Stanford focuses on data in 'refreshed' journalism curriculum

byAshley Nguyen
Oct 29, 2014 in Journalism Basics

With data journalism becoming a mainstay in the media vernacular, some journalism schools recognize the need to mirror the trend in their curricula. But one university is making data a requirement.  

Stanford University recently debuted a “refreshed” program for its 2014-2015 M.A. Journalism program, calling it a “data-driven curriculum for the journalist of tomorrow.” 

The class lineup includes Public Affairs Data Journalism, Computational Methods in the Civic Sphere and Computational Journalism. One class, Becoming a Watchdog, will teach students how to apply data to investigative journalism. Stanford requires M.A. Journalism candidates to take Public Affairs Data Journalism I and II.

Stanford will also open a Computational Journalism Lab with the help of lecturers Dan Nguyen, formerly of ProPublica, and Cheryl Phillips, the former data innovation editor at The Seattle Times.

Stanford’s curriculum changes resemble strides made by Columbia University, though much of the focus on data remains in graduate programs. Undergraduate communication students at Stanford can take electives in computational journalism, although it is not a concentration. 

Columbia University began offering a dual master’s degree in journalism and computer science in 2010, and it started the Lede Program – a post-baccalaureate certification course in data and coding – in April 2014.

While journalism programs are moving toward embracing digital trends, reframing journalism curricula toward data and computer science isn’t catching on everywhere.

“The camp of people who are saying every journalism student needs to code are misguided about what most journalism students do and where most journalism schools are,” U.S. News & World Report data reporter Lindsey Cook told the American Journalism Review. “At many schools, we’re still working on killing the divide between broadcast and writing so students can graduate with video and writing experience. Once you throw in social media, audio and some Excel, that’s quite a lot to start on.”

Still, other major schools are taking larger steps toward digital journalism. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a new media track for communications students, which includes classes in information literacy and computer science. Auburn University has areas of emphasis for undergrads in digital technology journalism, which encourages students to take courses in interactive web development.

The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University offers interactive storytelling classes as electives for undergraduate and graduate students. Medill's Knight Foundation Scholarship program offers a half-scholarship to web developers or computer programmers interested in pursuing a master's in journalism.

Stanford lecturer Phillips said that in the future, data journalism can't just be one required course at J-schools. 

"Data journalism should not be just one class out of a curriculum, but infused throughout a curriculum," Phillips told Alex Howard in this Tow Center for Digital Journalism post. "Every type of journalist can learn data-related skills that will help them, whether they end up as a copy editor, a reporter, a front-line editor or a graphics artist."

If you’ve noticed any exceptional international journalism programs changing their curriculums toward data and digital, tell us on Twitter: @IJNet

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via City College Norwich.