As you may have gathered, I’m really interested in curriculum design. Not in the “by the end of the session the learner will be able to” kind of way, but more about helping journalists get the skills they need to do the job.
20110502-NodeXL-Twitter-data journalism graph (Photo credit: Marc_Smith)
I got a status update from my colleague Emma Gilliam earlier today, sharing a post about how hand-wringing journalists should go back to school. As I read this I was thinking how wise these words were as I’ve changed my modules to include these skills over the last few years and regularly chat with colleagues – inside and outside my department – about how to get the next generation of journalists up to speed with these ideas.
But then it struck me, this isn’t just about the skills – it is also about attitude and that’s one thing you can’t teach. And it isn’t just about age, journalists old and young don’t always get why they need to learn new skills for the job – even as the newsroom shifts and changes around them.
Journalism in the UK doesn’t have much in the way of continuous professional development – but then we aren’t a profession. Nurses, as an example, have a prep folder which they need to keep up to date and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing training and development.
In all my time in newsrooms – and I worked in quite a few – I went on one course. And it was crap. It was subbing on paper, when my job (which I could already do) was subbing on a computer. So, then I decided to do it for myself.
And then it struck me why that post is wrong, it’s not about going back to school (although that is one great way of doing it if the skills you want are on offer).
It’s easy to moan about how much better things were (we are all guilty of that at one time or another) but the key thing for me is about taking control.
So that’s why I spent my Sunday afternoon (while cooking lunch) having a go at building a web app which pulls in data from a CSV spreadsheet and spits out web pages. (hat tip to the brilliant Chrys Wu for the link to the tutorial by Ben Welsh.) I regularly do this kind of thing and am fascinated by the tools and ideas we can use to investigate, communicate and share.
In lieu of any form of proper CPD – we need to build a proper network of practice. Find out the best people to follow on Twitter, what blogs there are to learn from and who to go buy a coffee for. (I’ll update this post later to add some links in here)
And as to what to learn first – it’s the attitude. Take control of your own career or you might not have one for long.
You could learn how to geolocate tweets to see what people are talking about near you, develop your FOIA requests to get data sets and then Excel the crap out of them. You could learn to scrape, build an infographic or develop your long form writing to best effect (and you could even use an immersive platform to do it). Find a group (google or in real life) and have a chat with someone who is further along than you are.
Just one thing, remember the people. To me datajournalism = people + data not just a fancy infographic with some cool numbers on it.
And if you remember the folk at the centre of the data, the interview and at the other end of the distribution channel you’ll get a stronger idea of what is going on by joining in the community you are working with/through/for.
Feel the fear and do it anyway? Nah, just take responsibility for your own CPD and start buildilng your networks and skills.