Data reporters: 'a tough role to hire for,' says @Digidave #superpowers Click To Tweet

Data-driven journalism was not one of the highest-ranked skills in our survey on newsroom hiring priorities. But other evidence, including open-ended answers on our questionnaire and especially actual job postings, all suggested that the demand is greater than the survey results conveyed.

News leaders seem to have a sense that the Internet is a bottomless source of data-driven story ideas, and that digital publishing provides amazing new ways to tell and present those stories. As the job announcement for a database reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education put it, “Our newsroom is awash in data — nonprofit financial statements, endowments, executive salaries, federal grants, IRS tax data, college graduation rates and more — and we need someone to help us organize and make sense of it all.”

In the survey, data skills were a middle-tier hiring need, listed as a top five-to-10 priority by less than half of the newsrooms that responded to our questionnaire (13 of 31, or 42 percent). In this case, newspapers (4 of 8, or 50 percent) and non-profit news organizations (6 of 11, or 55 percent) showed the most interest, but data skills were not among the top choices in either of those categories either. (We discussed a correlation between the news organizations that prioritized editorial graphics and animation and data skills in the section about Visual Storytelling  above.)

On the other hand, data reporting and data visualization appeared often in open-ended answers about positions that had been created — including a data visualization staffer at the Houston Chronicle and a second data editor at Southern California Public Radio station KPCC-FM in Pasadena. Several news leaders also noted that those roles were among the jobs they had a difficult time getting qualified applicants to fill.

“It is hard to find high-quality interactive reporters,” wrote Gabriel Dance, managing editor for the Marshall Project, a digital news outlet that focuses on criminal justice issues.

“We have only one data journalist,” lamented David Cohn, while he was executive producer at AJ+. “Would love more. But that’s a tough role to hire for.”

Perhaps so, but that did not stop many news organizations from trying — at least based on the job descriptions gathered for this report.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s vacancy was for an entry-level database reporter with “in-depth knowledge of a range of computer-assisted reporting tools, especially MySQL and Excel.” Also “a big plus” for that position: “some programming ability (e.g., HTML CSS, Javascript, Python, jQuery)” — the same kinds of skills that also made coding and development jobs hard for newsrooms to fill.

Around the same time, the Chronicle also was hiring a news app developer for its Data & Interactives team specifically to help the organization “effectively present news and data online” and “create engaging and informative data-driven news applications.”

Data journalism and data visualization was not always a primary responsibility as it was in those two postings, but it often showed as a desired skill in other kinds of newsroom jobs. Candidates for a social policy reporter opening at the Lafayette Journal and Courier in Indiana needed to be able to “produce enterprise and watchdog stories by parsing public records and documents” and “using data.” Similar ambitions appeared in the postings for a multimedia editor at the Wall Street Journal (requires “a strong portfolio of data visualizations”); an online producer for the Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner (“We make use of Caspio and Tableau software for online data searches and visualization”); an investigative producer for WLEX-TV (LEX18) in Lexington, Kentucky (“computer assisted reporting experience is a plus”); and a multimedia reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat (“database journalism skills are a plus”).

We also found references to data journalism in management positions, including news editor openings at U.S. News & World Report (“involves managing a data-driven rankings project”) and the Alaska Dispatch News and its website in Anchorage (“a track record using data journalism is plus”).

One thing we learned from our research for this report: anything that’s mentioned as “a plus” in a job posting is almost always a superpower.


News leaders see opportunities in seeing data visualized, in part because they see other news organizations doing just that.

Burke Olsen, managing editor and content director, Deseret Media

“I really see data visualization as a necessary skill. There are interesting interactives being built by larger publications and there’s going to be a lot of pressure for local organizations to create content like that.”