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How to Become a Data Journalist

The term data journalism might sound repetitive. Aren’t all journalists required to make sure their reports are backed up by data? How is data-driven journalism different from other forms of journalism?

A data journalist, for one thing, does not simply use data in a report. They need to be able to analyze raw data as well as report on it. They also must be well-versed in programming, coding, and visual storytelling.

But what else does it take? Let’s take a closer look at how to become a data journalist.

What Is a Data Journalist?

To be able to appreciate what a data journalist does, you will need to understand the concept of data journalism. Data journalism is all about collecting large amounts of data and using technology to analyze it. Programming languages are the key to processing these data sets.

This practice is quite common in reports about finance. The journalist will usually start with a large set of data spanning several years, and will need to make sense of it. Then, the journalist will use programs like Excel and programming languages like Python to sort through the information.

What Does a Data Journalist Do?

Part of a data journalist’s responsibility is to ensure their articles are accurate. To achieve this and come up with a reliable output, a journalist must carefully review the data. Below, we’ll look at a few of the main tasks of a data journalist.

Collect Data

A data journalist can collect data on a variety of topics to use in their reports. This includes making sure the data sources used are reliable. Data integrity is vital in journalism because the articles will be viewed by many readers.

Analyze Data

Some of the best programming languages out there play an integral role in data journalism. A data journalist uses coding to conduct data analysis and draw conclusions. This ensures that data can be analyzed correctly to answer any questions raised in the story.

Visualize Data

Storytelling through data visualization is a vital component of data journalism. Modern news consumers prefer having visual aids accompanying the stories they read. A data journalist must know how to create charts and graphs that summarize the most important data in an article.

Essential Data Journalist Skills

What does it take to become a data journalist? Let’s take a look at some of the essential skills below.

Strong Written Communication

The primary job of a journalist is to write news stories. Strong writing skills will help you get your point across in a succinct manner. You should be able to make data easy to comprehend for those who are unfamiliar with the topic of the article.


Data journalists need the same skills that data scientists have, namely the ability to process huge data sets. Even though the Internet is packed with information, some information is still difficult to find. A data journalist must be resourceful to find the data they need.

Programming Knowledge

Learning how to code is important if you want to become a data journalist. You do not need to learn all programming languages, but you should select one that you are comfortable with and that will improve your stories.

Data Journalist Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, reporters and news analysts receive a median pay of $46,270 per year. However, the job outlook for this field is expected to decline by 11 percent over the next 10 years.

The predicted drop in the job outlook is due to a decline in TV, radio, and newspaper advertising. Social media marketing and other forms of online advertising are replacing these more traditional ads as readers turn increasingly to online content. This means there will be fewer jobs for journalists overall.

Nonetheless, the field of data journalism isn’t going anywhere, and with dedication, finding a job as a data journalist is possible.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Data Journalist?

Having a journalism degree will be a big help if you want to break into the field. Normally, it takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. Then, obtaining an internship in a competitive journalism environment will allow you to hone your skills.

After graduating college, it might take a while to land a job in data journalism, as there is a lot of competition for employment in the field. Nonetheless, getting any job in journalism will set you on your way to achieving your goal. By doing this, you will get acquainted with the field and learn more practical skills.

How to Become a Data Journalist: A Step-by-Step Guide

There is no data journalism handbook that will tell you exactly how to become a data journalist. However, there are several basic tips you should follow. The step-by-step guide below will help you get started.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism will give you an advantage from the start. This will prove that you have learned all of the technical skills needed to succeed in the job.

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree

Though this isn’t essential, getting a master’s degree in journalism might help your chances of finding a job. Graduate school can help boost your skills as you learn practical approaches to the job.

Step 3: Create Your Portfolio

To get a job in journalism, you must show samples of your work. Collecting your best work, starting from your first year in college, will help you build a strong portfolio. It is best that these samples are on a variety of topics and showcase all of your skills.

Step 4: Develop Your Own Workflow

Data journalism is very methodical. For every project you take on, you should follow the same steps, including collecting data, analyzing data, and visualizing and reporting the information.

