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HOW TO BECOME
A DATA JOURNALIST

The best way to become a data journalist is to lay a suitable foundation on which you can build your career. That foundation will invariably be rooted in conventional reporting and investigative journalism. Once you have that solid base, you can then look to bolster your skillset in a way that will allow you to make a seamless transition to data-driven journalism.

In this article, you will learn how to become a data journalist. We’ll show you the different education tracks available for you, the different skills you will need to cultivate both in journalism and data analysis, and tips to prepare for a job hunt as a data journalist.

How to Become a Data Journalist

What Is a Data Journalist?

A data journalist analyses and filters through large sets of data to either create a news story from scratch or elevate a news story to help it rise to the top of the news cycle. They make complex stories considerably easier to consume, without ever compromising on the investigative journalism that is associated with more conventional reporting.

A data journalist achieves this by combining traditional reporting with the use of visualization tools to produce a more compelling product. They are better equipped for the digital age, where the use of numerical data plays a more prominent role in the production and distribution of information.

Data journalists are able to combine multiple aspects of the industry, like content production, digital design, computer science, and statistics. All of those competencies are among a data journalist’s essential skills.

Data Journalist Job Description

A data journalist is someone who has a nose for news, which is to be expected from anybody working in any branch of traditional journalism. On top of that, a data journalist also has a broad knowledge base, while also having the capacity to tackle complex subjects without flinching.

In addition to being able to follow the traditional journalism handbook, a data journalist has complementary technical skills. A data journalist is therefore expected to have significant knowledge regarding programming languages, open-source tools, machine learning, and data science.

Data Journalist Salary and Job Outlook

The average salary for data-driven journalism is about $107,000 per year, according to the recruitment platform ZipRecruiter. If you are working at the lower end of the data journalism industry, you can expect to earn as little as $20,000 per year. If you are working at the higher end of the data journalism industry, you can expect to earn as much as $191,000 per year.

The salary you earn will depend on the region you are working in and the company that you are working for. If you are searching in the United States, you will find the best data journalism job listings in the state of California, which boasts the most competitive salaries in the business.

The job outlook for news analysts, reporters, and journalists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), currently sits at six percent for the current decade. That does not paint a complete picture though, as these stats are essentially based on job listings for traditional investigative reporting.

When considering your data-driven journalism options, it is also prudent to take note of the job outlook for computer and information research occupations, which currently sits at 22 percent for the current decade, according to BLS. Data-driven journalism is heavily reliant on computer-assisted reporting and the skills associated with computer and information research occupations are particularly relevant here.

Top Reasons to Become a
Data Journalist in 2021

Data journalists act as a bridge for a wide range of concepts. Essentially, they are investigative reporters who also have decent programming skills and are also able to navigate almost any online tool. These are some of the best reasons to take this career path.

  • A data journalist team is a common feature in any newsroom. Some of the most established news outlets and journalism operations have completely embraced data-driven journalism.
  • Recognition. While those pursuing a career in journalism might never admit it, getting formal recognition can be a big driver in this line of work. The Sigma Awards, among others, recognize the best data journalists in the field.
  • Greater reach. The vast majority of people now get their current affairs news from digital devices. Data journalists are usually the best equipped to reach those audiences and have a greater impact on what people consume.
  • Producing better quality and depth. People with data journalism skills can dive deeper into stories and create more impact with their work because they usually have access to better information.

Data Journalist Job Requirements

Data journalists require a broader skillset than traditional journalists. The workflow for data journalists is also a little different, which is why some of the requirements might be unique. There are journalism courses that are geared towards helping you obtain some of the more modern requirements for the job. However, there are some traditional aspects to this job that remain more relevant than ever. We will explore both the old and new in our list below.

  • Broad knowledge base. That knowledge base should include everything from geopolitics and current affairs to sports and entertainment.
  • Programming skills. A data journalist needs to be equipped with data science skills. Some knowledge of programming languages and machine learning will go a long way.
  • Some education. While most job listings will ask for candidates with a journalism degree from a traditional school, that is not a guarantee of success in the 21st century. There are bootcamps, online courses, and other learning resources that can also give you the skills you need to excel. But you need to learn something that is related to the field. You cannot just wing it.
  • Practical experience. Junior individual reporters who have been tutored by a senior journalist while on the job are often better equipped for the work, regardless of their educational background.
Types of Data Journalism Careers

Types of Data
Journalism Careers

A good data journalist should be able to navigate his way through any field, whether you need to sift through crime statistics, current affairs, sports, or entertainment. While some of the more traditional individual reporters tend to specialize in one field, data journalists are capable of excelling across the board.

