Wednesday morning, Pulitzer Prize-winning Seattle Times journalist Michael J. Berens led a workshop on data journalism.
50 students, educators and reporters participated in the workshop, which was sponsored by the National Center for Business Journalism.
“Databases are the backbone of every story,” says Berens. “The key to data journalism is quantification – the ability to count what we do specifically.”
According to the investigative journalist, not knowing about data journalism is like being “functionally illiterate.” Berens adds: “vast reams of public data are kept exclusively in electronic format. It doesn’t even exist on paper. If you don’t learn basic data skills, entire worlds of public data are no longer available to you.”
Berens is the recipient of the 2012 Pulitzer Price for Investigative Reporting for his story on “Methadone and the politics of pain“.
The three hour required attendees to participate in several exercises. After a short introduction to data journalism, Berens guided participants through a number of real data sets, thus allowing participants to gain hands-on experience.
One of the data sets revealed the differential between average teacher-to-coach salaries.
Another data set revolved around undesired side effects of one of America’s more popular pastimes.
Berens implored fellow journalists to search for stories anywhere and everywhere.
“Sources are the lifeblood of a story. Look for the guy in the basement. There’s no topic you can pick that one hasn’t devoted their life to tracking it. They can be advocacy groups or a single person.”
Attendee Steve Goodspeed, news director at WDIO TV, teaches many young journalists. “The workshop was a great opportunity to learn about the potential about data, how to get it, how to use technology and help young people.”
Karin Caifa, Senior Producer at CNN Newsource, was equally excited about the workshop.
In the business for 30 years, Berens is a seasoned veteran when it comes to Excellence in Journalism.
“This conference is a testament to journalism being a continuing education job. You never stop learning. That’s why I continue to come to SPJ. Our job as journalists is to be like sponges. I soak up new ideas, experiences and emotions. That’s what powers me and that’s the key to what we do: keeping an open mind and and open eye to everything.”
Check out the training session including slides and more information, a data journalism checklist and the slides of the workshop online.