With an increasing number governments at all levels putting data online, journalists who lack the tools to harness this information and make enough sense of it to tell stories will be left playing catch up to those who possess the necessary skills. As J-Source's ideas editor David McKie writes, journalism schools are now hopping on board.

By David McKie, J-Source Ideas Editor

Over the years, I’ve used this space and countless pages in Media magazine to explain, promote and then explain again the virtues of data journalism.

Every form of journalism needs some sort of label. In its former incarnation, data journalism was more commonly known as computer-assisted reporting. After much discussion, a growing number of practitioners use data journalism, a more inclusive term that now includes web and app design, in addition to the use of tools such as Excel, Access, MySQL and mapping software to analyze data.

With an increasing number governments at all levels putting data online, journalists who lack the tools to harness this information and make enough sense of it to tell stories will be left playing catch up to those who possess the necessary skills. Journalism schools are now hopping on board.


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I’ve been teaching data journalism at Algonquin College, in Ottawa, for a number of years and adapted some elements of the course for the research methods course I also teach at the University of King’s College in Halifax. This fall, I begin teaching a data journalism course at Carleton University, in Ottawa.

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The journalism school at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Brantford, Ont., now offers a data journalism course it calls Researching for News.

Now Ryerson is also getting into the act. In January, the Globe and Mail’s Stuart Thompson, a Media magazine columnist, begins his course. In addition to teaching many of the tools I’ve already mentioned, Stuart pointed out in a recent email correspondence that “even though the course is an elective, I think I’ll still have to communicate some of the virtues of data journalism and the merits of these programs. That’s where I think theory and case studies will be useful.”

And as for case studies, there are lots of them. Stories that we featured in past editions of Media magazine have used data to measure the amount of stimulus money going into the ridings of the federal conservatives, uncover corruption and profligate spending in Quebec municipalities, highlight disturbing patterns in road accidents and rate the effectiveness of Ontario’s local health integration networks.  

Stuart, for instance, helped to tell a great political story that used federal voting data to uncover some surprising information on party discipline, or lack of it.

We can also add Kwantlen Polytechnic University to the list. The Vancouver Sun’s Chad Skelton, another regular contributor to Media magazine, will offer a course that was the subject of much discussion on the NICAR listserv. As Chad explains in the piece, he used that listerv as a sounding board for ideas to improve the course he begins teaching, like Stuart, in January. 

To read Skelton’s column on how to crowdsource a data journalism course, click here