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Monday, October 28, 2013

Denise Malan Teaches Texas State Students the Value of Data Journalism

Denise Malan Teaches Texas State Students the Value of Data Journalism
By Daniel Recio

Denise Malan, Director of Data Services for the Investigative News Network, gave a hands-on instructive panel about the uses of Data Journalism this past Friday.

Malan who was a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller Times for four years said, “What I’m hoping to do is raise the level of data journalism skills and raise the awareness.”

The instructive panel Malan taught went through the basics on using Microsoft Excel to better analyze sets of data received from databases.

She gave three unique exercises with real data that varied from crime statistics, major league baseball players’ salaries, and a simple table for a city budget. Each exercise slowly revealed that there was more to the data than raw numbers.

Students attending the panel saw the immediate value in the skills Malan was sharing. Cameron Cutshall a Texas State Mass Communication major and sports writer for the University Star said, “I’m a sports reporter and the sports stats will be useful in my reporting.”

Malan began using data journalism early on in her career, experimenting with it before she received proper training. Then the Corpus Christi Caller Times sent her to an IRE boot camp for training on Excel and Access. Since then she has been building her skills.

Malan wishes she had begun using Data Journalism as an undergrad, “To just even start with databases on campus because they’re something familiar to you as a college journalist,” Malan said , while talking about the importance of practicing Data Journalism while still in college, “Those databases are smaller than city or state databases. It’s a good place to start.”

Malan is now the Director of Data Services for INN and has begun a unique partnership with the Investigative Reporters and Editors. She now helps over 93 non-profit newsrooms create data projects and gather the necessary data and numbers for their stories.

“All these projects are focused on stories with impact.” said Malan. The internet and accessibility to data has largely led the explosion of data journalism. With the use of technologies Malan says that Data can now be analyzed much faster.

Malan sees Data Journalism as an important tool, she said, “We use it to make change.”

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mass Comm Week Social Stats

Mass Comm Week was a great event, and students participated by contributing to our social media presence. Students did 58 posts on this site during the month of October. The blog received more than 14,000 pageviews during the past month and almost 9000 during Mass Comm Week. There were 1145 tweets using the #mcweek hashtag, 318 tweets done to promote the event on the @txstatemcweek account and 368 mentions of @txstatemcweek. The Facebook page has 499 likes with 51 posts made in October.

The word cloud above visualizes the topics discussed using the #mcweek hashtag on Twitter.

Many thanks to all the wonderful speakers who spent time with our students during Mass Comm Week!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Denise Malan Helps Students Dive Into Data

By Zac Carlson
Denise Malan gave Texas State University students and faculty an in-depth look at data journalism Friday.

Malan, the director of data services at IRE, spent two hours teaching attendees how to use Microsoft Excel to find and make sense of raw data. Malan stressed the importance of data journalism in the news industry.
Denise Malan closed out Mass Comm Week
“Everyone in the newsroom should know Excel,” Malan said.

Attendees worked with real data that detailed items such as a city budget, murder rates in United States cities, and Major League Baseball salaries. Malan taught them how to manipulate the data to find such things as percentage differences in revenue and how to create samples based on population data.

The data used came from sources such as a city’s record and, in the case of the murder statistics, from the FBI working in conjunction with city officials.

The lecture prompted discussions on potentials stories and interpretations. Melanie, a Texas State student wondered what might cause high murder rates in specific cities.

“Maybe there is a correlation with states and their gun restrictions,” Melanie said.

Malan went over basic technical aspects to Excel such as how to use the Pivot Table and the Sort tool.

 “Sorting is a really simple thing you can get a lot of information from,” Malan said.

She gave industry names for things such as the variable cursors in Excel; big fat white plus sign and small black plus sign. Also covered were formulas for adding, subtracting and generating percentages with the data data.

Malan stressed the importance of saving a copy of the original data in case of mistakes. One student incorrectly sorted the murder statistics.

“Albuquerque’s going have a lot of murders,” said Texas State student Glenn.

The course was attended by mostly Junior and Senior students as well as professors Kym Fox and Beth Clark. A few attending had seen Malan speak earlier in the week during her “How to Be a Data Star” session. This was the final event for Texas State’s Mass Comm Week.

 Zac Carlson is a Journalism major and a web editor at the KTSW 89.9. You can find some of his editing work here.

Mass Comm Week wraps with final look at data journalism

Mass Comm Week concluded Friday afternoon with Denise Malan’s fourth and final presentation on data journalism: “Diving Into Data.”

