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International Data Journalism Awards debut

There’s no dearth of ways for journalists to congratulate and recognize themselves with awards. Whether you’re a small local newspaper or the most-watched national news show, there exists a seemingly endless list of contests and prizes to celebrate everything from the best public service journalism (Pulitzer anyone?) down to the most-specific specialized reporting (Media Orthopaedic Reporting Excellence Awards?). But within that sphere of contest categories, there’s not really been a contest solely focused on data journalism.

Now there is: The Data Journalism Awards, which purports to be “the first international contest recognizing outstanding work in the field of data journalism worldwide.”

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6 Data Journalism Blogs To Bookmark, Part 2

Last week, I started a list of six data journalism blogs you should take note of. The post stemmed from a project some journalists are leading to develop a data-driven journalism handbook that covers all aspects of the field. This weekend, thanks to a massive effort by attendees at the Mozilla Festival in London, the project morphed from the bare bones of an idea into something very tangible.

In just two days, 55 contributors, from organizations such as the New York Times, the Guardian and Medill School of Journalism, were able to draft 60 pages, 20,000 words, and six chapters of the handbook. The goal is to have a comprehensive draft completed by the end of the year, said Liliana Bounegru of the European Journalism Centre, which is co-sponsoring production of the handbook. If you’re interested in contributing, email Bounegru at You can see what the group has so far at

Since the handbook is still being tweaked, why not check out these data journalism blogs? Read more

6 Data Journalism Blogs To Bookmark, Part 1

Today is the start of Mozilla Festival, a weekend-long celebration of sorts that brings together web developers, journalists, media educators and students to work on open web projects and learn from one another. #MozFest’s program includes design challenges, learning labs, presentations and more. There will also be plenty of time for people to simply chat with one another and possibly brainstorm the next idea that will transform the web.

One event that stood out to me calls for a group to kickstart the writing of a data-driven journalism handbook. Led by the Open Knowledge Foundation and the European Journalism Centre, the project’s goal is to create a handbook that will “get aspiring data journalists started with everything from finding and requesting data they need, using off the shelf tools for data analysis and visualisation, how to hunt for stories in big databases, how to use data to augment stories, and plenty more.”

Data journalism has quickly become a popular field yet many reporters are still in the dark about it. How do you go about getting the data? What do you do once you have the data? A perfect resource would be the data journalism handbook, but since it hasn’t been written yet, I came up with a list of six blogs that should definitely be added to your bookmarks tab, whether you’re looking for inspiration, basic skills, or advanced knowledge.

The first three are below and the last half will be published on Monday. Read more

Tool of the Day: Google Refine

Google Refine

When it comes to working with and presenting data, Google reigns supreme. We’ve covered Google’s Chart Wizard, Google’s Public Data Explorer, and even ways to run a news website using Google Docs (with WordPress). Another of Google’s powerful data tools, Google Refine, lets users work with “messy” data sets and transform them into something amazing. Check out Part 1 of the Google Refine screencast.

Unlike Google’s general web-based data services, Google Refine is a standalone desktop application. Formerly known as Freebase Gridworks, the Google Refine tool has been used by the Chicago, and most famously by ProPublica for their “Dollars for Docs” investigation series from October 2010. Once you download and install the Google Refine tool, you interact with it through your web browser. You can create a new project from scratch, or you can import data sets from files stored on your computer. When your data is imported, that’s where the real power of the tool comes through.

Google Refine screenshot

You can use facets and filters to create subsets of data, as well as format strings of data which match your search patterns. For example, if you see the term “as soon as possible” and “ASAP” in the same data set, you can reformat both data strings to match each other. For more complicated queries, you can use the Google Refine Expression Language (GREL) to create regular expressions and isolate substrings of data to separate columns.

Once you’re done with formatting your data, Google Refine lets you export your work in a number of different formats, including as an Excel spreadsheet, an HTML table, or as JSON data, which you can change to match a wiki-style format. Google Refine also lets you hook into open web services, such as Google’s Language Detection Service or the open map service Nominatim.

Google Refine is a free download and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

7 Places To Look For Database Journalism Stories

There’s a joke in reporting that one person’s an anecdote and three’s a trend. It’s not really funny, though, because too many stories rely on this metric to prove something’s happening or happened. There’s a better way, it just takes some digging, maybe a FOIA request, and some minimum database skills (which is another topic, but if you’re really serious look into IRE’s training or if you’re still in school, take a computer-assisted reporting course, which your school ought to require).

By analyzing databases on topics on your beat you can find the real trends and back it up with statistics. Your job as a journalist is to make those numbers and statistics meaningful. (But don’t force the story, sometimes the data doesn’t support your hypothesis. It hurts, but it happens.)

Here are a few places you can find data that will help you support your stories with facts instead of trends. —This site will probably just overwhelm you with the sheer quantity of information. The hard part will be picking through what’s there for what’s relevant. But you can find some interesting federal government data, including everything from military marriage trends to consumer spending to climate change, if you dig. You can sort by the type of data, the department that collected it, the category, location, topic, and more. At least try a few searches to see what’s what — and whether it leads to or fits in any of your stories.

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