are being wasted by a certain school official, or how crime has increased in a particular neighborhood, or how extended drought is causing high unemployment among those who rely on lakes or rivers for income.
You might burrow deep into publically accessible data and come up with a story that changes the course of a major election or alters national discourse.
This book can show you “how data can be either the course of data journalism or a tool with which the story is told—or both.”
If you are looking for new ways to use journalism skills that you thought were outmoded, The Data Journalism Handbook can give you both hope and a clear roadmap toward a possible new career.
— Si Dunn