Freelance journalist and digital pioneer Kevin Anderson is lined up to take our one-day course on data-driven journalism, which will look at how to deal with complex data to create stories and find leads.
In the next in our series of interviews with the trainers, Journalism.co.uk finds out more about Anderson's experience working with data and digital media.
How long have you been working in journalism and when did you start getting excited about using data in your work?
I got my first job in journalism late in 1994 working as the regional reporter for a small newspaper in western Kansas. I covered everything from presidential campaigns to tornadoes. Presidential candidates Bob Dole and Arlen Specter were from a small oil town 30 minutes east, and being in tornado alley meant storm chasing.
I started working online in 1996 as an internet news editor for a local television station in Kalamazoo Michigan. A year later, I moved across the state to work for regional news site, MLive.com. I worked for the newspaper division of Advance Internet, which Jeff Jarvis headed at the time. Yes, that Jeff Jarvis.
While at MLive.com, I worked on my first data project. In 1998, we tried to measure how responsive state legislators were to email. Our users could type in their postal code, find their legislators and find out whether they responded to email and how they responded. That summer, I went to the NICAR conference, the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting. In 1998, journalists were already using spreadsheets and databases to analyse complex stories and the mountains of data that governments were creating.
What's the main challenge for journalists face when they start using data for their work?
These days the main challenge is time. We're all being asked to do more with less. Of course, with less time, it makes it even more difficult when government agencies release data 'locked' in PDF files. Fortunately, that's becoming less common.
I think the other challenge is to localise data. National data sometimes doesn't give the full picture on a local level.
What's your favourite tool/website for data journalism?
My favourite tool right now is a mix of spreadsheets on Google Docs with services like Mapalist.com and Zeemaps.com. You can use existing data or easily set up a web form to collect data. Mapalist.com links directly to your Google Docs account so that you can map any spreadsheet with location data. Zeemaps.com allows you to map several data sets, customising the pins and even allow people to add their own data. I recently did training in Norway. An editor there was able to map 7,000 crime records in minutes. (Well, he uploaded the data in minutes. It took a while longer for the site to process it.) Google Docs and these services are great tools for mapping data. They are fast and easy to understand.
Click on this link to view more details about the data journalism course.
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