Comment / Interactive / Journalism

Key lessons to take away from the CIJ summer school

From Friday until today I’ve been at the Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer School, at City University.

The Centre for Investigative Journalism aims to (and does) provide excellent training for wannabe journalists.

There are a broad variety of lessons on a daily-basis depending on different interests – from company accounts to investigations. I chose to attend the talks to do with computer-assisted reporting. This included talks on Excel, SQL, Statistics, Data Visualisation, CAR basics, and social networking.

I thought I’d share with you some key quotes and things I’ve learnt from the last three days. I think these actually apply to all journalists, not just those interested in data journalism:

I know from attending a series of classes by David that he would prefer to be called an investigative reporter, but I think he is also a fantastic data journalist. He taught a few classes on Computer-Assisted Reporting (CAR) including a basic introduction to SQL, Data Visualisation Tools, and also Statistics for Journalists. These were extremely useful and I hope what I learn can be used in my stories in the future.

Reviewing my notes this quote by David definitely stood out and depicts the transition from traditional story-telling narratives to a new age of data journalism or CAR. Stories are no longer just words.

It is so important that newsrooms learn to embrace this change. We can track this embrace by the growing amount of data journalists in papers. I hope it continues to grow!

One of my favourite classes of the summer school was a talk by Paul Lewis on his series “Reporting the Riots”.

Paul Lewis is a Special Projects Editor for The Guardian and did a huge amount of work reporting and analysing on the riots that occurred in England last year.

His coverage of the riots alone gained him 30,000 followers over a space of 4 days. I think this is a great example of how people value Twitter and other social networks as a resource for information, especially in times of distress.

One of the key parts of Paul’s success was collaborative reporting. Paul talked about building a relationship with his Twitter followed by providing up-to-date information on the riots allowed him to “get help back”.

On the 1st of July Paul’s team at The Guardian released the second phase of their analysis on “Reading the Riots”, a social research project, that joins The Guardian with the London School of Economics. I really recommend having a look at this, such fantastic analysis and the videos from actual rioters offer a sublime insight into the reasons behind rioting.

I found Aron Pilhofer’s lessons in journalism the most useful. Aron runs the Interactive Team at The New York Times.

I’m not going to talk in huge detail about these because I think they will have different meanings for every news-desk and every journalist. But they are crucial to remember when dealing with data journalism but they also apply to traditional journalism.

What would you say is the key to generating great stories?

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