Journalism in the Age of Data

That’s the name of the 11-minute video we’ll watch in class today, but it’s also our theme for the week. Knowing how to work your way around Google Fusion Tables and ManyEyes can be a distinguishing skill set as you launch your journalism career, no matter what platform you work for. Just ask 2011 SMU journalism grad Meredith Shamburger — or better yet, read this post about how she uses Google Fusion on the Job.

You can use Google Fusion to gather data and map out prisons in Tunisia, potholes in Bakersfield or Wal-Marts across the United States. Ushahidi, a nonprofit tech company, uses data to collect, visualize and map crowdsourced information from around the world. And of course, our friends at the Texas Tribune use data to inform their readers on everything from government salaries to school rankings.

We’re going to do two exercises today in class. The first exercise is to take five minutes to explore the interactive map from our recent Light of Day Project about campus crime. (Scroll down the page a little to find the map and MUTE your laptop to silence the obnoxious video ads.) What did the map help you find out about your neighborhood that you didn’t know before?

The second exercise is a group Coffee Price Map competition. Your group’s spreadsheet must be finalized on Google Docs by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, ready for us to visualize in class on Thursday. Prizes will be awarded for 1) the MOST individual data points collected; and 2) the BEST visualization, as judged by Batsell and Flournoy.

When your group gets together today, you’ll want to:

  1. Settle on your data elements (required: store name, store address, price of 16 oz. drip coffee … but you can add more if you want)
  2. Create a sample spreadsheet
  3. Consider your reporting methods. Shoe leather? Phone calls? Web surfing? Crowdsourcing? All of the above?
  4. If you want to crowdsource, consider a Google Form with a URL shortlink, distributing via social media. Thornburg’s Module 9 has a screencast which shows you how to do this, or I can help.
  5. Whatever your chosen method, your spreadsheet MUST BE FINALIZED BY 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, on our class Google Docs account.

UPDATE: Here are some of the better student efforts that came from this assignment. (Example 1) (Example 2) (crowdsourcing)

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