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NICAR roundup of data journalism ideas

For those who don’t know, or haven’t seen the flurry of #NICAR12 tweets this past week/end, the best minds in data journalism met in St. Louis for the annual CAR conference put on by IRE and its National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Between the hashtag and the official blog, you’ll get a good overview of initial impressions and topics covered — from avoiding data dumps in stories to harvesting trends from social media. Chrys Wu, again this year, has done a fabulous job rounding up the multitude of presentations at NICAR.

Here are five of my favorite topics, but I encourage you to bookmark Wu’s page and peruse them all, because there are some awesome ideas and tips there:

  • Human Assisted Reporting — This slideshow presents an “aha idea” that I can’t believe I never thought of: automating tasks beat reporters do regularly with data, and then programming your computer to do simple data analysis automatically. My favorite easy example of this was mining the daily police blotter for trends or keywords (who has the highest bail and what is the bail/the crime? any nurses, teachers, ministers, etc. arrested?)
  • Weathering the Storm: Using data to bolster the traditional weather story — Maybe it’s the nearly four years I spent working as a news reporter at a mid-sized paper and the dozens of weather stories I was forced to work on, but I believe there’s a special place in journo-heaven for anyone who can turn the most over-used story topic into something new and interesting for readers/watchers/listeners. Here’s your ticket to attempting just that.
  • Advanced Excel Tips — Excel is pretty much the program I use the most, and most heavily, on my work computer, after Firefox of course. So this tipsheet from the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s MaryJo Webster is not only a good refresher on bits I know well, but it also includes some great tips on doing things I haven’t quite mastered. From date functions to string functions, this is a solid list that I’ll be saving for future reference, and you should too.
  • How to use election data (and other good stuff to know) — This is actually a round-up from John Keefe of his four presentations, including one on election night and maps and election data without databases. He also covers other interesting topics, including everything you need to know about APIs, using Google Spreadsheets as your backend CMS, and hacking the Census data.
  • Build your first news app with Django — Their first step-by-step tutorial is how to build an interactive poll, with some other getting started resources.

There are many other topics covered, including on some of these same topics, as well as new tools to use and some examples of investigative data journalism at work. What was your favorite element of NICAR this year?

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