Textbooks: Little Consensus

Our analysis also found one more gap in curricula—a strong core of textbooks. The concepts and skills of this field were described in fairly consistent ways throughout our interviews and the text of the syllabi, but data journalism instructors share only a few core books in common. In fact, most didn’t use a textbook at all but provided a list of selected readings.

Of the syllabi, more than 70 different textbooks were required, but there was no consensus on which books were preferred. The most popular book—Brant Houston’s Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide—was required in just 14 percent of the classes.

Five courses required membership in IRE, and 23 of the courses required students to buy a book published through IRE. They included various editions of Houston’s and IRE’s The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases, and Techniques and Sarah Cohen’s Numbers in the Newsroom: Using Math and Statistics in News. Various editions of Philip Meyer’s book, New Precision Journalism or Precision Journalism, were required in nine of the courses.

Eight of the courses required The Data Journalism Handbook, which was produced as a combined effort by data journalists around the globe. The online book is an initiative of the European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation and is available free on the Web in English, Russian, Spanish, French, and Georgian.

In 17 classes, no text was required. The lesson here may be that online reading works best for these classes. But it also could mean that despite its long history, data journalism is still a nascent subject within journalism schools and there may be a dearth of effective textbooks beyond the few that are commonly assigned.

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