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So what is a data journalist exactly? A view from the job ads…

A quick snapshot of how the data journalism scene is evolving at the moment based on job ads over the last few months…

Via mediauk, I’m not sure when this post for a Junior Data Journalist, Trinity Mirror Regionals (Manchester) was advertised (maybe it was for its new digital journalism unit?)? Here’s what they were looking for:

Trinity Mirror is seeking to recruit a junior data journalist to join its new data journalism unit.

Based in Manchester, the successful applicant will join a small team committed to using data to produce compelling and original content for its website and print products.

You will be expected to combine a high degree of technical skill – in terms of finding, interrogating and visualising data – with more traditional journalistic skills, like recognising stories and producing content that is genuinely useful to consumers.

Reporting to the head of data journalism, the successful candidate will be expected to help create and develop data-based packages, solve problems, find and ‘scrape’ key sources of data, and assist with the production of regular data bulletins flagging up news opportunities to editors and heads of content across the group.

You need to have bags of ideas, be as comfortable with sport as you are with news, know the tools to source and turn data into essential information for our readers and have a strong eye for detail.
This is a unique opportunity for a creative, motivated and highly-skilled individual to join an ambitious project from its start.

You will be expected to combine a high degree of technical skill – in terms of finding, interrogating and visualising data – with more traditional journalistic skills, like recognising stories and producing content that is genuinely useful to consumers.

Reporting to the head of data journalism, the successful candidate will be expected to help create and develop data-based packages, solve problems, find and ‘scrape’ key sources of data, and assist with the production of regular data bulletins flagging up news opportunities to editors and heads of content across the group.

You need to have bags of ideas, be as comfortable with sport as you are with news, know the tools to source and turn data into essential information for our readers and have a strong eye for detail.

News International were also recruiting a data journalist earlier this year, but I can’t find a copy of the actual ad.

From March, £23k-26k pa was on offer for a “Data Journalist” role that involved:

Identification of industry trends using quantitative-based research methods
Breaking news stories using digital research databases as a starting point
Researching & Analysing commercially valuable data for features, reports and events

Maintaining the Insolvency Today Market Intelligence Database (MID)
Mastering search functions and navigation of public databases such as London Gazette, Companies House, HM Court Listings, FSA Register, etc.
Using data trends as a basis for news stories and then using qualitative methods to structure stories and features.
Researching and producing content for the Insolvency cluster of products. (eg. Insolvency Today, Insolvency News, Insolvency BlackBook, Insolvency & Rescue Awards, etc.)
Identifying new data sources and trends, relevant to the Insolvency cluster.
Taking news stories published from rival sources and creating ‘follow up’ and analysis pieces using fresh data.
Occasional reporting from the High Court.
Liaising with the sales, events and marketing teams to share relevant ideas.
Sharing critical information with, and supporting sister editorial teams in the Credit and Payroll clusters.
Attending industry events to build contacts, network and represent the company.

On the other hand, a current rather clueless looking ad is offering £40k-60k for a “Data Journalist/Creative Data Engineer”:

Data Journalist/Creative Data Engineer is required by a leading digital media company based in Central London. This role is going to be working alongside a team of data modellers/statistical engineers and “bringing data to life”; your role will specifically be looking over data and converting it from “technical jargon” to creative, well written articles and white papers. This role is going to be pivotal for my client and has great scope for career progression.

To be considered for this role, you will ideally be a Data Journalist at the moment in the digital media space. You will have a genuine interest in the digital media industry and will have more than likely produced a white paper in the past or articles for publications such as AdAge previously. You will have a creative mind and will feel confident taking information from data and creating creative and persuasive written articles. Whilst this is not a technical role by anymeans it would definitely be of benefit if you had some basic technical knowledge with data mining or statistical modelling tools.

Here’s what the Associated Press were looking for from “Newsperson/Interactive Data Journalist”:

The ideal candidate will have experience with database management, data analysis and Web application development. (We use Ruby for most of our server-side coding, but we’re more interested in how you’ve solved problems with code than in the syntax you used to solve them.) Experience with the full lifecycle of a data project is vital, as the data journalist will be involved at every stage: discovering data resources, helping craft public records requests, managing data import and validation, designing queries and working with reporters and interactive designers to produce investigative stories and interactive graphics that engage readers while maintaining AP’s standards of accuracy and integrity.

Experience doing client-side development is a great advantage, as is knowledge of data visualization and UI design. If you have an interest in DevOps, mapping solutions or advanced statistical and machine learning techniques, we will want to hear about that, too. And if you have shared your knowledge through technical training or mentorship, those skills will be an important asset.

Most importantly, we’re looking for someone who wants to be part of a team, who can collaborate and communicate with people of varying technical levels. And the one absolute requirement is intellectual curiosity: if you like to pick up new technologies for fun and aren’t afraid to throw yourself into research to become the instant in-house expert on a topic, then you’re our kind of candidate.

And a post that’s still open at the time of writing – “Interactive Data Journalist ” with the FT:

The Financial Times is seeking an experienced data journalist to join its Interactive News team, a growing group of journalists, designers and developers who work at the heart of the FT newsroom to develop innovative forms of online storytelling. This position is based at our office in London.

