How to get started in data journalism: Takeaways from a panel at CUNY

How to get started in data journalism: Takeaways from a panel at CUNY

How to get started in data journalism: Takeaways from a panel at CUNY
Want to get started in data journalism? Don’t waste your time learning how to code from scratch. Instead, pick a project and learn the necessary skills along the way. That’s according to panelists at a data journalism career event organized by Science Writers in New York last week at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in NYC.

Martin Burch, a data journalist at The Wall Street Journal, said what really transformed his career was a project where he could immediately apply the skills he was learning. As an intern at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he worked with an interdisciplinary team of scientists and communicators to develop a map of how the world’s freshwater flows into the ocean.

But don’t data journalism job ads often ask for coding skills in several programming languages? It’s true, said ProPublicadeputy data editor Olga Pierce, data journalists use many different tools for their work, such as Python to scrape data off the web; SQL to group, analyze and summarize them; or JavaScript for interactive visualizations. But few people are actually fluent in every programming language, she said. Better to be proficient in one.

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To get started, it’s enough to know how to handle spreadsheets with software like Excel and perhaps to learn how to code in one language, such as Python or R. (Any language will do, added panelist Jue Yang, technologist-in-residence at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

So don’t be intimidated by those job ads, said Storybench editor Aleszu Bajak: Interviewers will usually ask not what languages you can code in, but what projects are in your portfolio. Focus on just building something! Storybench’s tutorials are a good place to start, he said. For these recruiters, Pierce had a suggestion: Don’t drive promising applicants away who won’t apply just because they don’t know two of the six programming languages you list in your job ad.

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