Data journalism, important skills for the future

Denise Malan talking to students about data
journalists. Photo Credit: Michelle Balagia

IRE director talks to students about
data journalism

By Michelle Balagia

A data director from Investigative Reporters and Editors gave students advice about the importance of data journalism Thursday as part of Mass Comm Week.

Denise Malan, IRE data director, said her job involves helping news rooms learn how to dig deep and tell stories with hard data. Before working for the IRE, Malan worked for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times as an investigative data editor. She also does data research for the Investigative News Network.

“The reason I’m here is to encourage students to get involved with data journalism,” said Malan. “It’s such an important skill for the future of journalism. It helps with finding those stories that are difficult to find, and to ensure the readers what has happened is accurate and fact checked.”

Malan told the students that the most basic program they should know is Microsoft Excel. Knowing Excel should be a basic tool that all journalists know how to use and is the gateway of all data programs, according to Malan.

She encouraged the students to get involved early and to first practice with small data sets. Taking a statistics class or a computer programming class will better prepare students for the data journalism world, according to Malan.

“I wish I knew how important math and data is in the journalism world,” said Anthony Edwards, mass communication junior. “If I could go back I would definitely take more stats or math classes.”

There were also free, online classes Malan suggested that students could take. Although no credit would be received for the classes, they would help a students understanding of what it is they should be analyzing and looking for. Websites like “codeacademy.org” and “vdacity.org” offer such classes, said Malan.

Visual graphics and charts are another important tool, Malan said.

“You want to make it to where the information you collected is easy to read,” said Malan. “There are tools like Tableau and Google Fusion Tables, which are easy to use and allow you to put together your information in an understandable way.”

An encouraging website that Malan mentioned was “newsnerdfirsts.tumblr.com.”

This is a blog where current data journalists post their first ever data projects. The creators have a good laugh about their postings, talk about what they did or what they could have done differently, and is mainly used for fun, according to Malan.

“I didn’t realize how in depth data journalism is,” said Jennifer Ross, mass communication sophomore. “All of it seems pretty intimidating but she explained everything in a way that seems one day attainable.”

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