Information and statistics available on the Internet have made data and investigative journalism more accessible and easier to produce. It’s no longer limited to professional journalists; students can produce data journalism and conduct investigative reporting.
“I love investigative journalism and love when my students passionately pursue seeking the truth and reporting it,” said Sue Skalicky, a journalism adviser and English teacher for Bismarck Public Schools. “It is always sweet to see their efforts produce positive change.”
Skalicky’s students have published a variety of stories thanks to their investigative reporting. Several of the stories relied on data. For example, one student wrote about the price discrepancy between water bottles sold in the kitchen and the vending machines at school. Another student wrote a story about a reduction in funding for the school’s Student Resource Officers program.
“The ability to work with data is increasingly becoming a core skill for journalists,” said Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors. “Reporters who want to effectively cover schools, government, business, virtually an topic, need to be able to do basic data analysis, or they run the risk of missing key stories or being misled by their sources.”
Data journalism is journalism that is backed by or rooted in numbers. These numbers could be compiled in a spreadsheet and visualized through infographics, or they could be percentages or describe relationships through degrees of separation. Whatever the data might be, journalists take the information and use it to tell a story, break down a complex issue or fulfill their watchdog duty. Data journalism is a crucial part of investigative reporting because tracking data is an efficient way to keep government and big businesses in check. People can lie, but numbers don’t.
Horvit teaches data journalism and investigative reporting at the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute, the premiere summer workshop for secondary-school advisers. Skalicky also teaches at the Institute. Teachers selected to attend the free Institute learn skills to explore data journalism and visualization with their students. Teachers also learn how to help their students become comfortable working with numbers.
“For most journalists, learning how to use spreadsheet software, like Microsoft Excel, is all they need, so that’s where we typically begin our training at the Institute,” Horvit said.
Applications for the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute are now available. For more information and to apply, click here.