Assistant Professor Catherine D’Ignazio and Rahul Bhargava of the MIT Media Lab have obtained a $35,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to build three tools to aid in data storytelling for journalists in a project titled DataBasic.
D’Ignazio, who joined Emerson last year, teaches data visualization courses in the Journalism Department, as well as courses in design and civic media in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies.
D’Ignazio is also working in conjunction with Emerson’s Engagement Lab, whose staff is assisting with DataBasic.
The vast amount of data that journalists must sift through in today’s digital world is a major motivation for the three tools the pair are constructing.
“Sometimes now, when journalists are faced with things like Wikileaks…no single person can read the whole repository because of the sheer volume,” D’Ignazio said. “That’s one reason why we need these kinds of tools.”
Two of the three tools under development, called “WordCounter” and “TuffyDuff,” would analyze word frequency and patterns in large amounts of unstructured text. This could be helpful when analyzing a politician’s speeches, for example, and counting the number of times certain words are used.
The third tool is called “WTFcsv,” which would be a web application that processes a CSV (comma separated values) file and returns a summary of the fields, their data type, their range, and basic descriptive statistics.
D’Ignazio and Bhargava are trying to develop tools that are easy enough for a non-tech-savvy person to use.
“Simple, focused tools are more useful to busy professionals and novice students than large packages or robust software applications,” the pair wrote in a proposal for the Knight grant.
They said their digital tools would have “a low barrier to entry” and lead to “a high ceiling for learning” for their users—professional journalists, journalism students, community groups, and data journalism educators.
“The tools are primarily designed for people with little to no background in programming,” the pair’s proposal said.