The data journalism community has long been known for its collaborative spirit in sharing knowledge and expertise. Online learning resources for data journalists have grown since COVID-19, with a wealth of Zoom webinars and self-paced learning opportunities from which to choose. While books, articles and other digital resources can guide you in the right direction, interacting with other data journalists can enrich and expand your educational journey and network. With no more in-person events in the foreseeable future, this has never been more important. That's why it's essential to get involved in an online community to build your data journalism skills: Programming, data analysis, storytelling, and visualisation, to name a few. Plus, joining these communities is often free, easy to use, and can be accessed from anywhere.
To help journalists, we've rounded up some useful educational communities you can explore today
Historically, Discord has been a social collaboration platform used by gamers. But in recent years, the platform has branched out to bring users from a variety of backgrounds. With over 100 million registered users, it has proven to be a true community space. Just think of a topic you would like to explore, and you'll most likely find a server on Discord dedicated to it. Since we couldn't find any servers dedicated to data journalism, we naturally had to start our own! We have developed a public forum where people can share ideas about data journalism, job opportunities, events, case studies, and virtual meeting rooms. The server will launch soon, but the beta version has already been released if you'd like to help us test it. So far we've had over 250 user applications and our server is off to a great start. Want to take part? It will only take a minute to create a Discord account. Don't miss out! Sign up here!
You can open Discord on your server, in the mobile app or the desktop app and decide whether you want to create your own server to invite friends or colleagues or join an already established one like ours. You can also take a look at a variety of other channels developed around journalism.
One such example is the server created by Alba Asenjo “Periodistas”, a journalist with El Independiente who writes about finance and technology. Last December, she decided that the lack of offline events should be compensated by using tools like Discord. Her server, “Periodistas”, is aimed at Spanish journalists. This dedicated channel allows them to work remotely and still have a "real-life" interaction. She -like us- was motivated by the platform's very user-friendly and highly customizable interface. All standard media such as text, audio, video, and screen sharing are supported. This helps to improve the communicative process for the different communities.
We hope to reach out to the entire community with this Discord channel and give you all the opportunity to interact with colleagues and like-minded people. If you're new, don't worry, registration is effortless and only takes a few minutes.
One of the advantages of Discord is that you only need one account to join different servers, making it very easy to be part of different communities and explore them all. Private messaging is also allowed, so it will definitely help you increase your interaction.
Twitch is a global community that became popular for live game streaming. However, the platform goes beyond that. Experts in various fields have found its interface to be a good place to broadcast their knowledge to their respective communities, who in turn can share their comments in real-time.
This has been the case for Ariane Aumaitre, a PhD researcher at The European University Institute who has found it an excellent place to teach her R courses: “It is fun, it generates knowledge in a more informal environment.” Aumaitre's first recording on using ggplot2 to create maps was enthusiastically received by the community. “I posted a call on Twitter and the audience responded very enthusiastically. I was very surprised. I like how Twitch makes the topic easier to follow and opens space for conversation.”
Al Sweigart, the author of a series of tech books aimed at teaching beginners how to program, is another user whose channel is very useful for learning about the world of Python programming. For him, "online spaces are great for creating community and enthusiasm for learning to code," and they are a great asset to offline resources.
“[A] book or in-person classroom provides structure, but online communities offer low-pressure encouragement and the chance to randomly come across new ideas. My programming stream on Twitch is less of a tutorial and more of a way to get feedback from my readers and fans. It helps me know where my audience is. Many software developers have forgotten what it's like to be a beginner, and being a beginner in 2021 is very different than being a beginner in the 90s. At the end of the day, you still have to hit the books ... But it helps to know others in the same position or have access to those with more knowledge so you can ask questions."
One of the strengths of Twitch is that videos remain recorded, so in addition to getting instant feedback in the chat feature, you also have the option to re-watch the videos and continue practising at your own pace. Streamers have the possibility to monetise their content if they meet the platform requirements to join the Affiliate programme, which include having at least 50 followers and 500 total minutes broadcast in the last 30 days.
The magic of Twitch is that you can watch live as someone completes a specific task. This is a very valuable educational experience, as you are able to see them solve problems in real-time and take note of their problems and tricks. This is particularly useful in coding, as you can follow the whole process of typing the code step-by-step, a rich experience defined as “massively multiplayer online pair programming” by Suz Hinton, in this article about the lessons she learned after a year of live coding on Twitch.
Take a look and see for yourself if you would feel more comfortable learning by watching streams as opposed to conventional methods. Under the Science and Technology category, you'll find a variety of videos ranging from learning to code with R and Python to statistics for data science. Use the tags to navigate through the options.
Twitch is free to use, but there is also a premium version that allows you to unlock certain content.
Here are some suggestions on accounts you can follow related to data science and programming:
Can talking about big data, clusters, and variables be entertaining? TikTok makes it possible. The network is famous for its viral dance videos, but now it's reaching other areas. The ability to simplify complex topics through light and concise videos should not be ignored. The simple format is great for making complex data topics more accessible.
