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Four Things Schools Should Do to Teach Data Journalism

The use of data has become a vital investigative tool for journalists. But many journalism programs and courses worldwide are insufficient or unable to provide students with the essential skills needed to gather, analyze and present data.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Journalism Associate Professor Norman P. Lewis and Journalism Professor Mindy McAdams, along with University of Passau (Germany) Research Associate Florian Stalph, drawing on discussions in an international syndicate of journalism educators, identified four key recommendations for journalism programs at colleges and universities.

Data journalism is currently taught in about half of U.S. journalism programs. Courses may include statistics, numeracy, programming, computational journalism, and computer-assisted reporting. However, these topics are not defined similarly across programs, resulting in coursework that differs significantly. For example, some educators believe that programming is inextricably linked with using data, while others do not think programming is vital to practice data journalism.

Prior research shows that programs cover basic data journalism processes of acquiring, cleaning, analyzing, and presenting data, but many programs lack coursework beyond the basics and may omit advanced data analysis or statistical literacy. Other programs lacked any data courses at the undergraduate level.

The authors stress that how topics are defined is less important than the fundamental skills behind them. To help j-schools keep pace and to provide consistent coursework, the syndicate identified four recommendations for the education of emerging journalists worldwide.

  • Numeracy and Basic Statistics – the skill of interpreting numbers and avoiding errors
  • Communicating Data – the skill of accurately representing data in both words and graphics
  • Data Ethics – the skills of being transparent about data, gathering it legally, and using it responsibly
  • Computational Thinking – for example, disassembling a problem into steps and finding solutions that can be reproduced by others to test their accuracy

How educators provide these skills, whether presented within an existing course or new courses, or outsourced, is a territory each j-school will need to navigate. Regardless, the authors assert that these steps are “achievable minimums.”

The original article, “Data Journalism,” was published in Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Vol. 75(1), 2020.

Authors: Norman P. Lewis, Mindy McAdams, Florian Stalph.

 This summary was written by Jayni Morris, a student in the UFCJC Professional Master’s program.

Posted: May 12, 2020
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