You will have significant experience in obtaining, processing and presenting data in the context of news and features reporting. You have encyclopedic knowledge of the current best practices in data journalism, news apps, and interactive data visualisation.

Wrangling data is an everyday part of this job, so you are a bit of a ninja in Excel, SQL, Open Refine or a statistics package like Stata or R. You are conversant in HTML and CSS. In addition, you will be able to give examples of other tools, languages or technologies you have applied to editing multimedia, organising data, or presenting maps and statistics online.
More important than your current skillset, however, is a proven ability to solve problems independently and to constantly update your skills in a fast-evolving field.

While you will primarily coordinate the production of interactive data visualisations, you will be an all-round online journalist willing and able to fulfil other roles, including podcast production, writing and editing blog posts, and posting to social media.

We believe in building people’s careers by rotating them into different jobs every few years so you will also be someone who specifically wants to work for the FT and is interested in (or prepared to become interested in) the things that interest us.

So does that make it any clearer what a data journalist is or does?!

PS you might also find this relevant: Tow Center for Digital Journalism report on Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present

Written by Tony Hirst

May 31, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Jobs

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7 Responses

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  1. First, a confession. I wrote the FT ad shown above. But I think this is a very good point. “Data journalist” is a fairly unhelpful term.

    We recently did a little audit of data-related tasks performed in the FT newsroom, and found things that have been described as “data journalism” in all sorts of roles, on all sorts of teams, everywhere along the process from input to output, reporting to production. In short, different “data journalists” do different things.

    We used to call the role advertised above “interactive producer”, but that is equally opaque. For better or worse, many people now understand that “data journalist” means some sort of technology-literate journalist or designer or journalistically-literate developer.

    • @martin I wasn’t intending to criticise your ad, at all – it was more an open question to myself about what constitutes “data journalism” amd “data jorunalists” (I also changed the title of the post… the original is locked into the URL…). Your insight that /many people now understand that “data journalist” [to] mean some sort of technology-literate journalist or designer or journalistically-literate developer/ is a really useful one. I don’t suppose there’s any chance of getting a copy of the audit you did is there (I won’t share it on if that’s an issue)? We’re in the middle of pitching a new course that will hopefully be built around “data” and I need all the help I can get in pitching the line I’d like to take!;-)

      Tony Hirst

      May 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      • I didn’t interpret it as criticism at all. I agree with you. The “audit” in question is an internal project we don’t intend to make public, but I’m sure we’ll talk about aspects of it publicly in the future.

  2. These ads are looking for data ninjas and great empathetic copy writers. Somehow I think the number of people on the planet who could do both is in the single digits. the press is still finding their way and the ads reflect this. They dont know if they need a CS geek or a science writer, or something else. and guess what.its a new field and nobody knows. They should just hire some people who like to hack with data and visualization tools, and who can write in an ntelligible way, pair them with a copywriter, and just see what happens. New fields means being prepared to fail often. Its an exciting space if press and can it right because it could bring back credibility, and also address te issue of timeliness the agency who gets the data first, and flip it into meaningful stats and analysis and of the story out, is the one that digerati will follow. And where they follow the rest of the populace will follow soon after. My 2c.

    zoom6628

    June 1, 2013 at 1:33 am

    • I think this is right, and the people behind these ads are very conscious of it. A session at the NICAR conference (where “data journalists” gather) a few months back examined the habit of publishing unrealistic job ads in this space.

      While many individuals combine a handful of skills in such ads’ shopping list, having all of them in a given newsroom is really only possible by assembling a multi-disciplinary team, not by attempting to hire rockstars who can do it all.

      The Knight Lab at Northwestern has an interesting series of posts about people doing this kind of work which summed it up nicely: “Hire humans. Not skills. Not roles.”:

      http://knightlab.northwestern.edu/2013/05/17/chase-davis-on-data-driven-decision-making-for-news-projects/

      • Two things that particularly interest me in this area are:

        1) how we can appropriate technology to build up toolchains to do very powerful things without requiring much *coding* effort, although I’d argue this still counts as programming. For example, being able to export a couple of columns of data from a spreadsheet that you can then load into Gephi to generate an interactive network visualisation that allows you to analyse the network structure of the data you pulled out of the spreadsheet. Working out toolchains and workflows allows people to engage in them at different stages of the workflow (“if you can get here, you can get there”).

        2) how we can help “everyday” journalists, researchers and watchdogs start to develop skills that allow them to start seeing what might count as data, as well as how to work with data, and more than this, help them identify why it might be useful for them to start learning these skills. One of the things I learned from artificial intelligence and problem solving research was that how you represent a problem can make it either easy – or hard – to solve. The same is true of data – if you can get it into the right shape, there are tools and visualisations that can “just work” with the data to help you get it to tell its story. Developing intuitions and understanding about how to work with data as a medium is something I see as an important part of developing generic data skills that can help anyone who needs to work with data.

        Tony Hirst

        June 4, 2013 at 10:14 am

  3. […] So what is a data journalist exactly? A view from the job ads Una mirada al llamado «periodismo de datos» a través de las ofertas de empleo. «For better or worse, many people now understand that “data journalist” means some sort of technology-literate journalist or designer or journalistically-literate developer.» […]


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