30 Minute Skills: Data Visualization 101

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently launched a monthly educational series featuring short, practical lessons on journalism and the First Amendment.

The goal of the program — called “30 Minute Skills” — is to provide reporters and other citizens knowledge they can use immediately in newsgathering, data collection, storytelling and other areas of journalism and First Amendment law.

The lessons will be provided in a 30-minute format to accommodate the demanding schedules faced by many working in New England newsrooms. The program is free and open to the public. Registration for each lesson is required.

Data Visualization 101

May 25 | 12 p.m.

Data journalism is playing a significant role during the COVID-19 pandemic. News outlets of all sizes are using numbers and visualizations to help explain the devastating effects of the public health crisis locally, nationally and internationally. While there are encouraging signs that the virus in New England is becoming less severe, telling stories using data will continue to be an important skill for journalists covering any beat.

• How to find and obtain reliable COVID-19 data, while also understanding and explaining to your audience its limitations.
• How to create simple data visualizations using free online tools.
• How to identify story ideas, scrutinize what the data is telling you and present that information responsibly to your audience.

Requirements Prior to Class

• Sign up to use Flourish software (free).
• Download sample dataset.
• Confirm access to Google Sheets or Excel for use during class.

About Your Instructor

ELI SHERMAN | Eli Sherman is an investigative reporter with the CBS affiliate WPRI-TV in Rhode Island. He joined the station in 2019, having previously worked as an investigative reporter for GateHouse Media. Eli has also covered economics for Providence Business News and worked as a metro reporter for the Waltham News Tribune. In 2021, Eli won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting and he was twice nominated for a regional Emmy award under the same category. He’s also received multiple first-place awards nationally from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) and The Alliance of Area Business Publishers, regionally from the New England Newspaper & Press Association, and locally from The Rhode Island Press Association. Eli can be followed on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.

Recent 30 Minute Skills

Protecting Women Journalists | With newsrooms often lacking effective support systems, women journalists are regularly belittled, have their professionalism questioned and endure mistreatment strictly based on their gender. By viewing this lesson, you will learn about: (1) The types of threats currently facing women journalists (2) How to protect yourself from online trolling and (3) How to stay safe at protests and large demonstrations.

How to Respond to a Subpoena | For an increasing number of New England newsrooms without regular access to attorneys, these legal orders can be intimidating and infringe on the rights of local journalists. Taught by attorney Matthew Byrne of Gravel & Shea in Burlington, Vt., this lesson teaches you: (1) the history of subpoenas and their legal authority (2) arguments and strategies that can be made in response to a subpoena (3) and how to advocate for yourself and newsroom when in court.

Data Cleaning 102 | This lesson is taught by NEFAC’s Maggie Mulvihill. It is the second of two introductory lessons on cleaning datasets obtained online or through public records requests. By completing this lesson, you will: (1) advance your data cleaning skills with OpenRefine (2) learn how to import dirty data from websites and increase memory in OpenRefine (3) build your facet and clustering skills (4) and learn how to split and merge data.

Data Cleaning 101 | The first of two introductory lessons on cleaning datasets obtained online or through public records requests. Instructed by NEFAC’s Maggie Mulvihill, a professor at Boston University. By completing this lesson, you will: (1) understand what data cleaning is and why it’s necessary (2) learn about the free tools available to help clean data and (3) begin building your data cleaning skills.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.