Hacks and hackers in the classroom: facilitating communication and collaborative data journalism projects between journalism and web development students

Megan Knight

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


Hacks and hackers in the classroom: facilitating communication and collaborative data journalism projects between journalism and web development students
Data journalism is increasingly becoming a fundamental newsroom skill, and news organisations and journalism schools alike are battling with the challenge of equipping journalists to produce stories based on data (Bradshaw, 2010; Stray, 2010; Bradshaw and Rohumaa, 2011; Rogers, 2011). Although data journalism is not itself as new as might be thought, changes in the technology of data storage and distribution, and in the laws regarding access to information have resulted in a huge influx of raw data to news organisations, and they are increasingly scrambling to cope with it (Knight and Cook, 2013). Increasingly, this puts the pressure on journalism schools and training institutions to fill the necessary skills gap.
For many journalism training institutes, especially those located within universities, this provides no small challenge. Universities are powerfully traditional institutions, and academic staff and students often work in silos: focused only on their particular areas of expertise and skills. Traditionally, journalism schools focus on storytelling, on narrative and image, which although no longer strictly analogue, remain organic and linear products. Data acquisition, analysis and representation tend to be skills located within computing science or other technical schools and to a lesser extent within business and scientific research. In addition, many journalism students and staff alike remain intimidated by anything that appears too mathematical, or scientific.
Conversely, the more technical students are taught a variety of techniques to handle, validate and process data sets into a visual form, either tabular or graphical. They however often lack the application or selection of the data in the first instance, as the focus is more on the techniques and processing rather than the subject/context of that data to any great extent.
Within this context our school's innovative new programmes in Visual Journalism, Web Design and Development, Journalism and Digital Media seek to integrate the teaching of these skills across the areas of journalism, digital development, design and photography. As part of these integrated programmes, modules have been developed that bring students from across the school's subject areas together to work on projects that will allow them to both demonstrate their understanding of specific skills, but also to reach an understanding of how those skills will integrate with others in a real-world context. To put it simply: the journalists (hacks) will learn how to talk to the programmers (hackers). For the journalism students, the project will increase their understanding of data and its uses, for the technology students, the project is very much client-focused and therefore finding and collaborating with content providers or content focused disciplines lends itself to more fruitful outcomes and more closely represents the real world working environment.
This case study will track the piloting of this teaching within targeted workshops and project-based outcomes with real-world applications of data and storytelling. The authors of this study will be integrating a “hacks and hackers” style event into the teaching of their existing modules on creative programming and investigative journalism: students will work in teams with existing data sources to create innovative and new forms of data-based storytelling. The study will illuminate both the processes involved in the development of the course materials, the students’ response to the material, the event and the final outcomes of the project. The authors hope to demonstrate an innovative and creative way of teaching data journalism and visualisation; one which they hope will subvert the students prejudices against data analysis and storytelling.
As a pilot project, the school’s hacks and hackers workshops will seek to bring a way of integrating these disciplines in a way that fosters collaboration rather than conflict or mistrust. This study will engage with that process, and seek to open a discussion on the "best practice" for this new integrated, collaborative and multidisciplinary teaching.

Bradshaw, P., 2010. How to be a data journalist | News | guardian.co.uk [WWW Document]. The Guardian Data Journalism. URL http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/oct/01/data-journalism-how-to-guide
Bradshaw, P., Rohumaa, L., 2011. The online journalism handbook: skills to survive and thrive in the digital age. Longman, Harlow; New York.
Knight, M., Cook, C., 2013. Social Media for Journalists: Principles and Practice. Sage, London.
Rogers, S., 2011. Facts are Sacred: The Power of Data. Guardian Books, London.
Stray, J., 2010. How The Guardian is pioneering data journalism with free tools [WWW Document]. Nieman Journalism Lab. URL http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/08/how-the-guardian-is-pioneering-data-journalism-with-free-tools/

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Event3rd World Journalism Education Congress - Mecelen, Belgium
Duration: 3 Jul 20135 Jul 2013


Conference3rd World Journalism Education Congress


Dive into the research topics of 'Hacks and hackers in the classroom: facilitating communication and collaborative data journalism projects between journalism and web development students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this