Financial Journalist

Data journalists working in this line should not have any fear of numbers, whether that be at the stock exchange or while reviewing company financials and budgets. This is the kind of information that requires somebody with your skillset to help break down the numbers for the average reader.

Medical Journalist

This can be the most challenging sphere of data journalism because so much tends to be at stake. The job demands that you are able to consume, analyze, and visualize all sets of critical medical data. Most of that will come from medical research and studies.

Political Journalist

Your knowledge of geopolitics and current affairs will help you stand out in this field. But that is just the beginning. The data component in this line of work includes navigating your way through financial statements, bank records, paper trails, audit reports, political polling figures, and election results.

Data Journalism Meaning:
What Does a Data Journalist Do?

Investigative data journalism is suited for highly skilled reporters who are able to find the hidden stories where so many others trip and fall. These stories cover a wide range of topics. However, what sets data journalists apart is that they are much more efficient at sifting through the rubbish and extracting information that can be of value.

Search for Data

We live in an age where there is just so much information available on the web. More often than not, it is right in front of us. Your work as a data journalist is crucial because you will have greater clarity than the average person regarding how to look for information that is valuable and reliable.

Sift Through the Clutter

Because there is so much information available online, data journalists need to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. That means filtering, transforming, preparing, and then visualizing that data.

Publish Content

Once the information has been filtered and processed, the data journalist will then present the information that is of value, making sure that it is ready for readers to consume. The kinds of stories will vary considerably, depending on the subject and the audience you are trying to reach.

Essential Data Journalism Skills

What sets data journalists apart from traditional journalists is their level of technical capacity. Your technical skills will also increase your earning potential and even strengthen your case for promotion.

Coding

There are multiple coding bootcamps available online, which will help you bolster your programming language skills. Coding skills are particularly useful when trying to develop a mobile application for news, and subsequently being able to maintain and run that app.

Web Design

The best web design bootcamps will equip you with the skills that you need to improve the user experience on your platform. Apart from making big data easier for visitors to consume, you will also understand how to make navigating an app or website considerably easier for users.

Data Analysis

There are also multiple data analytics bootcamps available online, which will help bolster your skills in this regard. While all the other technical skills matter, data analysis is what will make or break your career as a data journalist.

How Long Does It Take to
Become a Data Journalist?

Becoming a data journalist can take you anywhere between six months to four years, depending on the educational route that you choose. As we will see in more detail below, you can attend a coding bootcamp and acquire the skills you need to land an entry-level job within months. On the other side of the spectrum, if you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you are looking at your years of study.

Can a Coding Bootcamp Help Me Become a Data Journalist?

Yes, a coding bootcamp equips you with the technical skills that you require to be most effective at your job. A major component of data journalism is being able to integrate visuals by attaching data to stories. This is a skill that you can master by joining a data analytics coding bootcamp. Some of the best data analytics bootcamp programs can be found at schools like Thinkful, Le Wagon, and General Assembly.

Then there is also the matter of being able to track data usage over a period of time. The best coding bootcamps out there will give you the training you need to build the tools required to pull this off, without having to rely on a third party.

Can I Become a Data Journalist from Home?

Yes. There are multiple data journalism courses available online, which you can complete at your own leisure, whether that be part-time or full-time. In addition, many coding bootcamp programs are available remotely. The same can be said about top-notch university degrees in data science, computer science, journalism, and related fields.

Can a Coding Bootcamp Help Me Become a Data Journalist?

Yes, a coding bootcamp equips you with the technical skills that you require to be most effective at your job. A major component of data journalism is being able to integrate visuals by attaching data to stories. This is a skill that you can master by joining a data analytics coding bootcamp. Some of the best data analytics bootcamp programs can be found at schools like Thinkful, Le Wagon, and General Assembly.

Then there is also the matter of being able to track data usage over a period of time. The best coding bootcamps out there will give you the training you need to build the tools required to pull this off, without having to rely on a third party.

How to Become a Data Journalist:
A Step-by-Step Guide

There are two clear options for somebody wishing to become a data journalist. The first would be to embark on a conventional reporting career. This is where you will get to hone your investigative reporting skills, while also developing a nose for relevant news. Once you are comfortable with your abilities, you can then make the transition toward investigative data journalism, without ever having to return to conventional journalism schools.

The second option is to start off working in tech, where you will get to hone your data science skills before making the transition to data-driven journalism. There are multiple learning resources available online that will equip you with the skills required for conventional reporting.

