Tag Archives: journalism

How I’m teaching myself data journalism

'I Love Spreadsheets' photo (c) 2012, Craig Chew-Moulding - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Lol. Not yet.

Last week, I discovered myself staying up late and getting a little too excited over Excel spreadsheets.

The amount of nerdiness disgusted me at first, but I’ve come to terms with it. Data journalism jobs are in demand, and they fit into an evolving world of 21st Century media, of Wikileaks, PGP encryption, social media and SEO rankings.

Database journalism, from what I understand, is the process of analyzing data to find stories that serve the public interest. To do the job effectively, journalists need to learn a whole new toolbox of skills: Microsoft Excel, code, a bit of statistics and, *gasp* math.

But after the learning curve comes the ability to present better information to the public. Sometimes, journalism feels like parroting the he-said, she-said of politics and business.

While Mark Twain would argue “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics,” statistics and numbers bring a logical weight to news stories, a grounding.

Last week, I googled “data journalism.” The first hit was this free e-book, created by The European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

After reading how data journalism is important for 21st Century journalism, how the marriage of the press and data has already changed the world, I skipped to the pith of the book — a step-by-step guide to doing data journalism.

And this is where I decided to get involved. It’s one thing to read how to do something, but then the skill is then mostly forgotten, unpracticed. It’s another to actually go out and do it.

So I lined up a possible project analyzing data I get on my hometown of Berlin, Conn.

The first step was to get some data. 

I searched by file type (a .xls document is ideal) and I narrowed my search down until I was searching a specific website. Finally, I found something promising when I typed “2014 site:berlinpd.org filetype:pdf” into Google.

Bingo

Bingo

I found a promising vein of information on the Berlin Police Department’s website. They publish their daily activity blotter to the Internet in a .pdf document.

I figure I could collect data for a time  and then quantify it, figuring out the most dangerous streets, what the police do on an average day, find out when the department was most busy.

There are some challenges, like converting .pdf documents to .xls pages, filling in missing data and actually making sense of it all.

Meanwhile, I will keep you updated.

P.S. Are a data journalist reading this post? Could you give me any advice? Maybe I missed a really good resource. Let me know in the comments below, or through Twitter. My handle is @jcksndnl.

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My journalism: a look back and some news

It’s been a big year for me and journalism. When the ball dropped last night, the mind didn’t have the whole picture. Standing there with a plastic cup with half-melted ice cubes, I had that experience of not fully realizing what had gone on the year before, no idea what will happen in the future.

A lot happened. I had not kept time from Jan. 1 to Jan. 1. Moments early on were forgotten and re-remembered again. This post is to chronicle what all went down this year.

  1. Sandy Hook — I still have not visited Newtown, Conn., but the effects of Dec. 14, 2012 carried over into the new year. There were the stories of how other Connecticut towns responded, stories about school security upgrades and an anniversary piece that I’m quietly proud to have written. Just kidding. I mentioned it on here.
  2. Bryan College — In May, I walked. In August, I finally finished all the required courses and got the paper that said I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communication with an emphasis in Journalism. The diploma represents a chapter in life, of struggling through student media, late nights of despair as we pulled together paper after paper, censorship and The Washington Journalism Center.
  3. The Berlin Citizen — From freelancer in January between semesters at college to reporter, this year has been the year of The Citizen. In May, I worked as reporter for Town Times, then moving beats to North Haven and eventually back to The Berlin Citizen. It’s been a full circle, writing for my hometown paper.
  4. Freedom of Information Act Requests — In November, I worked on the story of the anniversary of Sandy Hook where I served six FOIA requests. Having never written a FOIA letter in college, this was all learned in the school of hard knocks. Mistakes were made, which may or may not be recounted in a future post.
  5. A licence… to drive — People were always shocked to learn I did not have a car. No so any longer! My stick-shift Nissan Sentra carries me to stories and is dear to my heart.
  6. Code — At the end of college, I watched a video on the importance of coding. A few weeks later, I was eking out my first few lines of HTML. I read that knowing code is a skill journalists should know. However, I didn’t see much application, working at the paper. It wasn’t until I was talking to another co-worker and he showed me his free WordPress website, showing me what he did with SEO and code that I realized the potential. Code is the way to own a website. In a way, it’s customizing and creating your printing press.
  7. Photography — In a way, nothing has changed. I still take photos on the same point and shoot that I purchased freshman year of college. A few days ago, I pressed the shutter for the 20,000th time. I know more about light, composition and timing. Still waiting for the DSLR, though…
  8. Town Elections — This year, I was able to cover a full election season in Connecticut, from the first primaries, to political theory, to the final outcomes. These lessons in the fight for power could not be learned by reading about it in a book, but experienced on the front lines.
  9. This Blog — In January 2013, I started this blog, telling readers and myself that this would be the blog that I keep for a while. I have not abandoned it yet.

And now, on Jan. 1, 2014, I set out on a new adventure. Yesterday was my last day at the paper that gave me the chance to start doing local journalism. I am moving to Chattanooga. I know not yet what I will be doing, although I have some leads. I’m going down to live closer to my fiancee, who said yes on Aug. 17, 2013 and made that moment by a lake in Connecticut the best moment of the year.

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