Data Journalism at CCSU, Fall 2015


JRN-418-70: Data Journalism

Central Connecticut State University

Emma Hart Willard Hall 015

Class Time:

Wed. 4:30 - 7:30 p.m.


Andrew Ba Tran


Contact Details:

The best way to reach me is by email at abtran AT gmail.com. Or feel free to reach me at any time on AIM (andrewbatran) if my status is green.


Course Objective:

There more charts, maps, and interactives on news sites than ever before. But data-driven news stories and graphics have been moving readers, impacting communities, and changing lives for hundreds of years.

According to the undergraduate catalog, this course is Data Visualization, but it's much more than that.

This course is about Data Journalism. Data and Journalism. Observations and stories. This class will be both technical and philosophical.

Students will learn to apply the process of a data scientist to journalism.

Data is just another source for reporters to research, interview, and glean answers from. Students will be introduced to communicating stories through visualizations like charts and maps. But more importantly, this course will also build on the skills necessary to find and tell stories using data and the knowledge required to understand the data itself.



No textbooks. We will have weekly readings chosen from news stories both recent and historical, research documents, government PDFs, Storifies, and many others. Students will be expected to discuss these readings in class.

Be prepared to talk about the following things related to the readings at class:


Class structure:

The three-hour class will be split between dicussion or lectures and hands-on workshops.



Each student’s final grade will be determined by five factors described below. While I will communicate any concerns that I have about individual performance, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions about grading or general performance.


In-class and homework assignments:

Students will be required to complete exercises both during class and outside of class. Late work will be penalized on a sliding scale (the later the assignment, the larger the penalty). A good rule: don’t come to class empty-handed – at the very least, show me that you attempted the assignment. Together these assignments constitute 25 percent of each student’s grade.



In a newsroom, meeting deadlines are crucial. Answers to the assignments will be discussed in class. Therefore, late assignments will automatically receive zero points. Non-working versions will also be considered late. Turn in homework by the deadline, even if your'e unsure of some of the answers.


Attendance and participation:

Unless you have an excused absence, missing a class will immediately result in a lower grade. If you show up more than 10 minutes late, that will be considered an absence for the day. This also applies to leaving early. If there's a justified reason to miss a part of the class, you must ask for approval before class.

Journalism requires focus and attention to detail, not just showing up. It's OK to use your laptop or phone but if you are not participating in the discussion or following the demos because you're on Snapchat, then I will consider that an absence for the day.

Check with me first if you must be absent. This includes CCSU-related events or obligations. It will be on you to figure out what was missed in class and to catch up.



Here’s what you need to send me in order to get help:

  1. The code you’re writing. “Hello, I've attached data.r, the script I’m trying to get to work.”
  2. What you're trying to make it do. “This code is supposed to turn this list into a data frame.”
  3. What is actually happening. “I've tried it several different ways but I keep getting a funky error.”
  4. The error message you get, if one shows up. “It says Unlisted Error”
  5. Tell me what you've done to problem solve this issue on your own. If there has been no effort then I will not respond except with a link to Google. “So I’ve tried googling ‘unlisted error’ and oh wait, StackOverflow.com has the answer. Whoops. Ignore everything I just wrote.”

It is crucial to communicate the previous steps to get quality help with issues that pop up in code. It's a good practice to develop now.

I will respond with clues to point you in the right direction to fixing the issue.

Don't ask me the morning of or at midnight for help. You can, but I do have a full-time job. The earlier you ask me for help the greater the chance I'll be able to respond.


Do your work

And only your work. It's OK to consult with each other. But doing your own work is the only way you will properly absorb these ideas and skills.

In the newsroom, plagiarism will derail your career. Plus there are consequences within CCSU.



Obtain and analyze federal government data and write a summary of the analysis. Not the actual story. Instead, the memo should detail the process it will take to get to the final story or visualization. Explain what it took to get the data, who explained it to you, point out the nuances and limitations of it and how it was collected or processed. Discuss the gaps in tha data and what could be improved. Then, analyze the agency that provided the data set. Detail the scope, quality, and accesibility of the rest of the department's data. How journalists might have used it so far or how it could be used in the future.


Each student will be responsible for obtaining, analyzing, visualizing, and writing a story based on a federal government data set, using methods learned in class.

The breakdown for the final data story will be: