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Posts Tagged ‘excel’

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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3 Things Journalists Can Teach Themselves Over Vacation

While not all news folk can escape from the news cycle during the holidays, if you’re lucky enough to have a day or few off, put down the cookies and milk and put that time to good use advancing your career. Here are three skills you can reasonably learn — or start learning — over your vacation that can help you do your job better or land a better job. If either of those are your New Years Resolution, take the time now to get a head start.

Lesson: Creating a blog and other basic digital skills

If you’re looking for a job or looking to network, there’s no better time than time off your day job to round up your clips/photos/reel/etc. and corral everything into a simple, personalized blog on WordPress or a similar site. If you want to really show off, or add a few more skills to fill out your resume, Mindy McAdams has done the hard part for you by compiling lessons needed to become baseline multimedia journalists. Her multimedia proficiency guide is a few years old, but these are still good basics to get started on everything from reading RSS feeds to recording and editing video and audio.
http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/2009/rgmp-15-maintain-and-update-your-skills/ (Note this links to the last lesson, the full listing is at the bottom of the post.)

Lesson: Use Excel for data journalism

Knowing the very basics of how to set up a spreadsheet and use the sort feature opens up new possibilities for your stories. Imagine how cool it would be if you could do even more. Even if Excel is outside your (or your newsroom) budget, you can still apply similar skills with free spreadsheet tools, such as Google Docs or Open Office. Dig a little deeper and you’ll soon be requesting government data and mashing up unexpected correlations in pivot tables that tell stories your competition can’t. Trust me when I say pivot tables will change the way you crunch numbers — for the better. Poynter recently posted a detailed explainer on organizing stories/data in Excel. It’s way more detailed than you really need to get started, but it goes from basics to advanced in one sheet, which I like. Don’t get overwhelmed, just dip your toes in and move on when you’re ready. Maybe it will spark some interest in more advanced IRE training?
http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/154584/how-journalists-can-use-excel-to-organize-data-for-stories/

Lesson: Write computer codes

OK, so this isn’t something that will directly translate into your day job (unless maybe you’re on the web team or want to transition that direction), but learning to code can give you some comfort and confidence with computer and web programming languages. It can help you learn the skills to eventually develop apps and websites, and since that’s the direction journalism is headed, these skills could open doors down the line. Codeacademy makes a game of learning to program, which could be fun if you’re into that. But if you want to expand on their lessons, I recommend Carl Herod’s really detailed lessons originally posted on Reddit, which start at the very “Hello World” beginnings and get more complicated and cool from there.
http://codeacademy.com
• http://www.highercomputingforeveryone.com/

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.

Data.gov —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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