Malan, director of data services for INN/IRE, discussed the basic functions of Microsoft Excel during her presentation, such as incorporating formulas, sorting, filtering and the use of pivot tables. She sought to highlight Excel’s simplicity and importance in journalism as a powerful reporting tool for those unfamiliar with the process.

“I’m showing that (Excel) isn’t scary,” Malan said. “You can learn this. You just have to take it step by step.”

Malan used a hands-on approach in her sessions to give students a better understanding of Excel and practice using data-analysis techniques.

Malan’s first session Wednesday night involved teaching advanced data journalism techniques, such as importing basic text files into Excel for data use, to an audience of approximately 40 students. Her Friday audience consisted of a more modest group, approximately 10, allowing Malan to interact with students directly throughout her tutorial.

“It’s a lot easier to help people when you’re by yourself and it’s a smaller group,” she said.  “With larger groups, you’ll most likely have others with you to go around and help.”

Zac Carlson, journalism junior, attended Malan’s session with a “vague understanding” on data journalism, hoping to learn more. 

A transfer student from Lone Star College CyFair in Cypress, Carlson enjoyed the benefits Texas State's Mass Comm Week brought to students.

“(Mass Comm Week) is more specialized,” Carlson said. “As opposed to my classes, which I consider to be broad, people can learn more about jobs in Mass Comm Week.”

Bringing Mass Comm Week to a close, Malan expressed her hopes that teaching basic skill sets in data analysis will help student journalists with their reporting. She emphasized that such knowledge simplifies the fact-finding process, as well as making number-based facts easier to interpret.

You can follow Malan on Twitter @DeniseMalan

Glen Ryan Tadych is a mass communication-journalism senior at Texas State University.  Contact him at

Author Robert Kolker speaks to Texas State students on research, drafts, and the real publication process

By: Michael C. Seabrooke

Monday, October 21, 2013

Texas State Professor Gilbert Martinez introduced the man few students had heard of, who in an hour would be discussed all week in the halls and around campus.  New York Magazine writer Robert Kolker flew down to San Marcos to spend the week talking to Mass Comm. students at Texas State about his new book, Lost Girls, which documents the disappearances and murders of five women on Long Island from 2005-2010.

Kolker was extremely open and inviting to all student questions, and Professor Martinez did an excellent job moderating the presentation with his own questions on the entire process: becoming a published writer, getting on with New York Magazine, research techniques, interview tips, and writing a full-length true crime novel for the first time.  Most questions I had as an audience member were graciously asked in advance by Professor Martinez.

Kolker, who is new to writing novels but a veteran of the craft, was as humble as he was informative.

"I'm a narrative writer at heart; I like to tell stories," he admits.  "Writing about ordinary people, who are caught up in something extraordinary."

His book, Lost Girls, tells the story of the victims' families and what they had in common, most of them living along the poverty line.  One student asked how Kolker approached the families, and if it was difficult to not be emotionally swayed as a writer during this process when he grew close to them?

"You want to help people, but also tell a fair and accurate story.  No one's a hero, no one's a villain," Kolker explains.

Kolker's rise to success was not without rejection and tribulation.  At 22, possessing a liberal arts degree in history, he was turned down from all the magazines he applied to, on grounds of lacking experience.  His solution?  He worked for a small town newspaper to get his start.  Though it definitely took some time to be recognized and hired with New York Magazine, Kolker's years working a news beat helped him form the skills and habits of a truly good journalist.

"It's better to be learning and growing in a professional context than to be at a place with a big name," Kolker said.

On writing a novel...

Kolker spent many months driving out to meet with the families of the missing girls on his weekends off, recording hours upon hours of audio interviews for later recall.  In the interest of saving both time and sanity, he admits to investing considerable money into hiring a transcriber to type up these audio interviews.

"I'm a big believer in the bad first draft.  You can always go back and chisel it down to a diamond," he explains, rather than obsessing over each chapter and slowing the pace to a point of frustration as a writer.

Another student asked about the process of promoting the book.  Kolker, who was picked up by Harper Collins to publish Lost Girls, admits that even big publishers don't have the funds to cover all of this.  He had to pay for and create his own website to advertise the book.

Lost Girls Website

The end result is a neatly laid brochure that  explains what the book is about, and features detailed maps showing where the victims were found, to illustrate the chilling proximity and burial patterns of the Long Island serial killer.

The man responsible for praying on the Lost Girls was never found.  The police investigation is still ongoing.

Michael Seabrooke is a senior at Texas State University majoring in journalism and minoring in business administration.  Contact: