Lena Kirchner

Reporter and Writer

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Data Journalism

What I Have Learned

The multiplatform reporting class taught me the importance of data journalism in today’s digitalized world and identified aspects I was not aware of.

Organizing information is key, not only on the journalist end but also on the consumer end. If data is put into spreadsheets and charts, it becomes searchable and the information has a much higher value to the news consumer.

Accurate data does not only make a story more detailed and vivid, but also more credible. When percentages, statistics etc. are expressed in actual figures, it makes the whole piece of information that is given more trustworthy. And building trust within consumers by giving accurate information is exactly what a successful, reliable news outlet should do.

Data can be a helpful addition to a story, but stories can also be completely built out of data. The data can regard any topic and if put into a for news consumer appealing and interactive fashion, data can for sure serve many people’s interests.

FiveThirtyEight Example

The outlet FiveThirtyEight released an example of a story that is completely build with data on its website Oct. 31.

The story is written by David Wassermann and features three clearly arranged and labeled tables with data. Each table shows votes cast as a share of the previous election in one of three states.

Wassermann’s story focuses on comparing Clinton’s supporters with Obama’s supporters, therefore, comparing 2016 and 2012 votes casts assists with this comparison. If readers would only look at the three tables, they already get the important facts. Wassermann builds his story around these facts.

I found it important to notice is that the author only uses some figures in the written part. The data containing tables do that for him. He then summarizes, explains and puts these figures into a wider context.

The data provided in the story makes the story’s statement about how Clinton’s support among Hispanic and Black voters changed in comparison to Obama much more trustworthy and lively.

Guest speakers

One thing that I have learned from all guest speakers we had coming in this semester is that all platforms merge more and more together and news stories become more and more interactive with the news consumer.

Photo taken from Angela Hutti's Twitter page

Photo taken from Angela Hutti’s Twitter page

More specifically, I remember Angela Hutti, meteorologist at Fox 2, talking about how fast the news industry is changing and that a willingness to learn new things is critical. She also said that the focus shifts more and more toward the internet. These two outlooks can be applied data journalism because first of all, it is somewhat new thing that journalists need to learn more about and get more familiar with, and secondly, data journalism works great on the internet. Graphics and tables can be easily inserted in a for the news consumer interactive way.

Rachel Lippmann -Photo credit: linkedin

Rachel Lippmann -Photo credit: linkedi

Moreover, Rachel Lippmann, reporter for the St. Louis Public Radio, talked about avoiding mistakes at all costs.

“No one remembers who got it first, but surely people will remember when someone got it wrong,” she said. This applies even more to data journalism, because mistakes can happen easily but the facts should be a 100 percent accurate. Wrong data will make a data-driven story look non-credible and shady.

Mark Greenblatt Photo from LinkedIn.com

Mark Greenblatt
Photo from LinkedIn.com

Another aspect of data journalism was brought to us by Mark Greenblatt, who works at Scripps Washington Bureau and whom we had a phone conversation with about a month ago. He provided us with an example of how to use data journalism troughout longer, in-depth stories to keep readers engaged. Large bulks of texts are not attractive to most readers, but data can that change and provide information from a different angle.

WSB-TV Example

The Atlanta, Georgia based TV station WSB-TV generally does not engage in a lot of data journalism. However, I found them using data throughout one of the stories in the community section on their website about birds dying from building collisions in Atlanta.  WSB-TV provides some data about birds dying in 

What WSB-TV also does, especially for stories that cover nationwide topics, is providing articles by the Associated Press to their audience. These articles usually use engage more in data journalism.

A reporter at the Associated Press, Hope Yen, wrote one of these articles analyzing in which states/regions Clinton leads at the time of the story and also in which geographical area Trump and the Republicans holds strength.

What I have noticed throughout this story, is that Yen states how many people are expected to vote in total and in some selected states with a figure, she always explains what percentage that figure is out of the total of people eligible to vote. This makes the numbers more vivid for readers.

In addition, Yen does not only provide this year’s data, but also data from the past elections in 2012 and 2008. This helps readers to put the number in a bigger picture, since most of them will remember the situation from the two previous elections.

Overall, the data provided in this story makes the facts told by Yen more vivid and more credible. The story is written in an organized way based on this data. However, maybe some graphics could have lead to more clarification and visualization.

About the importance of cross-platform skills and humorous tweeting

The new media manager at the Missouri Valley Conference talked to us during today’s class about the challenges and advantages when using social media for sports coverage.

Derrick Docket started as a graphic designer in the advertising industry, but was looking for a new position due to limited growth of that industry during that time. He then found the chance to fulfill his dream of working with sports, especially due to his love for college basketball, and started working for the Missouri Valley Conference, a NCAA athletics conference for universities in and around Missouri, six years ago. He manages the conference’s social media, is in charge of video content, assures the website functions, tweets, sends out podcasts, and covers events, as examples of his work show.

“My job title is sort of non-sense,” said Docket. “I am just a content producer, because I produce all sorts of content.”

When covering different sports events hosted by the MVC, Docket’s goal is to not only focus on basketball, “because they are on TV all the time anyway.” He wants to draw attention to less popular sports such as soccer or swimming and give these sports the chance to get their stories told.

He uses different approaches depending on the kind of event he covers and always tries to do things visually. “Anything visual that can speak for itself is a bonus,” said Derrick Docket.

 

Docket emphasized the importance of experimentation during his lecture. He said that he has no shame of trying things out, especially because the social and digital media is very fluid. A journalist/ producer should also keep in mind that people on the consumer end think differently than them. He actually conducted surveys on what his audience prefers in terms of which outlet to use and was surprised by most outcomes.

 

“News consumers just want to click in and watch,” he said.

Most people put a lot of thought into social media content, and Docket advised to get away from this approach. He best results happened to him when he “just picked up the thing and did it.” Especially in sports, since it is a very emotional area of coverage.

In addition, Docket said that his secret to successful tweeting is a very light-hearted, humorous approach. This generates the largest audience and Twitter accounts that are responsive to the audience and conversational are most successful. There is a human behind a Twitter account with a logo in the profile picture, that is why accidents happen from time to time such as the “roar bacon” error by the St. Louis Blues.

Docket’s advice for young journalists that want to pursue a career within the industry is that working on cross-platform skills is critical. One should be able to effectively take pictures, shoot video and write at the same time. Constantly renewing these skills in terms of technological developments and the ability to work with Adobe creative suite is critical as well. Regarding apps and outlets, a personal account can serve for practice purposes, to get creative and explore limits, whereas this experience and knowledge can then be applied to a professional account.

Lastly, Docket gave an outlook on the industry from his perspective and said that video will definitely continue to grow. Instagram added a video function, Twitter added a studio to edit material which is tailored to video and allows for live stream.

“If you are not doing video on any platform, you will miss out,” he said.

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