Spain’s First-Ever Investigative, Data Journalism Master’s Program To Launch In Fall

The University Rey Juan Carlos of Madrid will launch Spain’s first-ever masters degree on investigative reporting, data journalism and visualization this fall, and Google will  provide six scholarships that pay 80 percent of recipients’ tuition.

The new program is organized by the journalism school of the media group Unidad Editorial and the University Rey Juan Carlos of Madrid. I caught up  via e-mail with two people involved with the program: Marcos García Rey, investigative reporter and ICIJ member who will coordinate the master’s,  and Mar Cabra, a module coordinator in charge of the data journalism aspect.

Here are the highlights from our Q&A, which is include below:

  • Data courses will teach students how to think about the paper trail, how to obtain data, and how to use statistics to draw basic conclusions
  • Data courses will include basic analysis tools like Excel, SQL and web scraping
  • Second semester will touch on how to choose the correct visualization to convey a story
  • Reporting classes will be more traditional in nature, though students will be posting to the web from day 1
  • They drew inspiration from IRE’s Eductaor’s Center, Columbia’s investigative program and personal experiences

Can you tell me about your vision for the data-journalism side of things? What kind of technical skills will you be teaching? And, specifically, which tools are in the lineup? Excel? Fusion tables? Tableau?

Mar: Data-journalism is just starting in Spain. Hardly any media outlets are using it. We don’t have a tradition of watchdog reporting either and for now, we’re the only big country in the European Union without an open records law. This situation puts our students at a very basic level for a starting point. However, this is why a masters degree like the one we’re starting this fall could have great impact.

We’re still finishing up the design of the program, but for the data-journalism part, we’re thinking on several key things. First, students need to learn to think about the paper trail, where could be data and how to obtain it. Then, we will teach them basic tools for analysis (Excel and SQL). There will be a component of statistics too, so students learn how to use data properly and make accurate conclusions. And finally, we will teach them basic programming skills. Web scraping is crucial in a country like ours, for example. Students probably won’t become ‘hackers’ with what we can teach them, but at least they will understand the concepts and know how to work with one.

In the second semester, we have also designed a whole course on visualization so the students can get some notions on how to chose the correct form for the visual expression of data. We will be focusing on visualizations to help investigations and visualizing to communicate with the readers. We’re still to define the specific tools we will teach but Tableau and Google Fusion tables are in the lineup.

Will the reporting be taught separately from the data? Or all intertwined?

Mar: Within the data-journalism classes we will talk about storytelling, but it’s true that this effort will mainly be done in other classes. The core of the masters is investigative reporting in the more “traditional” sense. However, from day one we will put students to work in a website where they’ll publish their work, so it’s there where they will have to apply all the knowledge they get from the different courses – like if they were in a newsroom.

Did you look at any existing data/viz/investigative programs for inspiration? If so, which ones?

Mar: We’re a team of half a dozen people working on designing the program, so we’re looking at many different places for inspiration. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but take the best from the experiences out there. IRE’s “Educator’s Center” has been a great resource, as it has also been the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University in New York, of which I graduated in 2010. We’re also talking to colleagues in different countries that are engaged of education in this field.

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