Step 1

Decide Your Pathway

Get clarity on what a journalist is. Then get clarity on what a data journalist is. Once you have found that clarity, start investigating what will be required to become either of those two things or even both.

Step 2

Evaluate Your Own Skills

It is quite possible that you are somebody working in a completely different field, but already have some of the skills required to become a data journalist. Likewise, you could be somebody already working in journalism, and you just want to make a leap towards data-driven journalism.

Step 3

Fill in the Gaps

Once you have clarity on which skills you might or might not lack, you can start working toward bolstering your skillset by either enrolling at a journalism school, signing up to a data science bootcamp, or both if that’s what’s required.

Best Schools and Education for a
Data Journalism Career

The program or course you choose to enroll in depends on the kinds of skills that you wish to obtain. Some skills will require a greater investment of time and money than others. Below we review the main training options for careers in data journalism.

Data Journalist Bootcamps

The two most relevant types of bootcamps to apply for here are data science bootcamps and data analytics bootcamps. In data science bootcamps, the emphasis is generally on UI/UX design, data analytics, and full stack development. In data analytics bootcamps, the emphasis is generally on engineering immersion and digital marketing.

Bootcamps are the best option for people who already have a meaningful journalism background, and are just looking to transition toward data-driven journalism. They are the ideal venue to learn the technical skills you lack as a traditional journalist.

Vocational School

Most established publications, whether they be print or online, will have a cadet journalism program. These cadet programs can run for a full year or two years. It really depends on how long it takes you to grasp some of the key reporting concepts. You will also be learning the trade on the job while being guided by experienced senior journalists and editors.

Community College

At community college, you can work toward a diploma or a media, communications, or journalism associate degree. Out of the three, journalism is the most specific and specialized, which can limit you in the long term.

Another option is to enroll in a media studies or communications program. These are not just about conventional reporting. They also take into account the broader concept of data-driven journalism.

Data Journalist Degrees

A four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism is a common option for those wishing to enter this field. However, it is the most expensive and time-consuming route for a journalism student and the jury is out on whether you actually need this type of degree.

The Most Important
Data Journalism Certifications

A certification can help bolster your career by serving as proof of your skills as a data journalist. Below are some of the most important certifications in the field, all of which are awarded by the Data Science Council of America (DASCA) and have more to do with the data science component.

Associate Big Data Analyst

The Associate Big Data Analyst certification demonstrates your competence regarding the foundations of data science, dealing with data, data visualization, and business implementation, and working with databases in general.

Senior Big Data Analyst

This Senior Big Data Analyst certification demonstrates your competence with the mathematics of data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and storing streaming data. This is the ideal certification for reporters looking to break into the big data industry.

Senior Data Scientist

This Senior Data Scientist certification demonstrates your competence with the functional framework of data science and well as with the essentials of data science and data analytics. It also proves your ability to drive business through big data analytics.

How to Prepare for
Your Data Journalist Job Interview

For any data journalist interview, your potential employers will be more interested in your data science abilities than they will be in your journalistic prowess, although both are important. Here are a few of the questions you might want to practice beforehand to ace your interview.

Data Journalist Job Interview Practice Questions

  • Why do you think creativity is a good skill for a data journalist to have?
  • How have you used creativity for a collaborative project in your data journalist career?
  • Describe a journalism project where you used both quantitative and qualitative data to conduct your analysis.
  • Tell us about a journalism project where you worked with a relatively large dataset. How did you gather and prepare the data for analysis?

Should I Become a Data Journalist in 2021?

If you enjoy working with data and are passionate about reporting reliable and accurate news, then becoming a data journalist is the right field for you. As a data journalist, you’ll enjoy both high earning potential and a good job outlook.

Data Journalist FAQ

Can You Become a Data Journalist Without a Degree?

Yes. There are multiple courses and bootcamps available online that will adequately equip you to tackle every aspect of the job.

Is It Hard to Become a Data Journalist?

Data-driven journalism is a very accessible field. The process is simple and you do not necessarily need to invest large amounts of time and money to achieve your desired outcomes. However, if you are not mathematically gifted, there are some elements of the coursework that you will find particularly challenging.

How Do I Go About Finding Relevant Data to Analyse?

This is where it is quite important to have a sharp nose for news. Some people are born with that, but others can earn this skill through hard work and practice. The information itself is readily available, as it can be obtained from governments and other official databases and sources.

What Online Tools Can I Use to Visualize Data?

To visualize data you can use tools like HTML5 libraries and various JavaScript libraries, which help facilitate this process.

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