How to get started with data journalism visualization, without coding

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This is the first in a series of posts covering the basics of what I’ve learned, with tools that don’t require any coding knowledge. Eventually, some basic coding can go a long way, but that’s still minimal.

My career took a turn about four years ago, when I started chatting with one of my best sources, data. I’ve gotten better at using data in my reporting since and there’s rarely a story where I don’t ask, “is there data that might shed some light here?”

In some cases, there’s not. And data can’t do everything. So, let me dispel the idea that data journalism’s stands apart from “traditional” reporting. Not at all.

Data’s another source. Like human sources, sometimes the data – because of its originality, depth or authority – speaks loud enough to drive a story. Most often, it can add nuance, just as a good quote can add a little punch.

At first, I didn’t really know which data to talk to, or how to talk to it. I’m talking about going beyond the 10 data points to do a look back at a decade of state GDP figures. What about looking at those top-level figures broken out by new levels of detail – by industry or metro areas?

In the last four years, data journalism tools have improved greatly. Building your individual toolkit and workflows are key to getting started. But first, and most importantly, you need a clear motivation and clear goals.

I don’t mean elbow grease, but rather some sense of how data can help your work – you need to have a question that data can answer, but not when it’s just a spreadsheet of 10,000 separate rows. You need at least the promise of an answer trapped in there, too.