09 Nov 2011

Paid internships in data journalism

Here’s the list right here. Update: Matt Waite added these to the news dev jobs list. Now it’s here.  


Earlier this year, Amanda Cox and I tricked Dan Fagin into letting us teach a class in NYU’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (it’s like a cult, but in a good way). We pitched a class that we thought would teach the students data skills they could take with them in whatever career they chose: writing for a magazine, blogging, producing podcasts, documentary films, whatever.

The class, loosely centered on the theme of “data journalism,” was a big hit with the students, most of whom had never written a line of code. It wasn’t perfect, but in just six weeks, they were doing basic data cleaning, coding up HTML pages by hand and styling them with CSS and using open tools like Google Fusion Tables and ProPublica’s TimelineSetter. We used Excel to ask questions of our data. We lied (and then told the truth) with charts. We worried about loans. (At one point, class came to a halt at the rumor of a gallon of free peanut butter somewhere in the building.) By the end of the class, each student had a data-intensive final project that they conceived, reported, analyzed and coded up on their own. It wasn’t something that would get them a job on its own, but it was something that hopefully opened them up to the world of data, visualization and open tools.

Class ended months ago, and now those students are looking for jobs. There are offers coming in – SHERP, a highly specialized graduate program where many of the students have degrees in subjects like engineering, astrophysics and biology, has a strong placement record – but it’s obvious that many traditional jobs are dwindling, and many of them still pay terribly. (Money isn’t everything, of course, but as a paid professor it’s hard to tell someone with 50k in student loans to take a job blogging at a magazine web site for $35,000 a year.)

At the same time, there’s a vibrant, hyper-motivated group of folks making data-driven graphics and news applications, looking for people to hire. Their public Google Doc of jobs just seems to grow, and it includes many of the most prestigious institutions in journalism (including a handful at the Times); in many ways, it’s never been easier for a young person with the right skills to get hired to important jobs in the ivory towers.

Alas, most students don’t have the chops to get those jobs. And while journalism schools appear to be reworking their curriculum, and there is a happy community of digital helpers, we could still be better at developing the talent that’s out there.

So, until these imaginary students of the future put us all out of work with their new business models (one word, people: holograms), we should help them get internships on our data teams and graphics desks to get them to a point where they would be useful to us. I compiled a list of about 20 places that definitely have paid internships as well as some who don’t, in case they get money. These internships include computer-assisted-reporting, information graphics, news development and digital design. There weren’t as many strong yes responses as we’d all like, and some official deadlines have passed, but, encouragingly, most of the people I talked to said something like, “for the right student, we’ll find the money.”

I still think we can do more than internships to get better candidates, especially from journalism schools, but I don’t know what yet. My best idea is something like an NFL combine for recent grads, but that seems expensive. Any takers?

Anyway, the internship list is right here. It’s public, so share and edit away. I hope we can add to it. (And I appear unable to make links work in a Google Spreadsheet, so if someone can do that, good on you.) Many thanks to all those who helped compile the list, especially Michelle Minkoff and Tyson Evans.