Syllabus, COMM 273D (Fall 2014)
Web: The current page is just the course syllabus with boilerplate information. Visit padjo.org for the most current information about the course.
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:15 to 3:45 PM
Where: McClatchy 410
Who: Dan Nguyen
- email: dun at stanford dot-ee-dee-euu
- twitter: @dancow
- office: McClatchy 342
No books are required for this course, but readings will be assigned on a regular basis.
Office hours: I'm generally in the office or on campus on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, but it's best to make an appointment to make sure I'm around, or if you need to meet on another day.
Even before the ubiquity of Internet access and high-powered computers, public accountability reporting relied on the concerted collection of observations and analytical problem-solving. We study the methods, and the data, used to discover leads and conduct in-depth reporting on public affairs, including election finance and safety regulations. Students gain practical experience with the digital tools and techniques of computer-assisted reporting. Prerequisite: Journalism M.A. student.*
The course grade is based off of:
- Turning in complete homework assignments on time (40%)
- Attendance (10%)
- A final project (50%)
The topic and form of the final project is up to the discretion of the student. These core concepts and skills must be demonstrated:
- Excellent news judgment: being able to find and tell a compelling story in the public interest
- The ability to join at least two different data sources
- The ability to research and describe the origins of the data, even if the data was collected manually by the student
- Addressing the limitations in the data, i.e. the "known unknowns"
Students are encouraged to use charts and other visualizations as necessary to illustrate the data, but won't be judged on aesthetics (unless the visual design serves to distort the data or mislead the viewer). The prose of the project should be roughly 1,000 to 2,000 words.
Tools and technology
The work and exercises in this class should be doable with any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer capable of running a modern web browser.
- Text editor: I recommend Sublime Text. In the lab, we'll be using TextWrangler.
- Spreadsheet: In-class demonstrations will involve Google Spreadsheets. Microsoft Excel will also do fine.
- Database: In-class demonstrations will use Sequel Pro, which is available only for Mac. On your own laptop, I recommend (for ease of installation) installing the Firefox web browser and using the SQLite Manager.
An introduction to public affairs reporting and the core skills of using data to find and tell important stories.
- Count something interesting
- Make friends with math
- The joy of text
- How to do a data project
Just because it's data doesn't make it right. But even when all the available data is flawed, we can get closer to the truth with mathematical reasoning and the ability to make comparisons, small and wide.
- Fighting bad data with bad data
- Baltimore's declining rape statistics
- FBI crime reporting
- The Uber effect on drunk driving
- Pivot tables
Learn how to take data in your own hands. There are two kinds of databases: the kind someone else has made, and the kind you have to make yourself.
- The importance of spreadsheets
- Counting murders
- Making calls
- A crowdsourced spreadsheet
Phillip Reese of the Sacramento Bee will discuss how he uses data in his investigative reporting projects.
- Phillip Reese speaks
Mapping can be a dramatic way to connect data to where readers are and to what they recognize.
- Why maps work
- Why maps don't work
- Introduction to Fusion Tables and TileMill
A continuation of learning mapping tools, with a focus on borders and shapes
- Working with KML files
- Intensity maps
- Visual joins and intersections
The first in several sessions on learning SQL for the exploration of large datasets.
- MySQL / SQLite
- Select, group, and aggregate
- Where conditionals
- SFPD reports of larceny, narcotics, and prostitution
- Babies, and what we name them
The ability to join different datasets is one of the most direct ways to find stories that have been overlooked.
- Inner joins
- One-to-one relationships
- Our politicians and what they tweet
Sometimes, what's missing is more important than what's there. We will cover more complex join logic to find what's missing from related datasets.
- Left joins
- NULL values
- Which Congressmembers like Ellen Degeneres?
A casual midterm covering the range of data analysis and programming skills acquired so far.
- A midterm on SQL and data
- Data on military surplus distributed to U.S. counties
- U.S. Census QuickFacts
The American democratic process generates loads of interesting data and insights for us to examine, including who is financing political campaigns.
- Polling and pollsters
- Following the campaign finance money
- Competitive U.S. Senate races
With Election Day coming up, we examine the practices of polling as a way to understand various scenarios of statistical bias and error.
- Statistical significance
- Poll reliability
Do your on-the-ground reporting
- No class because of Election Day Coverage
While there are many tools and techniques for building data graphics, there is no magic visualization tool that will make a non-story worth telling.
- Review of the midterm
- The importance of good data in visualizations
- How visualization can augment the Serial podcast
One of the most tedious but important parts of data analysis is just cleaning and organizing the data. Being a good "data janitor" lets you spend more time on the more fun parts of journalism.
- Dirty data
Simon Rogers, data editor at Twitter, talks about his work, how Twitter reflects how communities talk to each other, and the general role of data journalism.
- Ellen, World Cup, and other masses of Twitter data
When the data doesn't directly reveal something obvious, we must consider what its structure and its metadata implies.
- Proxy variables
- Thanks Google for figuring out my commute
- How racist are we, really?
- How web sites measure us
Discussion of final projects before the Thanksgiving break.
Holiday - no class
Holiday - no class
Last-minute help on final projects.
In-class presentations of our final data projects.