Spreadsheets bridge gap between developers and reporters

This is my first NICAR, but someone mentioned that NICAR 2012 was “The Year of the Map”, with panels, tutorials, and discussion otherwise centered around new, exciting tools like Mapbox and Leaflet.

We invented new terms like BoyerMaps and used the rest of the year to make some incredible map-based news apps.

If NICAR 2013 has a theme among its divergent, widely varied sessions, it is the resurgence of an antiquated tool: the spreadsheet. From Tasneem Raja's tabletop.js session to Chase Davis's powerful session on exploratory data analysis, which used spreadsheet-compatible data in a csv, many of NICAR's speakers returned to the trusty spreadsheet and found new levels of power within it.

What truly makes the spreadsheet so powerful is how inclusive the use of spreadsheets, especially when done through Google, can be for the newsroom. Reporters with no technical skills understand spreadsheets. Reporters can contribute to spreadsheets. And as Tasneem Raja explained on Friday, spreadsheets are a great tool to explain how the structure of a data-driven news app is constructed.

After participating in their first app construction experience, Raja said, reporters began to understand what was possible for a news app. That is incredibly powerful. When reporters in the newsroom can not only help in the data gathering and reporting process but also contribute to the brainstorm and idea generation process constructively, we have succeeded. We have infected the newsroom. We are creating “inclusive story crafting.”

Among the conference's variance has been a certain divide between beginner-focused sessions focused on training and expert-level theoretical sessions focused on thinking and solving the problems that have arisen from news apps. As a developing developer, I found myself splitting time between both extremes, trying to gather new skills as well as enrich my already established skills. In the beginner sessions, I found myself surrounded by reporters trying to get a handle on something, anything that will help them understand the changes occurring in their industry.

Sisi Wei's Code With Me, Dave Stanton's For Journalism and internal initiatives such as those put on by the Chicago Tribune News Applications Team teach journalists how to code and try to bridge this gap of understanding. These are noble, worthy causes, and ones that can generate incredible impact in the newsroom. They are direct examples of programs that should exist not only at the professional level but also at the journalism school level.

But not every current journalist will learn how to code (though every future journalist *must*). And we need different ways to get them involved. Maybe instead of talking about total code literacy in the newsroom, we should be talking about the more general inclusive story crafting. How can reporters be included in our process, even if they cannot or will not learn how to code?

I am not prescribing the spreadsheet as the catchall solution. There are serious problems with rate limits on Google, and spreadsheet-based data leaves out more innovative ways of exploring data. But it is a *great* way to explain structure and allow reporters to do what they do best — report and research — and let news developers do what they do best — develop, design and iterate. Beyond that, the spreadsheet is accessible enough to everyone that reporters can contribute to the code, and developers can contribute to the reporting. They act as a mediator between two disciplines that have encountered friction. They make collaboration possible. Let's get more people involved with spreadsheets, and I bet we'll find more solutions once we do.

About the author

Tyler Fisher

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Building a Community for VR and AR Storytelling

    In 2016 we founded the Device Lab to provide a hub for the exploration of AR/VR storytelling on campus. In addition to providing access to these technologies for Medill and the wider Northwestern community, we’ve also pursued a wide variety of research and experimental content development projects. We’ve built WebVR timelines of feminist history and looked into the inner workings of ambisonic audio. We’ve built virtual coral reefs and prototyped an AR experience setting interviews...

    Continue Reading

  • A Brief Introduction to NewsgamesCan video games be used to tell the news?

    When the Financial Times released The Uber Game in 2017, the game immediately gained widespread popularity with more than 360,000 visits, rising up the ranks as the paper’s most popular interactive piece of the year. David Blood, the game’s lead developer, said that the average time spent on the page was about 20 minutes, which was substantially longer than what most Financial Times interactives tend to receive, according to Blood. The Uber Game was so successful that the Financial...

    Continue Reading

  • With the 25th CAR Conference upon us, let’s recall the first oneWhen the Web was young, data journalism pioneers gathered in Raleigh

    For a few days in October 1993, if you were interested in journalism and technology, Raleigh, North Carolina was the place you had to be. The first Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference offered by Investigative Reporters & Editors brought more than 400 journalists to Raleigh for 3½ days of panels, demos and hands-on lessons in how to use computers to find stories in data. That seminal event will be commemorated this week at the 25th CAR Conference, which...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Audience Engagement and Onboarding with Hearken Auditing the News Resurrecting History for VR Civic Engagement with City Bureau Automated Fact Checking Conversational Interface for News Creative Co-Author Crowdsourcing for Journalism Environmental Reporting with Sensors Augmented Reality Visualizations Exploring Data Visualization in VR Fact Flow Storytelling with GIFs Historical Census Data Information Spaces in AR/VR Contrasting Forms Of Interactive 3D Storytelling Interactive Audio Juxtapose Legislator Tracker Storytelling with Augmented Reality Music Magazine Navigating Virtual Reality Open Data Reporter Oscillations Personalize My Story Photo Bingo Photojournalism in 3D for VR and Beyond Podcast Discoverability Privacy Mirror Projection Mapping ProPublica Illinois Rethinking Election Coverage SensorGrid API and Dashboard Sidebar Smarter News Exploring Software Defined Radio Story for You Storyline: Charts that tell stories. Storytelling Layers on 360 Video Talking to Data Visual Recipes Watch Me Work Writing and Designing for Chatbots
  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More