For Media for Transparency’s Data and Investigative Reporting Boot Camp, we reached out to several national and international data journalists and investigative reporters to see if we could interview them about their work. The idea was to screen these video interviews at the boot camp to share sage advice from experts of the craft with the boot camp participants and to drive discussions during our sessions.
One of the people I contacted was Paul Bradshaw, a renowned British digital journalist who also leads the data journalism master’s degree programme at Birmingham City University. Bradshaw’s blog Online Journalism and his several books (The Online Journalism Handbook, Finding Stories with Spreadsheets) are great resources for digital and data journalism.
While we weren’t lucky enough to score a video interview with Bradshaw due to his busy schedule, he was kind enough to send us a written response to our interview questions. We read out Bradshaw’s responses to the boot camp participants at the start of our sessions on data analysis. Some of Bradshaw’s points that resonated with the participants and were well-received included:
On top tips for data journalists: “Don’t start by learning a technique for the sake of it – there are 101 different things you could learn – instead pick a problem that you face regularly, or a story idea that you have, and let that dictate the sorts of data journalism skills that you learn first.”
On technical skills: “Spreadsheet skills – whether that’s Excel, Google Sheets or something else – are fundamental. So start with those – and learn about sorting, filters, and pivot tables if you can.”
Advice for beginners in data journalism: “It’s easy to look around you and think that other people are so far ahead of you, and there is so much to learn. But in reality it’s just the case that there will *always* be someone who has a skill that you don’t, and there will *always* be a skill that you haven’t had time to learn. Don’t focus on what you haven’t got – instead focus on what you can do, and build from there…. The wonderful thing about modern journalism is that there’s so many new things to try, and so much knowledge at our fingertips to learn them, but that can also make you feel like there are *too* many things to try! So just learn one thing you want to, and then the next thing and go from there.
We thank Paul Bradshaw for these excellent suggestions and tips. He has also published the entire Q&A on his Online Journalism blog. We also highly recommend that you subscribe to email updates from the Online Journalism blog as it is a treasure trove of online resources and current best practices of data journalism and digital news reporting.