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Doug Haddix, "Data Ninja" hosts session about sorting info at EIJ13

By eijnews

As the nature of journalism evolves, so is the way reporters research the information they need for stories.
Holly Ocasio Rizzo said when she was a new reporter, data was not as readily available as it is today.
“When I was a new reporter, another reporter was working on a classic story about the salaries of county workers and how much they made on overtime.  He spent weekends sorting through documents,” she said. “Now, you don’t have to do that.”
Ocasio Rizzo, 59-year-old freelance writer and part time professor at California State University at Fullerton, and more than 30 other participants settled in with their computers at The Nerd Free Zone: Data Crunching and Visualization for Journalism and English Majors workshop at EIJ13.
Hosted by Doug Haddix, a self-proclaimed “data ninja” and director of the Kiplinger Program for Public Affairs Journalism and professor at Ohio State University, the Nerd-Free Zone was a hands-on workshop about the power and how-to of data journalism.
“I think the title “Nerd-Free Zone” is good because a lot of times, journalists think you have to be a statistician or someone who excelled in calculus to be able to do these stories,” Haddix said. “With the tools we have today… you have more power to do accountability journalism and hold officials and agencies responsible.”
Visualizations and data help people and reporters understand stories better, he said.
“It helps you figure out what’s going on with the information so you can do a better job interviewing sources and figuring out what the story really is,” he said.
Meagan McGinnes, 21-year-old senior and secretary of SPJ at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, said she took Haddix’s workshop to show freshmen at her school how to use spreadsheets and because she is, “terrified of Excel and hates numbers and forms.”
The workshop helped her overcome her fear, she said.
Haddix began the session with an explanation and demonstration of Google Fusion Tables and then talked about manipulating and importing information within the program to quickly find specific trends and numbers and create charts.
Google Fusion Tables is a program that allows people to search for and import data and build spread sheets in Google, similar to Microsoft Excel.
“Excel is still very powerful and you can do lots of cool analysis with it,” he said. “What’s promising about Google spread sheets is that you can share your data results more easily across social media platforms, you can get a link to send to people, and for people that are not as comfortable doing data analysis for Excel, it has a point-and-click interface that makes Google Spreadsheets and fusion tables a lot easier for people who are just getting started doing data analysis.”
As he explained more about the program, Haddix asked the participants to sign into their Gmail accounts and download files with data sets he prepared.
One of the first tips the class learned about was sorting data into alphabetical and numerical order. For example, using information about baseball teams, players and salaries, participants learned how to arrange salaries from greatest to least within the spread sheet and put teams in alphabetical order.
“It’s kind of like you’re interviewing the data set,” he said.
Next, participants learned about pivot tables. Haddix explained the function, citing the basics of trick-or-treating.
He said the first thing kids do when they finish trick-or-treating on Halloween is dump their candy and separate it into piles; Three Musketeers here and Milky Way candy bars there.
“That’s what a pivot table does; it takes information and piles it based on what you tell it to do,” he said.
He rounded out the session with examples of how to build the pivot tables and create charts.