Tips and tricks for data-driven journalism starters

Data journalism with Bahareh Heravi

Data journalism is one of the big themes of the International Journalism Festival’s tenth edition. During the second day of the event, Data Journalism researcher Bahareh Heravi held a workshop for beginners at the Hotel Sangallo.

Bahareh is the founder and primary organiser of Hacks/Hackers in Dublin, an international grassroots network of journalists and technologists who come together to rethink the future of news. She kicked off the session by asking: “What is data journalism?” Despite the many definitions available, Bahareh highlights how they all refer to the practice of telling journalistic stories based on data. To a journalist, data becomes valuable when related to other pieces of data, which turns it into information.

But data journalism is not as new as it seems. Bahareh explains that the first traces of data journalism date back to the 1800, with the famous examples of Napoleon’s march on Moscow and Florence Nightingale Coxcomb charts. In 2010, the founder of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said that “data journalism is the future” and “journalists need to be data savy”.

Bahareh summarises data journalism in five phases: finding or collecting the data, cleaning or fixing the data, analyzing or summarising the data, visualising the data and writing the story. She explains that often journalists spend around eighty percent of their time processing the data, and only twenty percent actually writing the article.

According to Hacks/Hackers Dublin founder, the Guardian can be considered the “father of data journalism in the newsroom”, and she uses several examples from the news organisation during her presentation, such as the data visualisations for the 2011 London Riots or the prices or the charts on how expensive it can be to bring up a child in the UK. Other notable names she lists are The New York Times, RTÉ, the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune.

After showing some outstanding projects based on data journalism, Bahareh says that anybody could something similar. “To be a data journalist you don’t need to be a programmer,” she explains, “And the role of those programmers should be (…) to create new tools for people who are not software engineers and have other things in their life to do instead of coding”. Data journalism is becoming more and more accessible to beginners, and there is an increasing number of tools available for every need (Google Spreadsheets, Excel, PDFTables,, kimono, Open Refine, SPSS, R, PSPP, Netlytic, Datawrapper,, CartoDB and many more).

Bahareh then goes on by listing the four main types of data analysis (temporal, geospatial, topical, network) and some inspiring examples for the audience to think of.

Martina Andretta