Squirrel talk: "Make it clear that you are not their personal system administrator"

Since April 2016, Simon has been an online editor at the German local newspaper "Schwäbische Zeitung", where – in addition to the daily work of an online journalist – he works on data journalistic stories. Researcher, writer, designer, programmer: In his data stories, he often fills all of these roles simultaneously.
We asked him how he works, and what tips he has for journalists in other local newsrooms who want to start working with data.

To what extent does your newsroom support you in the development of data journalistic formats?

There are still no front-end developers and UX designers in our newsroom, but at least I’ve got plenty of time for doing everything on my own. Plus, money for web tools is usually no big deal.

What do you expect from your newsroom?

An open mind. Local journalists rarely have time for extensive research. Plus, they can't possibly be experts in all fields they have to deal with in their respective department on a daily basis. That's why, they often rely on opinions of "experts". That's fine. But if they acknowledge that sometimes quirky csv files hold the answer to some of their questions, then it'll be a win-win.

Suppose I’m the only person in my newsroom who knows about data or how to code. What can I do?

First, make it clear to your fellow workmates, that you are not their personal system administrator. Second, befriend front-end developers and UX designers from other departments. If there are none, look for them at the closest university. Third, convince your boss that you need them in your office. And if that does not work out: use tools like Flourish, Datawrapper or Carto. And ask for a pay raise.

How did you start doing data journalism?

I started coding first, journalism second. Data journalism helped me to get better at both.

Which of your data projects are you most proud of? What didn’t work out so well? And which project was most well received by the readers?

Rival cities in our distribution area competing with each other in a massive data battle with fancy d3-drag charts and all! Sounds fun, right? Well, it kind of flopped.

People loved my etymological map with "real" meanings of city names though. "City of the Fire Lord" just sounds way more badass than Ingolstadt!

I'm also proud of data-driven stories that made real news: like my local analysis of particulate matter on New Year's Eve, the laziest members of parliament or my recent piece about late trains in Baden-Württemberg (Spoiler: They are all late. Except for one.).

Working with data can be time consuming. How do you judge if it is worthwhile to do a data project?

1. Is this relevant for my audience?

2. Is there a chance that there's an actual news item hidden within the data?

3. Do my workmates agree?

If you can answer all three of these questions with a yes, it's most likely worthwhile doing it.

Does data journalism have a future in small local newsrooms?

If publishers start realizing the effect cost cutting and click-bait had on journalism – and that data journalism is here to fix it: definitely. Local news have among the highest news value. The same applies for data-driven local news.


Simon Haas

Simon Haas describes himself as a native Swabian and a trained Austrian. In the noughties, he survived the crisis of the New Economy with a start-up and learned to work cross-media. He works at the German local newspaper Schwäbische Zeitung and was a Google News Fellow of Funke Interaktiv in 2018.

Runs on:

How many times per week do you have to explain what "data journalism" is?
My workmates regularly ask me whether I'm "in the Matrix again" while I'm updating simple HTML in my Leaflet maps – so, yeah: a lot.

How many items are on your desktop?
Just did a check after my recent clean-up: 336. :(

Swear words per day?
Loosing track since the Relaunch of Doom.

How big was your biggest data set?
Dear data journalists, size doesn't matter.

Your funniest file name?
Vorvertragliche Information für außerhalb von Geschäftsräumen geschlossene Verträge und für Fernabsatzverträge zum Girovertrag.pdf

snow flake
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