MozFest 2013: For journalists, web literacy is not quite enough

One of Mozfest’s most prominent themes this year has been “Build + Teach the Web.” Throughout the keynotes and sessions, Mozilla has pushed its new initiative, Webmaker, as a rallying point for all of us interested in educating the world in becoming creators of the web rather than users.

It’s a great initiative. Nothing is more important for us as makers than getting more people onboard, especially in journalism. But journalism has a specific set of requirements that make teaching the web a much different and arguably much more difficult task.

Perhaps the best of Webmaker’s current available resources is its attempt at a Web Literacy Standard. It divides web literacy into three “strands”: Exploring, Building and Connecting. Each of these three strands have subsections, such as “Composing for the Web” under Building or “Open Practices” under Connecting. Everything in the standard is relevant and necessary for making the web.

But for journalists, I'd add at least one skill to the list. I have said often that journalists do not need expert programming skills; they just need web literacy. Now, upon seeing the most complete attempt at defining just what web literacy means, journalists still need yet another type of literacy: data literacy.

This does not mean statistics, or at least not the predictive statistics that you may come across in an academic statistics department. Journalists largely deal with populations, not samples. When we deal with data, we generally deal with all of it. More and more, everyday journalists need to deal with this data.

What would a data literacy standard look like? I hope to create a more complete attempt in the near future, but data literacy as it relates to the web requires at least a few skills that come to mind:

  1. Working with spreadsheets. Often data comes in a format that lends itself to a spreadsheet. Journalists need to know not only how to read and write in them, but also how to crunch some numbers and transform the data to find the story in datasets.
  2. Web scraping. Too much data is not released in a usable format, and it too often takes web scraping skills to extract it. More difficult tasks will always be handled by news devs, but empowering journalists with basic web scraping skills will allow newsrooms to deal with more data.
  3. Data cleaning. Data is never perfect and it's often filthy. Journalists need to know what to do about it, or any data project they do will be misleading and incorrect.


This is far from a complete list of data skills that journalists need. But that list also does not exist in any concise format (certainly, the Data Journalism Handbook is a great longform resource), and if we want to emphasize to working and future journalists the skills they need, we need something concrete to point to. For web skills, Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standard is a great resource and starting point. But journalists need to consider what data skills we all need. Feel free to send me suggestions on Twitter.

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