In an interview, Derek Willis, a database editor at washingtonpost.com, recommended this for journalism students:
There are plenty of academic disciplines that use data all the time. So if a student knows a professor who does survey research, that’s usually database-oriented. Or political scientists who study election results or voter participation — they usually deal with datasets.
But the easiest and probably best way is to just start. Start keeping some information in a spreadsheet. Pretty soon you’ll learn how to deal with issues and problems. Then you’ll outgrow the spreadsheet and start looking around for a more robust solution.
Free or cheap database software and hosting is abundantly available, too, especially on university campuses. It’s a matter of asking for it.
Why should you care about databases if you are a journalist? Think of it first as keeping track of bits of information. Well, heck — that’s essential for every journalist! How do you do it? With a messy stack of old reporter’s notebooks, perhaps. Uh-huh. How’s that working for you?
So . . .
Step 1: Get into Google Docs and start using some spreadsheets. Manage your beat, your sources, your stories. Need help? You’ll do just fine. Anyone can learn to use a spreadsheet, and doing so will make you feel comfortable with the same structure that a database requires.
Step 2: Take a stats course. I wish I had. Sadly, I was one of those math-phobic journalism students. Luckily, I did learn the basics of programming while still an undergrad. (I guess I didn’t think programming was too much like math.) I would stridently urge you to learn a bit about statistics BEFORE you follow Derek’s advice about offering your services to some professor who’s using data. Professors do not have time to teach you one-on-one if you are starting from zero — that’s why we have courses, credits and tuition!
Step 4: If Timeline scared you, don’t give up. Try this instead. You can generate custom Google Maps with those pop-up balloons supplying added info. All you need to know that you might not know already is how to get the correct latitude and longitude for the map, in the correct format. Matt told me this is the easiest way (it could not possibly be any easier!):
Go to Google Maps and type in an address, as you normally would.
Click Search Maps to get the location and map.
Instant latitude and longitude! Sweet!
Step 5: Now you’re ready to make friends with some computer science students, or go and seek out that professor who needs your cheap student labor to get some data beaten into submission. Or — if you’re a working full-time journalist — find some public records for your state or city, and get started!
Step 6: Join IRE. It might be the smartest career move you’ll ever make. Journalism students pay $25 per year for membership. You know those TV commercials where people using a particular cell phone service are accompanied by a giant crowd of people — their “network”? That’s what IRE is like for people who “interrogate data,” as they like to say. You’ll find lots of information, tutorials and support there. Even better, if you can manage to attend one of IRE’s reasonably priced regional training sessions, you will get face-to-face instruction. (Don’t be put off by the outdated term “computer-assisted reporting.”)
And finally, there’s a book I can recommend: Database Design for Mere Mortals (2nd edition). It’s not a how-to for any specific software or type of database. Instead, it explains the principles of database structure in a very clear way. I only read about half of the book, but it helped me a lot. It’s surprisingly readable.
And why, you ask — why would I do this? So that you could produce an awesome work of journalism such as this D.C. schools package, from washingtonpost.com. That’s why!
I remember liking the TV cop show “Dragnet” a lot when I was a kid. I was reminded of that “Just the facts, ma’am” drama while I watched and listened to this report from the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal: Was It Suicide?
The audio is very effective, in my opinion. What do you think about the way photographs were used?
I haven’t seen a slideshow quite like this before. I think it’s very exciting that journalists are trying out new formats for telling true stories.
(Read more about slideshows in online journalism.)
Showing a wonderful knack for walking a thin line between cheerful acceptance and justified complaining, Meranda Watling tells us what it’s like to be the youngest reporter in the newsroom:
How her opinions are often sought out but, almost as often, ignored.
How she sees and hears stupid ideas that no one in her age group would respect.
How she wonders whether she’s wasting her time, even though she loves her job.
Plus, read all the comments on the Newsosaur’s post about the brain drain from newspapers. He’s talking about a legion of Merandas who are giving up and leaving because it’s so obvious to them that management has no clue what readers want or respect. The comments back him up, again and again. (That persistent sound you hear is our lifeblood leaking out.)
I just finished doing a day of training at the Virginia Press Association, in Richmond. Nice bunch of people in attendance, all from newspapers. Very few reporters, lots of online staffers, many photojournalists. Nice range of ages. Numerous people from The Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Roanoke Times.
The newspaper business is in a horrible state. It’s not that papers don’t make money. They make plenty. But not many people, or at least not many on Wall Street, see a future in them. In an attempt to leave the forest of dead trees and reach the high plains of digital media, every paper in the country is struggling mightily to digitize its content with Web sites, blogs, video and podcasts.
And they are half right. Putting print on the grid is a necessity, because the grid is where America lives. But what the newspaper industry really needs is an iPod moment.
Carr’s article appears to have the first use of the phrase.
“Vint Cerf, a k a the godfather of the net, predicts the end of TV as we know it: Web guru foresees download revolution,” by Bobbie Johnson, The Guardian, Aug. 27, 2007:
The 64-year-old, who is now a vice-president of the web giant Google and chairman of the organisation that administrates the internet, told an audience of media moguls that TV was rapidly approaching the same kind of crunch moment that the music industry faced with the arrival of the MP3 player.
“85% of all video we watch is pre-recorded, so you can set your system to download it all the time,” he said. “You’re still going to need live television for certain things — like news, sporting events and emergencies — but increasingly it is going to be almost like the iPod, where you download content to look at later.”
At the same conference where Cerf spoke (the Edinburgh International Television Festival), Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger reportedly said: “For the newspaper, there will be an iPod moment where someone creates a device that is so brilliant at reading text, the newspaper becomes irrelevant.”
Rusbridger’s remark inspired Charles Arthur, who wrote, on Sept. 4, 2007:
The “iPod moment” — which happened, let’s guess, was underway around the beginning of 2004, when the Guardian’s G2 section had a piece about “the iPodders”, noting how people had these things — meant that suddenly people began to realise that they could carry huge tracts of music with them, rather than being tied down to playing small amounts on a portable CD or MiniDisc, or having the full lot at home on their hi-fi.
(And in passing, the iPhone is not the “iPod moment” for phones. It’s too big; it doesn’t redefine what we do with phones. It’s a smartphone with a cute interface.)
Arthur’s blog post, in turn, inspired me (Sept. 21, 2007):
What happened to the music business will — will – happen to the news business.
It’s already happening. But the device (whatever it’s going to be) will accelerate the process so much, it might just knock us flat to the ground. This is the future we are preparing for now. This is the future we must be ready to meet — or else, what happens to journalism?
Anything earlier than Carr’s 2005 article?
(There’s also The iPod’s Moment in History, by Charlie Bertsch, Tikkun, Sept. 27, 2006. This essay looks at the after-effects of the introduction of the iPod.)
I was talking on Tuesday with one of the organizers of this year’s Online News Association conference, and I learned that the event is completely sold out. Ju-Don Roberts, of washingtonpost.com, said they expected about 350 registrations, but they’ve gotten 600. Woot!
I’ll be there (I like this conference a lot), and I’ll be leading a Flash workshop on Wednesday (20 seats, all sold out). I’ll also be giving a one-hour demo of Flash (kind of an appetizer portion) on Thursday from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. This is listed on the schedule as “Multimedia Learning Lab” (10:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.), and there will also be sessions on Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, and more.
The full conference runs from Oct. 17 through Oct. 19, ending with the awards banquet Friday night. Location: Toronto. ONA has never been held outside the U.S. before; too bad the exchange rate is terrible for us Yanks right now. But hey, I’m not complaining. Toronto is a nice city, and ONA is a great conference.