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State of Data Journalism Survey 2021: 11 surprising findings

It's no secret that data journalism has had to adapt and change in recent years. The pandemic brought a whole new set of challenges for novice and seasoned data journalists. To get a better sense of the current state of the field, we launched The State of Data Journalism Survey 2021. We asked journalists from around the world about their work, their tools and their thoughts on the future of data journalism. The response was overwhelming, and we learned surprising things about the state of our field.

The questionnaire opened on November 8, 2021 until December 31, 2021. Participation from the community was incredible with 1594 responses, of which 1285 were included in the analysis. The survey was available in four languages: English, Italian, Arabic and Spanish.

The survey participants came from all over the globe: 11% identified the United States as their country of work, followed by Italy (9%), the United Kingdom (7%), Spain (6%) and Germany (4%). The top 10 countries also included India (3%), Nigeria (3%), and Brazil (2%).

In terms of gender, 59% of respondents identified as men, 39% as women, 1% as non-binary/genderqueer, and 1% preferred not to say their gender identity. More than half of survey participants ranged between age 25 and 44.

The full results can be found here and the dataset is available for you to download. Overall, the findings cover a thorough view of the field of data journalism, covering demographics, workflow, ethics, education levels and the pandemic’s impact on the industry. Given the amount of information from this survey, we’ve cherry-picked some of the most interesting findings. Let’s get to the data!

1. A quarter of respondents got into data journalism as a result of the pandemic

Pandemic and career

The impact of the pandemic on the field of data journalism is clear. But to which this global health crisis has shaped the industry is another matter we aimed to explore.

We found that 25% of respondents first got into data journalism because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 46% of respondents believed the pandemic strengthened data journalism and increased audience data literacy (43%).

Another interesting figure showed that over a quarter of data journalists believed that access to data improved (28%).

2. Access to quality data is the biggest challenge

Challenges to producing more

The survey results showed that the top three barriers for data journalists are access to quality data (56%), followed by time constraints (49%) and lack of final resources (47%). In fourth place, we found a lack of adequate data analysis skills (44%), suggesting that data journalists could do a better job with more training. The fifth and sixth most common hurdles were ensuring data reliability (39%), followed by a lack of data visualisation skills (36%).

3. Most data journalists are self-taught


We know that data journalists tend to be highly educated. It was, therefore, no surprise when 91% of our respondents told us they completed a higher education course or degree. But did they actually study data journalism? Not really. The results showed 70% of respondents claim to be self-taught using either online or offline resources, if not both. This most likely revealed an obvious lack of degrees and formal education focused solely on data journalism as it’s such a dynamic and evolving field dating back to the 1950s.

Formal online education (27%) is actually a more popular learning venue than higher education or workplace training (25% each) and leaving bootcamps or professional courses in third (23%).

We asked those who have a university degree to tell us what disciplines they studied. About half of respondents (52%) hold degrees in the Arts and Humanities (degrees in journalism are the most common), followed by Social Sciences (20%) and then technical disciplines such as Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics.

4. Data Journalism is a full time job, for most

Full time

We asked our respondents to describe data journalism and how it defines or fits into their workplace and schedule. By far the largest group were full-time employees at news companies or organisations (28%). Educators, teachers, trainers and faculty members were the second-largest category overall (15%) followed by full-time (10%) and part-time freelancers (10%). Meanwhile, students made up 8% of survey participants, indicating that data journalism is a growing field.

Breaking down the occupations by gender and age, we see that women were strongly represented in the predominantly young student population at 44%. Women were also in the majority when it comes to freelance work at 39%.

5. Python is the most popular programming tool

Programming languages

We asked survey participants about their programming practises and preferences to see what tools and languages are the most popular. The most commonly used programming language is Python (63%), followed by HTML/CSS (51%) and R (46%).

The results showed programming experience of respondents varied from more than 16 years (18%) to 3-5 years (28%) to 1-2 years (18%). This revealed a mix of veterans and newcomers to programming throughout data journalism.

6. Nothing beats Excel


We are all familiar with Excel and Google Sheets, the two most popular spreadsheet software in existence. So, which one did our respondents prefer? Almost three out of four data journalists said they used Excel while 3 out of 5 respondents said they opted for Google Sheets.

The third, fourth, and fifth most popular software tools that facilitate data visualisation were Datawrapper (37%), Flourish (32%), and Tableau (27%).

7. Crunching the numbers takes up most of their time

Work task

We asked data journalists what data-related tasks they perform in addition to traditional reporting. Most data journalists said they analysed data in their work (80%), but data collection (65%), data visualisation (62%), and data cleaning (54%) were also common.

Almost 1 in 3 of data journalists said they are programming (29%) while designing websites (18%) and developing data-driven applications (12%) remained niche tasks. In terms of gender, the results showed fewer women (22%) than men (33%) were involved in programming.

8. More skills, higher income

Work task by income

Another interesting data point collected in the survey focused on the salaries of data journalists. There was a positive correlation between performing more tasks and higher-income.

The highest-paying jobs involve highly technical skills such as programming and developing data-driven applications. Put simply, the more technical skills data journalists have used in their daily work, the higher their salary.

9 They are across the globe, covering national news


What spectrum of media did the results of our survey represent? The most common sector came from national news outlets (51%), followed by international news outlets (42%).

Considering that our definition of local news was quite broad and included city, town, region, and state levels, it is quite remarkable that engagement with local news wasn’t more prominent (30%).

10. They work well in small teams

Project team size

Some data journalism projects require large teams, sometimes even across editorial teams, to see the light of day (e.g., The Pandora Papers, the largest data investigation to date). Others are the product of a single data journalist. We found that the most common project team size was small. Most data journalism articles are produced by small teams of 2 to 5 people (43%). Larger teams were rare (7%), while one-third of data journalists typically work alone (33%).

Just over a quarter of our sample reported participating in a collaborative project in the past year (27%). The most commonly perceived benefit of collaboration was the ability to open up to a wider audience (57%) and the ability to do better work than working alone (53%).

11. Data Journalism brings reliability and context to a story

Value of data journalism

What does data journalism bring to the industry in general and to the audiences that consume it?

About 7 in 10 data journalists who responded to the survey said data journalism provides reliability and contextualisation to a story. But data journalism also makes it easier to find relevant (68%) or unique stories (63%). Fewer than half said data journalism is necessary because of the amount of information available in data form (44%), and even fewer saw data journalism as a way to increase impartiality (40%).

These are just some of the key facts. Please read the full report to get a deeper insight into our findings. Join us on our Discord chat if you want to comment on these findings with the community.

We would like to congratulate Anna Lombardi, winner of the trip to the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Stay tuned for further announcements of the winners of the other prizes very soon, including vouchers for Data Literacy courses.

Thank you all for your participation!

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