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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Sign up now for our new online course on data journalism: "Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics"



Data journalists are the newest rock stars of the newsroom. Using computer programming and data journalism techniques, they have the power to cull through big data to find original and important stories.

Learn these techniques and some savvy computer programming to produce your own bombshell investigations in the latest massive open online course (MOOC) from the Knight Center, “Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics.”

Instructor Ben Welsh, editor of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk and co-founder of the California Civic Data Coalition, will show students how to turn big data into great journalism with speed and veracity. The course takes place from June 12 to July 9, 2017, so register now.

The class is open to anyone interested in learning some new data journalism tools such as Python scripting to conduct data analysis. The class is for anyone. You don’t have to be a computer programmer or know much about computer programming. Newbies are welcome to the course to get a primer in how to use Python scripting to access data and run some powerful data analyses.

"The Knight Center has already trained thousands of journalists with our courses in data journalism, a skill in high demand in newsrooms across the world. We are thrilled to have recruited one of the best experts in this field, Ben Welsh, to expand our offerings for data journalism training with this course," said professor Rosental Calmon Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. "Students of this course will learn about new tools to harness the power of data to produce great journalistic investigations."

In the four-week course, students will learn to program using real data on the financing behind ballot measures in California’s most recent elections.

“You’re going to learn how to do every step in preparing, conducting, executing and then publishing a data analysis with Python and the Jupyter notebook, which is the tool that lets you document your code and then publish it,” Welsh explained.

Python is good for beginners as it’s clear and easy to read, according to Welsh. Additionally, existing tools that work in conjunction with Python provide good shortcuts.

In week one, Welsh will introduce students to their tool kit, which includes Python, pandas and Jupyter Notebook, and will talk about how they fit together. In week two, students will learn to import data from the California Civic Data Coalition to the Jupyter Notebook for analysis with pandas. The next week, Welsh will discuss how to use Python to interview the data by asking and answering questions. Finally, students will publish conclusions online as a Jupyter Notebook, which documents programming from beginning to end.

With Jupyter Notebook, there is hard documentation that makes it easy to reproduce the work. So when a reporter has a large dataset or multiple datasets in the future on another project, reproducing the data journalism techniques and analyses is fairly simple.

News organizations like ProPublica and Buzz Feed News, as well as Welsh’s own team at The Los Angeles Times, use Jupyter Notebook to create articles and document their investigative process.

For example, the Los Angeles Times recently published a story about rising wages for California farmworkers that was based on programming done in Python. At the end of the story, there is a link to Welsh’s Jupyter Notebook where he did the programming.

“It’s a very comfortable place to code. It allows you to write your code in a way that’s very organized and straightforward and then you can audit your own work pre-publication much better,” Welsh explained. “So to me, the publication benefit is almost a byproduct. The real benefit is that you will have an auditable trial of all your work that will help you better organize your code and avoid mistakes, and collaborate with others.”

It also provides greater transparency for your audience, he added.

This MOOC will be essential for reporters who understand the possibilities provided by data journalism and the great stories that can result.

“Data journalism helps us find and tell stories we wouldn’t otherwise tell because the data leads us to those stories,” Welsh said. “Data journalism also allows us to tell stories in a much more authoritative way than when we’re just dealing with anecdotes.”

Like all Knight Center courses, this MOOC is asynchronous, meaning you can complete the activities throughout the week at your own pace. However, there are recommended deadlines for viewing video lectures, reading handouts, completing exercises, participating in discussion forums and taking quizzes.

Students who successfully complete course assignments, including quizzes, may download a certificate of completion, which does not have any academic credit, but documents successful participation in this online program.

Welsh mentioned that he will recruit students from California for a smaller class-within-a-class that looks more specifically at money and politics in California. There will be a separate sign up and an online forum for discussion for that class once the course gets underway.

Sign up for “Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics” today, and learn how to create important and accurate stories using big data.



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