Numbers: Not Just for Geeks

You know the saying show don’t tell, and it applies to journalism. As the rise of big data continues, so does the need for people who can understand it. But it’s more than just crunching the numbers: These days, good journalists also know how to create interesting and interactive visuals–charts, graphs, maps and tables–to tell a story.

Data visualization is one of the fastest growing skills that media employers look for. If you can bring statistics alive, you’ll find yourself much more employable. Think about Nate Silver. His data-driven take on the 2012 election in the FiveThirtyEight blog on, elevated him to superstar status. He was wooed away from the Times by ESPN to be the sports network’s in-house smartest guy in the room. His blog on sports calculus will launch early next year.

You don’t have to be a total numbers geek to understand data viz. Start with the basics, like google charts or he free app Here’s a super-simple graphic that tells the story of the shift in racial demographics at CCNY between 2003 and 2012. (Note the dramatic increase in Hispanic women!)

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 10.50.40 AMThe best journalistic data visualization does much more. Click here for the Guardian’s exhaustive statistical look at the 2012 Olympics. And here’s a cool map that measures and compares health, wealth, education and political leanings in America, state by state, county by county.

Try fooling around with data yourself. Today, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, released a comprehensive database of intercollegiate athletic and academic spending stats for NCAA division I schools. The goal is to compare trends in spending on core academic activities with spending on athletics. You can look at the data and experiment with user-friendly tools to create charts and graphs. Click here to sample it.