Three reasons to learn data visualization

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Eric Fischer
By Sarah Darby

As journalists and communicators, we all want to tell compelling stories. Although many of us specialize in a specific area of storytelling such as convergence, broadcast, print, photo or strategic communication, at some point, we will all be asked to tell stories using new tools and platforms.

As technology evolves, media professionals must also evolve in order to reach audiences. The concept of Computer Assisted Reporting has been around since the 50s, but use of technology in newsrooms looks a lot different than it did then.

Today, most newsrooms are using coding, interactive graphics and data visualization to create more engaging digital stories. 

There are a lot of reasons why you should learn data visualization. Here are a few:

1. Speak truth to power

Journalists can uncover many incredible stories by talking to the right people and asking the right questions. However, some stories can only be discovered through careful examination of data. Although some journalists can discover insights in smaller datasets fairly easily, larger datasets require thorough analysis. With the help of data visualization, media professionals can quickly see trends and abnormalities in data. Knowing how to use a data visualization program can save communicators time writing stories and content. More data analysis means more investigative journalism, and more investigative journalism means a more transparent society. Don't we all want that?

2. Show don't tell

The average reader only spends 15 seconds on a website. Read that again. 15 seconds. Communicators and journalists have to work harder than ever to not only get readers to click, but to keep them engaged. Of course you've heard it before, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Data visualization can make even the most complex story scannable. Sometimes a 3,000 word article is the best way to tell a story, but for all the times it isn't, data visualization is your friend. Data visualization will engage and inform your readers and keep them coming back for more. 

3. Get hired

Of course we all want to make the world a better place and create a more informed society, but it's also nice to get paid. Data journalism is one of the fastest growing segments in the industry right now, and if you have the skills, you'll have a job. “There are an incredibly small number of people who are qualified to work at the speed that we work at, to work with the ethics, and understanding and fairness that we do in journalism, and who are really good at coding," John Keefe, senior editor of data news at WNYC, told Columbia Journalism Review. "And anybody who puts any effort into being good at that and having those qualities is going to have a job probably before they can graduate.”

It only takes a simple Google search to see what he means. You can find hundreds of job openings in data visualization here, here and here. Even if you don't think data visualization is your calling, you can still benefit from a basic understanding of code and data. More and more "traditional" reporting and media jobs require basic knowledge of digital skills, and many organizations look for candidates who can tell stories using data. 

Are you convinced yet? We have the workshop for you! Join ONA Mizzou Wednesday, April 13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. for an introductory workshop on Tableau PublicTableau Public is a free tool that allows journalists and storytellers to create beautiful and informative data visualization projects. Ben Jones, the director of product marketing for Tableau Public and a data visualization professor at the University of Washington, will teach a hands-on introduction to Tableau Public. Make sure to download Tableau for students before the event, and RSVP to the Facebook event

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