Thursday, 27 January 2011

Six free data journalism projects for beginners

This week and next we are posting six projects from MMJ Masterclass 20: Getting started in data journalism.

They'll go live, one a day, and will be available to non-subscribers for 24 hours each. Subscribers get them for free in perpetuity.

To subscribe, buy the book from Amazon, which costs you around £24 in the UK, $45 in the USA, and gives you full access to the book's extensive companion website and makes you a part of the MMJ community.

UK link here:

Here's the run down on the projects:
Project 1: Factual, Excel and Many Eyes, a beginner's guide to finding, sifting and visualising data using these three tools: Free Wednesday only, still here for subscribers:
Project 2: Socrata: An all-in-one data discovery and mapping tool. Posting on Thursday here:
Project 3: Guardian Data, Google Spreadsheets and Mapalist: Posting on Friday here:
Project 4 Tableau, a multi-visualisation data tool for non-programmers. Posting on Saturday
Project 5: Scraperwiki. Posting on Sunday:
Project 6: Plaintext visualisations with Many Eyes, Tableizer and Wordle. Posting Monday here:

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Previewing Masterclass 20: Getting started in data journalism

Dispelling the mystique around data journalism

If you are impatient to get started, and just quickly do some data journalism, click here from January 26

If you want to find out what data journalism is, and what it's for, before you get stuck in, then read on, or click on the video or audio files.


Are you confused about what data journalism is, how you do it, and what its purpose is?

If so, join the club.
There is a mystique surrounding data journalism; it’s almost like it’s a dark art and you have to be a wizard to practise it.
A very few people are brilliant at it, a number have dabbled in it, loads of journalists think they probably ought to find out about it, but most fear they probably won’t be able to master it.
All this throws up a smoke screen about the subject that I hope to dispel in this masterclass.

What data journalism is

I am to show what data journalism is, what it can do, and how to do it. You’ll see from the tabs top right right, if you are a subscriber to MMJ, that these points are covered in more detail in this masterclass.
But let’s just right away say simply what data journalism is, or what it ought to be, if it’s to be of use to journalists and audiences.
Data journalism involves taking large sets of figures and creating visualisations out of them – visualsiations can be maps, graphs or tables.
What are these visualisations for?
They are to enable us to spot stories that were buried in the data.
So, data journalism is about finding stories in data. It’s also about presenting visualisations that anyone else can delve into and then make their own connections, spot their own stories, and reach their own clearer understanding of the issues the data covers.

Why do we need to do it?

Well, because governments and other organisations are now making huge amounts of data available to us and the general public. That data is pretty meaningless unless you know how to analyse it. Data journalism enables us to analyse it, to sift it and create visualsiatiosn that make sense of it
Some are sceptical about the value of data journalism.
I can see why, because a lot of what I’ve discovered as I’ve explore the subject is that many of the visualisations data journalists create don’t show very much at all. They don’t immediately seem to add to a story – let alone become a story in themselves. It doesn't matter howbeautiful the visualisation, if people can't understand it - can't get meaning from it - then it is in the same categoy as a dull headline, a boring intro and a badly written text story.
What we need to do, and what I hope to do here, is present a practical guide to using some of the best data journalism tools, including:
This masterclass is intended as a beginner’s guide and, as such, it fits in to the first of the three levels of tuition that the MMJ project is built on: the one called Getting Started in the book version and it’s online equivalent

What skills do you need?

So far throughout the MMJ project we’ve looked for ways in which those with no programming skills can master all aspects of modern, mobile, multimedia journalism.
We are going to keep pretty close to that strategy here. You don't need to be a coder or programmer. We’ll be using tools that involve no real coding, though we will come across code, as we have in the past, when taking it and pasting it into websites, for example.
Do you need to be a skilled graphic artist? No, because the tools we’ll use make visualisations for you. But  graphics skills can be enormously valuable to data journalism projects, as can the skills of a programmer

No journalist should feel left out

Journalist and information architect Mirko Lorenz, writing in Data-Driven Journalism said: "No journalist should feel excluded from this field…not all journalists working in tomorrow’s newsrooms will be coders.
"There will be real coders, journalist/coders and journalists working with the output of such teams, being specialised in writing, photography and filmmaking.
"This is not so different from today’s newsrooms…the change in what knowledge skills are needed should not trick anyone into believing that only journalists with professional coding experience are needed for this.
"But we will need people with skills, talent and an interest in solving complex issues.
"The main question is: can you contribute to the story?”

Not interested in data, don’t get it?

I think this video will show you why data can be so valuable to journalism.
It’s by David McCandless, who, according to the website from which it is taken, “ turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut -- and it may just change the way we see the world.”
You won't learn to do everything he can do in this masterclass by a long way, but you should at least get a good start in it.
The link below, and the ret of the masterclass, goes live on Janury 26

Next: Data journalism: what it is


Is your IT department dragging its heels over mobile apps and websites? Here’s how to get things moving…

I ask the question because, from feedback I’ve been getting this week from a total of 20 communications professionals who would like to develop mobile websites for their organisations, IT departments are being highly obstructive.

I’ve been running training courses on how non-programmers can now create mobile versions of their static websites – a mix of web and native apps that quickly put mobile-appropriate content into a form that the users of web-enabled phones can access.

I show delegates now to do it without any knowledge of programming, and only a lay understanding of web design and site architecture.

All the delegates spoke of an explosion in smartphone ownership among their customers. One had figures: 27 to 28 per cent of those who used his organisation’s online services have smart phones, and it was projected that 35-40 per cent would have them in a year.

And yet, when he and the others on the course had sought to engage with their IT departments on getting mobile-optimised sites or apps up and running, they were met with, at best, indifference and, at worst, hostility.

Why is this?

I suspect it’s because IT departments, perhaps with good reason, see themselves as the guardians of online provision, particularly in big organisations and those that are ripe targets for spammers and hackers.

Yet the web has moved on. It is now possible for the non-programmer to create all sorts of highly professional web presences, including those for mobile devices. And they don’t need to be hosted on your servers.

Such sites can be created either for free or for a minimal cost.

And yet when my delegates asked about the costs of developing mobile, either from their IT departments or from external developers, the prices quoted were ridiculously high.

It seems that developers seek to charge as much for creating a mobile apps they would for an extensive static website.

That can’t be right.

How can they expect to charge from £2-3,000, and sometimes much more, for a simple web or native app when you or I can create one either for nothing or, for an iPhone and Android app made available in the iTunes store and Android market, no more than £400?

From the feedback I got this week, I’d say that IT departments and web developers ought to get up to speed on all this.

Otherwise, as I’ve seen from the take-up of the courses I ran this week, their customer-facing colleagues will take the ball and run with it.

If you’d like to know more about creating your own apps and mobile websites, please go to and use the Contact options you’ll find there.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Preview of Masterclass 20: Getting started in data journalism

Turning spreadsheet data into maps is a useful skill for the multimedia journalist.

Among the many data tools we'll give tutorials on in Masterclass 20, which goes live on January 26, will be MapAList, which can take your Google spreadsheets and turn them into maps.

Click and zoom on the map below for details on all the WWII prisoner of war camps in the UK.

The data came from English Heritage, and was originally published by The Guardian.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Getting started in data journalism

The next masterclass on Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide will be an introduction to data journalism. It'll be a complete beginner's guide to using data to create visualisations and discover stories, and will cover the most useful software for non-coders.
Below is an example. This is a map created in Socrata, froma list of locations.

Powered by Socrata

The masterclass will go live on January 26