Topping my media newsletter today is a piece about how the digital transformation team at the New York Times helped their teams embrace (maybe love is too strong a word) spreadsheets.
It’s timely because it came on a day that I was helping my colleagues in public broadcasting learn how to do data journalism. Top tip from my webinar yesterday: Use Google to find spreadsheets with the data you want by adding filetype:
Former New York Times digital editor Aron Pilhofer once told me that he could teach any journalist 80 percent of everything they would need to know about data journalism in a day. I’d agree with that, and if you can unlock the magic of pivot tables, you’ll feel like Harry Potter. It’s just magic.
But if you’re a journalist and the actual ease of use doesn’t win you over, Lindsey Rogers Cook with the Times makes this argument:
While journalists once were fond of joking that they got into the field because of an aversion to math, numbers now comprise the foundation for beats as wideHow We Helped Our Reporters Learn to Love Spreadsheets, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Times Open
ranging as education, the stock market, the Census and criminaljustice. More data is released than ever before — there are nearly250,000 datasets on data.gov alone — and increasingly, government, politicians and companies try to twist those numbers to back their own agendas.
As with the training that I do with data journalism, they use Google Sheets. It’s approachable and the interface is simple while having most of the features that Excel does. Moreover, I’ve found that when working with journalists from multiple organisations that if I use Google Sheets, I can be assured that we’re all working on the same version of the software, unlike Excel. I also find Google Sheets much less daunting than the open-source versions of spreadsheet software.
At the Times, the class meets for two hours each more for three weeks. They work on projects that are directly to their work, and they also train the reporters’ editors.
I have found the most successful data journalism courses that I’ve done actually bring together people from reporting, design and even coding or development.
I’ll let you read the rest of the post, but one key thing I’ll highlight, the Times has actually released their data journalism course materials to the world on Google Docs. Wow. That’s impressive and useful.
If you have a story you think I should include in my daily media newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.