A word that usually doesn’t appeal to most students in the Journalism department. But as much as you may dislike numbers, they are very important if you want to become a well-rounded journalist.
But fear not! There are applications today, such as Microsoft Excel, that will allow you to “interview” spreadsheets and easily get the information you need for your article. Learning how to get around spreadsheets is not tremendously difficult, but absolutely necessary.
Why are spreadsheets so important for a data journalist you might ask? Well, for the first obvious reason: They contain raw data. In order to retrieve the information they need, journalists have to be able to understand what a spreadsheet tells them. They can thus select the information they need to make their point in their article by reorganizing the spreadsheet and finding what they want, calculating an average numbers amongst the statistics and much more!
Journalists who know how to handle a spreadsheet can not only select the information they want to publish it in their article, they can also play around with complicated tables containing raw information to make it more readable and digestible for their readership, promoting simplicity without modifying the information. A journalist who can decipher data, with the help of spreadsheets that simplify information, can point out the most important piece of information in his or her lead too! This spreadsheet journalism blog does it well.
Cynthia O’Murchu from the Financial Times explains that “working with data can get you stories that you wouldn’t otherwise get and that it’s worthwhile doing.” Many data journalists talk about the different programs they use here.