Data Journalism

As the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy prepared to head to China, executive director Kelli Arena came across an article in Nieman Reports. It painted a bleak picture for journalists in the country. "The Communist Party has long striven to control freedom of speech in China. Hundreds of thousands of websites from around the world are blocked inside China. Major social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and LinkedIn, cannot be accessed, and advanced software is used to search and destroy “sensitive” words on the Internet.” The article goes on to say; "The domestic media, more easily controlled, have fared even worse. Domestic journalists who step over the invisible line of what’s permissible face possible punishment, being fired or even arrested. Frequent orders are issued telling news organizations what they can and can’t publish, a system that has been dubbed “Directives from the Ministry of Truth.” Although the international media can’t be censored, foreign journalists face various forms of government intimidation, harassment, surveillance, a barrage of malware attacks that are believed to be the work of government agents, restrictions on their reporting, and in recent years visa intimidation aimed at encouraging self-censorship.” 

Still, GCJD put together a group of trainers to head into the country to teach young journalists how to collect, organize, and use data for accurate story telling. The center joined forces with The International Center for Journalists and Tsinghua University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in China.

The first part of the conference featured a series of frank discussions on the state of journalism in China and where it was, or should be headed. Opinions varied with some speakers pushing for more openness, and others advocating for more government control. GCJD clearly came down on the side of more openness. Speakers included academics, government officials, and journalists. 

The second day was devoted to graduate student journalists enrolled in Tsinghua’s Global Business Journalism Program. Senior journalists from the New York Times, Reuters, and NPR joined freelancers to share best practices, advice, and useful techniques. Daniel Bases, a deputy editor at Reuters started off the day with a discussion on how to harness data. Bases has conducted various international trainings and is a veteran business journalist. It was followed by a presentation by New York Times reporter Patrick Boehler aimed at helping journalists in China find accurate and relevant information in a restrictive environment. Boehler spent years reporting in China and is currently based in Hong Kong. Matt Stiles, a free-lance data journalist focused on techniques to efficiently organize data and view it with a critical eye. Stiles most recently worked as a national economics correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and is considered a pioneer in data journalism. Elise Hu, a reporter for NPR based in Seoul Korea, worked with conference participants on turning data into compelling stories. Before joining NPR, Hu was one of the founding reporters at the Texas Tribune. The final session of the day was devoted to data visualization and was headed up by Laura Stanton a former Washington post graphic artist who now runs LaVidaCo Communications

“The trainers were relevant and still working so they gave great information that was not outdated. They were very credible” raved one student in an anonymous evaluation. “This was one of the best workshops I’ve ever been to. It kept us involved and passionate about data journalism and it was extremely informative” wrote another. In a blog post, another student wrote, "I have always been terrible at working with data and tried to stay away from it, but this training showed me the way to maintain interest and how to play with the data. It is not exaggerating to say that it shifted the way I think about data visualization."

Arena credited Rick Dunham, Tsinghua’s co-director of the Global Business Journalism program for getting the project off the ground. “Rick is a highly respected veteran journalist who knows how important it is to help younger journalists navigate an ever-changing terrain. It was honor to work with him to bring this program to China” she said.

It was GCJD’s first foray into China, but the center has done other work in Asia. The center teams up with Universities, news organizations and non-profits around the world to train journalists, engage civil society and to raise awareness about important issues. 


Global Center for Journalism and Democracy
Dan Rather Communications Building, Room 201, Huntsville, TX 77340
Phone: (936) 294-4399