While these short videos may not be enough to gain a deep knowledge of the subject, they are an entertaining and convenient way to be introduced to something new. They allow the user to let go of any fear of learning and meet other people to follow on other channels.
This is the case with the account of Maya Bello, who uses her profile -- with nearly 27,000 followers -- to help her audience code with her. While this large follower base is impressive, it's not a requirement to go viral on TikTok. One of the features of this social network is that the algorithm generously shares content from any account, regardless of follower count. This helps democratise the use of the tool.
Another person to follow on TikTok is Dr. Chelsea Parlett, an Instructional Faculty at Chapman University. She makes her data science videos for fun. With a background in psychology and a recently completed PhD in statistics, she recognises the power of short-form content that is both easy to create and easy to consume: "It's also such an inviting format, and one problem the field of statistics suffers from is a lack of relatability; when you tell people you're a statistician, they often respond with 'oh, I hated that course.' I hope that TikTok will give younger generations an early introduction to the field. I understand it as a para-educational tool, you can take advantage of trends people are familiar with, and put statistics content on top of them.”
Who else can I follow? Take a look at these TikTok accounts to get you started:
⇨Follow the #stats hashtag
It's well known that Twitter is a great place to socialise and stay up to date on breaking news, but the social network's potential as a learning community should not be underestimated. By following certain hashtags, it's easy to engage in interesting conversations or challenges and make connections that can last for years.
How does #TidyTueday, work? Tom Mock, who started the community in 2018, defines it as a ‘social data project in R Every Monday, there is a related article with a data dictionary and participants are invited to enter data into R to clean and analyse it. Then, those who solve the exercise share the results on Twitter using the #TidyTuesday hashtag. The ultimate goal is to learn from each other about trips and tricks, code, and understand how to solve a problem from different perspectives. Since the community was born, over 6,100 tweets have been shared with the hashtag #Tidytuesday, from over 1,500 participants.
Silvia Canelón, a fan of the project who collects the community's solutions on this website, explains that the success of the project is due to the supportive atmosphere: "People share their experiences, their questions and their feedback with other users. Participants come from different backgrounds and have different levels, there are experts and newbies, and this is really motivating. I have met friends thanks to this community that have become friends in real life."
The community of ‘R-ladies’, another great example of active participation on social media, organises the #TidyTuesday meet-ups which take community interaction to the next level. As explained in the event description, these are organised for those "craving human connection and some practice flexing your data science skills". The purpose? Continue practising, building your portfolio and meeting new people with similar interests.
Much has been written about the new audio chat app Clubhouse. Although the app retains a degree of exclusivity, its popularity continues to grow with over six million registered users. Available only through iOS (and by invitation from an already registered user), it offers a breath of fresh air in this era of pandemic screen fatigue. Some users see Clubhouse as an evolution of the podcast experience, where users can listen to engaging discussions and join the conversation.
You can join a club where users interact, virtually raise your hand, or just listen to the conversation. Being able to interact with known professionals is a big part of the appeal. You can follow anyone who is on the app, although following them doesn't mean you can send them private messages.
Kiko Llaneras, data journalist at El País, sees the app's strength in how open it is and how it allows everyone to have a voice. The dataviz expert compares it to offline networking and the relationships you build with colleagues, which have now become more difficult during the pandemic. For data journalism, he notes that one of the limitations is that there is a lack of visual capabilities - meaning that sharing images or links is impossible right now.
Hana Khan, the founder of the popular Data Viz and Presentation club, agrees that the lack of visual interaction hinders data visualisation. Still, she points out other strengths of the social network. "I like chat apps because I can talk directly to other people and learn from them. In comparison with other applications, in Clubhouse, the stress and anxiety are reduced. You don't have to worry about how you look and what gestures you make. I was surprised when I set up my club because it became a trend, which shows that there is a demand for dataviz topics that will most likely continue to grow as more experts join the platform."
The novelty of Clubhouse makes it a good place to experiment, although it does raise some privacy concerns. Currently, the app does not allow users to re-listen to their conversations. This aspect undoubtedly supports the spontaneity of the app, but at the same time plays against it, as being able to re-listen to conversations would be very useful. The Clubhouse policy of temporarily recording all conversations and then deleting them has caused controversy, mainly because users do not have access to these files. There is a general lack of information about whether recordings are stored and where they end up. These doubts have led to specific concerns, we will keep an eye on the app's development. Another drawback is that the app asks for permission to access your contacts as soon as you download it, although it's not clear why this information is needed.
Which clubs should data journalists join?
‧Mobile Journalism: hosted every Wednesday by Robb Montgomery
‧Storytelling with Data: hosted by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
So what are you waiting for? Connect to the community, build your technical skills, solve your questions, and hone your journalism techniques!