Charting Tools for the Newsroom

Course introduction

by Maarten Lambrechts

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Hi there. My name is Maarten Lambrechts and I'm a freelance data journalist and data visualization consultant from Belgium. Previously, I worked at Mediafin, the publisher of Belgium newspapers, De Tijd and L'Echo, where I worked as a data journalist.

I looked for stories in data. I tried to make data accessible for our readers. I told stories based on data by making a lot of charts and maps. This course is called Charting Tools for the Newsroom. Charts and maps have become ubiquitous in today's newsroom because they can tell stories based on data much better than text alone can.

They're also very shareable on social media.

But not every journalist is a number cruncher or a graphic designer. Not all newsrooms have the means to dedicate a fully dedicated graphic department to make charts and maps. In this course, I will show to you three tools, really any journalist can use to make charts and to tell stories based on data.

The tools I have selected are called Chartbuilder, datawrapper, and RAWGraphs. I selected these charts based on four criteria. The fourth criteria is speed because as we all know, speed is very important in newsrooms.

These tools should allow the fast production of charts from raw data in typically less than five minutes. The second criteria is that they have to be easy to use because I think it is important that not only journalists who are familiar with working with numbers can use these tools, and also, that not only visual journalists should be able to make graphics.

The third criteria is that I have to be low cost because I want to focus on tools that any newsroom can use. These tools are free or are available at low cost.

The fourth criteria is that I have to apply the rules of good data visualization, which means that the output should be clear, readable and truthful. As I said, the tools I selected for you are Chartbuilder. Chartbuilder is a static chart generator.

The second tool is Datawrapper which is a little bit more extended. It gives you more possibilities. It also produces interactive charts. The last one is called RAWGraphs. RAWGraphs produces more exotic, less common visualizations and the outputs are also vector graphics.

For these three tools, I will take you through the whole process of preparing the data because these tools are not data transformation tools. Data transformation and preparation should be done outside of these tools.

I will use Microsoft Excel for this, so I will also show you some tricks and some ways of calculating things in Microsoft Excel. Then we'll import the data into these tools. I'll show you how to configure your charts to best tell the story with your numbers.

In the end, I'll show you how you can publish the chart, how to get the chart out of the tool and into your own website. No prior knowledge is needed, you don't have to be very familiar with Microsoft Excel or any other visualization software.

I hope that after this course, you'll be able to make your own charts, starting with raw data. I hope that your newsroom, all your colleagues also will become interested in adopting one or more of these simple charting tools.

Let's get started with module one, in which I will show you how the first tool works, and that is Chart Builder.