Step 5: Continue to Learn Programming

Programming is an essential data journalism skill. Learning how to use a variety of programming languages will help increase your job options later. This will enable you to process data effectively to yield accurate results.

Step 6: Don’t Stop Writing

As a data journalist, you have a responsibility to effectively communicate your findings. To improve your writing, you should continually take on new projects and practice a variety of writing styles.

Required Education to Become a Data Journalist

To become a data journalist, you should complete at least one degree in that field. For your undergraduate program, you can complete a degree in either journalism or communication. A majority of colleges in the US offer both of these majors.

Since data journalism requires coding knowledge, it is also a good idea to take programming courses. You can either take these classes online or at your university.

You can also become a data journalist after studying for an undergraduate degree in data science, if not also a master’s. As long as you can prove your skills in data science, it will be possible to secure a job in this area.

Best Programs and Courses to Become a Data Journalist

There are a lot of courses that will help put you on a path to success as a data journalist. This involves becoming an expert in two fields. Apply for some of the courses below to grow your skills.

How to be a Journalist - The Complete Guide to Journalism

  • Provider: Udemy
  • Length: Varies
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Price: $12.99

This course is written and presented by Tony Bosworth, whose work has appeared in the Financial Times. Topics covered in the course include the basics of technical writing, how to build a story, responsible journalism, and dealing with defamation.

Data Science: Visualization

  • Provider: Harvard University
  • Length: Varies
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Price: Free

As a data journalist, you must know how to effectively present information. This program covers all the basics of data visualization using the programming language R. You will also learn how to effectively analyze data in a way that complements your reports.

Online Data Journalism Certificates

Aside from the online courses available, certification programs will help you prove your value as a data journalist. A certificate can be useful to prove your expertise when applying for jobs in the future.

Data Journalism and Visualization with Free Tools

  • Provider: Class Central
  • Length: Varies
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Price: Free

This free online certification course is powered by the Google News Initiative. It includes topics like how to find the right data and data-driven storytelling. Once you have completed six modules, you will receive a certificate.

Data Journalism and Media Standards

  • Provider: Alison
  • Length: Varies
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Price: Free

This course is specifically focused on ensuring that the data used in reporting meets journalistic standards. It includes topics on your obligations as a journalist and how to be responsible in your reporting.

Introduction to Python Programming

  • Provider: Georgia Tech (via edX)
  • Length: 5 months
  • Prerequisites: Knowledge of computers
  • Price: $536.40

Python is one of the most popular coding languages. In this course, you will learn how to write code, and how to interpret data results for analytical purposes. This course covers all aspects of Python, and by the end, you will qualify for a professional certificate.

Good with Words: Writing and Editing Specialization

  • Provider: Coursera
  • Length: Varies
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Price: $39

This specialization course will train you to write better articles. It will act as a guide to help reporters and editors communicate better. This course will help you brush up on grammar, syntax, and sentence construction.

Should You Become a Data Journalist in 2020?

First, you should consider whether you want to become a journalist at all. This career path is less secure than some others as it’s based on the changing interests of the public.

Still, aspiring and eager journalists are what keeps the profession alive. Data journalism has revived interest in journalism as a career, as it combines traditional and digital ways of reporting.

Becoming a data journalist in 2020 is a viable option because people will always need to rely on these data-heavy reports. Compelling stories on finance, economics, and other data-driven topics are necessary for many people.


Do I need a bachelor’s degree to become a data journalist?
It is preferable to earn a formal college education to become a journalist. For a field like data journalism, you will also be expected to know about programming. A bachelor’s degree in data science or journalism will improve your chances of landing a job.
Are there available courses on data journalism online?
There are a lot of journalism courses online that you can check out if you want to learn new skills. These can be either free or paid, and many come with certificates. These certificates will help you when applying for a job at a news organization.
Can I learn data journalism on my own?
Learning data journalism is easier due to these online journalism schools. Online classes have become especially helpful due to the ongoing pandemic. Moreover, they are self-paced, so you can plan your own study schedule.
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