Starting with Data Journalism: Tools and Courses Available for Journalists
Reading, commenting, and extracting information from data: doing this correctly unequivocally determines whether you are writing a credible article or disseminating fake news.
That's why having a foundation in data journalism is becoming increasingly important. In this article, you will find direct access to useful tools to start or improve your approach to data.
The practice of science journalism, but not only, cannot ignore data. Knowing how to manage, process, compare, and above all, understand data is no longer the prerogative of scientists and statisticians alone, but rather a skill required to journalists who must present, comment on, and disseminate these data.
Dealing with data, for a journalist, means two things: firstly, knowing how to interpret and comment on it, and secondly, knowing how to use it to optimise the search for useful information. In both cases, if you do not already have a foundation in data analysis or statistics, you will need to study a little.
There are several platforms that, specifically because they understand the importance of data journalism linked to science journalism (just think about what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic, or all the misinterpretations that happen every day regarding climate data), have created free courses.
Let's start with the goldmine offered on the datajournalism.com website. Contents are accessible through reading free handbooks, which cover various topics related to both data usage and the exploitation of advanced research tools, as well as online courses. The first one to start with is certainly "Doing Journalism with Data: First Steps, Skills, and Tools": a course divided into five modules lasting about 4-5 hours each and containing 4 sections each. The content relates to data management, manipulation, and visualization. The tool considered for doing basic operations with data is Excel. And going beyond the teachings contained in the course, some useful tips for choosing how to visualise data in a way that is as inclusive as possible (e.g. towards people with visual impairments such as colour blindness) can be found in Emilia Ruzicka's article "How to Create Data Visualisation that Serves the Public” .
If you are interested in learning how to process and extract data from tables and databases, learning some notions of data processing and analysis might be a good investment. In this case, a tool like Python might be suitable for you. The datajournalism.com platform offers the course "Python for Journalists", which lays the foundations for learning to program and manage data with this language. You will need some space on your computer to install all the necessary packages to follow interactively and complete the exercises, and about four and a half hours of your time. And if you ever encounter a problem that you do not know how to solve, or you need to write a more complex analysis code, the advantage of using Python is that you can find any code ready-made on the internet, and countless discussion forums where you can find answers, tips and advice.
Knowing how to use advanced analysis tools can also be useful if you decide to start a data journalism project in your own newsroom. In this case, there is a dedicated free course: it's called "Managing Data Journalism Projects", lasts just 31 minutes, and can be found here.
Other useful tools for advanced research and data handling are those offered by Google. They can be used for searching and verifying information, visualizing it, and even creating interactive ways to tell a story. The duration of the course offered by datajournalism.com is also short, and the level is suitable for beginners.
Finally, we highlight the course offered by the Knight Center for Journalism, "Advanced Data Journalism: Powerful Data Reporting and Mapping Tools", taught by the New York Times data journalist John Keefe and lasting four weeks. Considering the course level, content, and duration, the cost is reasonable. The period runs from August 21 to September 17. You can find a preview and all the information to enroll on the Knight Center's website.