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Q&A: Data Journalist Caroline Beavon

Caroline BeavonCaroline Beavon is a Data Journalist / Visiting Tutor at Birmingham City University and is one of the speakers at our Data Journalism event on 16 May. You’re a data journalism tutor at Birmingham City University – how long has data been part of the course and what are the main skills you teach?

I've only been teaching the course for a year, but I was taught data journalism myself when I did an MA in Online Journalism there the year before. The course leader, Paul Bradshaw, is a real advocate of data journalism so I'm sure he's been pushing it for a few years now!

Is there a growing recognition of the importance of data at most journalism schools?

I definitely think the field of journalism education is realising the need to furnish their students with the data skills - it is such a growing topic.

I know there are a host of one day courses and seminars popping up for the established journalists (through unions and trade press), so it would make sense for the academic institutions to teach it from the outset.

In your work as a data journalist, what are the main types of company/industry you get commissions?

I have a wide range of clients, from local councils and business interest groups to B2B publishers wanting me to visualise data for articles or advertorials. I have also done work for a fantastic website in the US called Oh My Gov - who monitor social media coverage within US politics.

The most famous examples of data journalism/interactive visualisations seem to be in b2b or around the big news stories like Wikileaks – but do you see other areas of the media becoming more active in this area?

I would say that data journalism is now much more widespread - it's definitely the hot new way to tell stories - whether it's educational data, petrol prices or even the anniversary of the Titanic through infographics.

Elections are traditionally times when papers and TV news go overboard with graphics - it will be interesting to see what creative methods people are using this time around.

What advice would you give other budding data journalists who aren’t Excel experts, or who’ve never used Tableau or Google Fusion Tables?

Don't be put off by the word data. I am far from being a maths geek. Think of data as information and you are showing that information in a visual way. Whether that'd drawing a flow chart, or diagram by hand, or adding sized circles to a map in a simple arts package like Paint - even simple methods can be effective without heavy-number crunching.

Saying that - tools like Tableau are very easy to use, and the results can be spectacular. It's worth persevering- especially as they are geared up for people with no programming, design or stats knowledge.

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