Best Tools for Aspiring Data Journalists: from Data Gathering to Text Editing

Journalism in contemporary times is taking a new turn and has become focused on data driven reporting. This new wave of journalism often referred to as “data journalism” incorporates technology with journalism and depends on numerical data and statistics to establish a premise and draw up conclusions. With the astronomical rise in the number of internet users since its inception and our over dependency on digitized information, more data is being generated and this will help bring into perspective the dominant role of a data journalist in today’s journalism.

Who is a data journalist?

Simply put, a data journalist is a person who is able to combine the field of journalism with several other fields or skills such as design, programming, statistics etc. to produce a story based on the information derived from data. It requires a combination of skills and expertise of which journalism takes the lead.

Listed below are some of the best tools that are used by data journalists at different stages of their work:

  • Data collection
  • Data filtering and analysis
  • Report writing and editing

Handy Tools to Find & Collect Data

Apart from typical statistical sources such as ONS (Office of National Statistics), Data Gov and Data Gov UK, a few alternative databases might come in handy.

Google Trends is a great tool to monitor what keywords, phrases and topics that are being searched. You can also classify the hottest trends by countries and certain time periods. Keep in mind the fact, that this tool is based only on Google search queries and thus might not be completely accurate for your Bing or Yahoo target audience.G

Google Forms is an application that is used to collect and organize information by creating surveys or questionnaires. Forms can be used to manage events, polls, registrations etc. The raw data generated using Google forms can be accessed and analyzed with Google sheets or other platforms. Google forms can also be shared with multiple users providing flexibility for users to update their data.

Google sheets is an application that helps users create and format spreadsheets. Like other Google tools it is simple to use with multiple users working on the same document in real time. This tool is easy to use and does not require any knowledge of programming.

Data Cleaning Tools

Open Refine (formerly Google Refine) is a powerful tool used by data analyst to clean messy data and also transform it from one format to another. It is similar to Microsoft Excel but offers additional features like extended web services and links to databases.

On the surface, Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet that can be used to record and analyze numerical data but for power users this tool can be used to do much more. Apart from the native functionality embedded within the software, several plug-in such as Power Query and Data Cleaner are available and offer additional functionalities.

DataWrangler is a web-based service that’s designed to clean and arrange data into a form that can easily be used and understood by other tools. Although widely used, this tool is no longer actively supported and the attention of the Stanford/Berkeley research team has been shifted towards a newer version of the program called Trifacta Wrangler.

Trifacta Wrangler is a free cloud service that helps data analyst clean and manage data effectively. The entire cleaning process is done automatically once the dataset is imported and after restructuring the data, the resulting dataset can be exported easily. Trifacta is available as a freeware but the pro version enables multiple users to work, connect with more data and also share their work within the cloud platform.

Data Analysis Tools

RStudio is a powerful application that can be used for data analysis (all types of numerical and spatial analysis) and visualization. It is a versatile tool with an active community which keeps adding to its database. One downside with using R is that the user must get familiarized with the programming language.

Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) is an interactive tool that is widely used by researchers and analyst for statistical analysis. As the name implies, this tool has found a wide application and use within the field of social sciences, however it is also used by data miners, researchers, analyst and managers in other fields where statistical analysis and data management is required.

Statistical Analysis Systems (SAS) is a software suite that is used in statistical analysis. This tool is embedded with many features that will help in data retrieval, manipulation and analysis. The SAS data can be published in different formats including HTML, PDF and Excel. It also provides graphical point–and–click interface for non-technical users while power users who are conversant with the program can take advantage of its advance features.

Data Visualization Tools

Google fusion tables is an experimental data visualization web application for gathering, visualizing and sharing data tables. This tool can easily be used to map and chart data. It also includes geographical information system (GIS) functions for analyzing data by geography.

Tableau tool is mainly used to create interactive data visualization. It offers a wide range of customizations and is suitable for any task ranging from simple to complex. The ability to drag and drop data and also connect multiple visualizations onto a single dashboard makes it quicker than manually coding as in R or Javascript.

Data Mapping Tools

QGIS is a sophisticated GIS software can be used to map geographical data. It provides a detailed data-based analysis of geographic regions and can also be used for data overlays and spatial analysis. Its functionalities can further be enhanced using plug-ins which adds support for geocoding, generating HTML maps, exporting to MySQL and managing underlying tables.

Leaflet is a mapping tool based on open-source JavaScript which provides a higher level mapping capacities and functionalities such as the ease to switch between different map providers like OSM, Mapbox and Google Maps. Leaflet is simple to use and works effectively across all major desktop and mobile platforms. Its functionalities can be extended using third party plugins like layer switching, markers and renderers etc.

Report Writing & Text Improvement Tools

Hemingway Editor is a wonderful app to sharpen your writing. It will indicate if any of your sentences are too long or structurally complex. Some phrases highlighted with purple color have a simpler or more suitable alternative. Hemingway will also suggest that you replace hesitant adverbs and passive voice.

EssayPro is the custom paper writing service which provides writing and editing help online. Although their major focus is writing assignments for students, academic writers are the best helpers when it comes to text editing, proofreading and rewriting. Since plagiarism is not a merely college issue, Google penalizes all articles that have a sufficient amount of copied content. Professional writers can detect and remove all duplicated content for you.

Copyscape is one of the most trusted plagiarism checkers. Even if journalists write their reports themselves, they might be accused of unintentional plagiarism. Be careful with common phrases, cliches and quotes. If any questionable phrase or sentence is present in your text, it will be highlighted by Copyscape and the page which has the very same text will be shown so that you can rewrite this particular piece.

Evernote is yet another good tool for text editing. However, its’ biggest advantage is the option to bookmark useful sources and add personal notes about them. You can also add customized tags like “work”, “sports”, “AI news” or whatever you want to go back to in the future.

Final Words for Young Journalists

We hope that the above mentioned tools will help you to become a successful journalist easily operating with big data massives. Pick proper topics, find relevant and up-to-date statistics and proceed with writing your report. Well-researched and thoroughly checked reports always find their readers.

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