From Computer-Aided Journalism to Data Journalism

The Data Visualization DC Meetup was a very successful and enjoyable event: the location (Washington Post old printing press room), the attendance (250), the food (5 different types of wrap sandwiches), and the first roundtable event discussing Data Journalism. Jon Schwabish and Sean Gonzalez organized the meetup and presented a new visualization of the Data Visualization DC Meetup membership and other data sets in 3-D maps produced by SynGlyphXData Visualization DC is the fastest growing community within the Data Community DC. image002 The eminent roundtable panel consisted of the following:

  • Moderator: Frank Sesno is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) at The George Washington University, an Emmy-award winning journalist, and creator of http://PlanetForward.org, a user-driven web and television project that highlights innovations in sustainability.
  • Panelists:
    • Jeremy Bowers: Jeremy is a developer on the news applications team at NPR. Previously, he was a senior embedded developer at the Washington Post and news technologist at the St. Petersburg Times/Politifact.
    • Nikki Usher: Nikki Usher is a professor at The George Washington University. She studies news production in the digital age, and most recently has been at work studying the intersection of tech and journalism.
    • Derek Willis: Derek Willis is an interactive developer at The New York Times and works mostly on political projects. He maintains The Times' congressional and election data.
    • Kat Downs: Kat Downs is the Graphics Director at The Washington Post where she designs, develops and edits information graphics and multimedia projects.

Moderator Frank Sesno mentioned that new Washington Post owner, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, would have liked to have been there. He had each panelist define what data journalism is to them, and their responses were:

  • Jeremy Bowers: Based on collected data
  • Kat Downs: Making numbers consumable and meaningful
  • Derek Willis: About things that can be measured
  • Nikki Usher: What's different about it from computer-aided journalism (she did a two week stiint at the Guardian Newspaper which is considered to a be a gold standard for data journalism - see Data Journalism Handbook)

Moderator Sesno asked for closing sound bytes from each, starting with himself:

  • Frank Sesno: "Dazzle me with Statistics" from his multimedia reporting - story telling class at GWU
  • Kat Downs: Smart charting, maps, and timeline examples from her recent stories
  • Jeremy Bowers: Get smarter with readers
  • Derek Willis: Not progressing fast enough
  • Nikki Usher: Stay on the site to make money

The lively Q&A from audience included questions about Jeff Bezos plans for hiring (no response), automating screen scraping, reader preferences for types of visualizations, paying attention to reader feedback, etc.

Moderator Sesno concluded by thanking the panelists and audience for their participation and asking what GWU could do to help?

I am sure that Sean and the members will think of something, including being part of the retweet program.

The meetup adjourned to Data Drinks at General Assembly across the street from the Washington Post.

Brand Niemann, former Senior Enterprise Architect and Data Scientist with the US EPA, completed 30 years of federal service in 2010. Since then he has worked as a data scientist for a number of organizations, produced data science products for a large number of data sets, and published data stories for Federal Computer Week, Semantic Community and AOL Government.