No-code data journalism

(Hello! I am marathoning the International Symposium on Online Journalism 2020 held online for the first time on July 20-24. I was on quarantine at that time and I signed up because it was free. But due to time zone differences and bandwidth problems, I decided to just download and watch the videos later.

Here are my notes from one of its brunch workshops, “No-code data journalism: How to go beyond infographics and engage audiences.”)

Cathleen Crowley, a multi-awarded data journalist of the Albany Times Union in New York, said she “stumbled” upon data journalism as a beat reporter covering cops and courts.

“There were some people in the newsroom who were the data team,” she said. “But as downsizing, layoffs, and attrition kinda hit [us], one day, I looked around…and I was about the only one there who really knows Excel… Now I’m a one-person data team in my newsroom.”

From watching YouTube videos to learn Excel, Cathleen explored other tools to analyze and visualize datasets. Her work (shown above) earned her awards.

Verah Okeyo, a reporter from Daily Nation in Kenya, sees data journalism as a way to “awaken stories.”

“I’ve never loved data at all,” she said. “But when I came to the newsroom I have been reporting on health [and] something has to have some shock factor. Data has a way of making the news fresh.”

She said the changes to some old stories were not reported because the news cycle usually focuses on the current. In 2019, while researching on child deaths in Kenya since 1965, she observed, “people are dying but there is no report on the progress being made…”

She discovered that though child mortality has decreased through the years, there are several areas in Kenya where there are more and more children dying.  

“Running a data journalism project is more than having the tool,” she said. “The first thing was how to collect the data.”

So where do you get data?

  1. Non-digital sources. Meaning, books, documents, ledgers, financial statements, etc.
  2. Surveys. You can use paper, Google Form, and Google Surveys, the latter is paid.
  3. Google Public Data Explorer where you can find and visualize datasets from World Bank, IMF, Eurostat among others.
  4. Google Trends
  5. Google Crisis Map.
  6. Global Forest Watch. Access deforestation data and monitoring.
  7. ElectionBot. This covers the US elections.
  8. Open Data websites of governments.
  9. In the Philippines, after an executive order on Freedom of Information was signed in 2016, one can now request data from agencies in the government and the whole executive branch even if you’re not a journalist. (Visit foi.gov.ph/) You can also download data from data.gov.ph.

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Verah said data journalism is “10 percent of the skill and 90 percent of strategy, tenacity, and passion…” Spot on. Some people think that data journalism is data visualization alone. It is not. It still is a story, the tools just improve analysis and presentation.

Both Cathleen and Verah use Microsoft’s Power BI, a downloadable Windows PC tool. (Microsoft, by the way, sponsored the workshop.)

Some data journalism tools
  1. Excel
  2. Datawrapper
  3. WordCounter
  4. Flourish
  5. Power BI
  6. Google Fusion Tables
  7. Google Sheets
  8. Google Data GIF Maker
  9. Tilegrams

Vera Chan, a former features reporter who is now Microsoft’s senior manager for journalist relations, said Power BI is actually built as a business Intelligence dashboard. “But… because of the easy way you can pull on visuals…it has a really huge value with data journalism.”

She showed the various ways Power BI was used. Politico Europe, for example, used it to project the compositions of the EU Parliament based on actual votes. A “non-obvious” company used it to build a clickable table of contents that show trends.

Here’s the Power BI Tutorial by Cathleen Crowley. (Start at 25:29 to 47:50.)

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