The Marquette University College of Communication held its 2014 Nieman Conference today on data visualization, much to the excitement of a certain aspiring science writer (that would be me). The three morning speakers, Robert Griffin, Mark Horvit, and Andrea Brennen, each presented their take on the necessity for journalists to be able to crunch numbers.
Griffin opened the line of speakers with a short talk about why statistical reasoning skills are essential to successful data visualization. He discussed the struggles journalists face in dealing with people who don't trust scientific information and in trying to present a large amount of information in a a simple, informative manner. He referenced a study in which different ways of showing margin of error espoused different levels of trust in the data. It all came down to how much the researchers or journalists were leaving up to the reader to interpret. In this case, the less, the better.
Griffin's talk was interesting because it showed that there is a morality issue in data visualization, just as there is in other parts of reporting. How the journalist chooses to portray their data (with or without a margin of error or a denominator) has an incredible impact on the way people respond to information. Griffin used the example of how the story of two people getting Ebola is hyped up because there is no context to the number "two". Two out of how many thousands? It is true that science and data have a great impact on readers and must be used carefully.
The final speaker I had the fortune of hearing was Andrea Brennen, who is more on the data side of things than the reporting side. She works to develop different ways to visualize increasingly complex data for people. She talked about her process and what goes into creating a clean data visualization.
"Design is more than just picking colors or making it look pretty. Its a way to present problems," she said. Her presentation of people's problems allows them to look at their challenges in a way that is manageable.
As a journalist, my goal is not only to present a problem, but also to inspire a solution. Each of the speakers presented the potential of numbers when used correctly. As Horvit pointed out, in the case of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's "Deadly Delays", data is literally saving lives. As a science writer, I will be doing a lot of research and synthesizing large amounts of complex information. I now have the guideline to do so effectively so I can enhance my storytelling skills and my readers' responses to those stories.
As a teen, I attended Hoffman Estates High School. Many of the students there were from low-income families and it was so diverse that the concept of "being a minority" was a foreign one. It was not a shock if less than half of my graduating class went to college.
So saying that coming to Marquette University, a predominantly white Catholic university, was "culture shock" would be an understatement. I am in the minority religiously, ethnically, and according to my educational and socioeconomic status. From the moment I first got on campus, I found myself frantically searching not for a place where I would be like everyone else, rather for a place where everyone was different - and proud of it.
When I learned today that our #loweclass final project would be about the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) on campus, the lower class first-generation Hindu woman inside of me jumped for joy. It supported what I have been slowly realizing about diversity on campus: it exists, but you have to look really damn hard to find it.
There are so many things that this project can reveal about the way Marquette responds to the minorities. A technical aspect that could be included could be an interactive map showing where the EOP graduates are today. The big underlying question there is an important one: are they moving on, or are they moving back? Each of those two decisions carries a different weight. If they're going back, they are not making a place for their ethnic group in a different area of the city, which maintains the sharp segregation of Milwaukee. If they are moving out, they are not specifically impacting their community, which begs the question: What are they impacting?
Another question that is worth looking at is what Marquette's current struggles are. Even if that is nothing more than a paragraph in the final tab of the website, it is the question that will make this story relevant. The EOP graduates lived in a time when protests were the way to get things done. They stood strong for what they believed until they got it. They had their Martin Luther King Jr. My generation is a quiet one on these matters. I don't know who our MLK is. Yet, diversity bills are still shot down in student government because there is a belief that minority students do not face struggles at Marquette. The reality cannot be further from that. Being here is just as much of a struggle for students like me as it is a blessing. Today, as a Hindu on campus, I have no place to pray while there is a chapel in every residence hall on campus, plus several others elsewhere. The challenges regarding diversity at Marquette are far from being overcome.
Therefore, I maintain that the real purpose of this project is twofold. First, it is to increase awareness about a program that made thousands of Marquette success stories possible. Second, it is to motivate and inspire current students to push for the rights they deserve. To follow by the examples of the people we will profile so that no student ever again has to ask, "Am I Marquette?"
MILWAUKEE – Four panelists discussed barriers preventing Wisconsin from lowering its carbon emissions in the final session of Marquette University’s O’Brien Fellowship Conference this past week. Panel members Kevin Croswhite, Charles Franklin, Erin Heffernan and Gary Radloff each gave a different view of the issue to conference attendees.
The panelists each presented their argument for the central question of whether or not the government should have to take action for the environment. Radloff, director of Midwest energy policy analysis for the Wisconsin Energy Institute, spoke first. He used several slides of data to make his point.
“Wisconsin has completely gone the opposite way of the U.S. trend,” Radloff said, referring to a slide from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism outlining national solar PV trends. “The U.S. trend for solar PV is going off the charts. In Wisconsin, just in the last 3 to 4 years has taken this incredible dive. It’s all about public policy.”
Radloff detailed how certain policies in Wisconsin were making it difficult for solar PV to become a more beneficial source of energy in the state, such as the third-party business rule.
Erin Heffernan, the 2013 O’Brien Fellowship Intern and Marquette alumna, spoke next. During her time interning with the fellowship, she visited the town of Forrest, Wisconsin with Seattle Times reporter and 2013 fellow, Hal Bernton. She reflected on her time in the barely 600-person town, where she saw the divide created by the debate over a wind farm proposal.
“One of the biggest complaints these people had was that wind turbines make people sick,” Heffernan said. Though she was unable to confirm or deny that claim in her reporting, Heffernan was able to delve into the arguments that ordinary people had over alternative energy solutions.
On a larger and more representative scale, Charles Franklin detailed the results of a poll released by the Marquette Law School. The nationally recognized pollster has directed the Marquette Law School Poll since it began in 2012. The results showed that though there was no influence of income on the belief about whether or not global warming was real, when it came to the support of a revenue-neutral tax on fossil fuels, wealthier people were more opposed.
“It means that the education effect is driving up support [for a carbon tax], while the higher income is driving down support,” Franklin said. “You have a social status effect that pushes in opposite directions on a solution.”
The results are indicative of the complexities surrounding environmental policy. According to the poll, 63 percent of people surveyed believed that global warming was real while 31 percent did not. Yet, in terms of a carbon tax, the vote was less decisive. There were many more factors coming into play around the issue of how to deal with the problem than whether or not there was one. One of these factors is partisanship.
Kevin Croswhite, Wisconsin state director for the Energy and Enterprise Initiative (E&EI), was then presented with the major question left after the other panelists had their say: Is a bipartisan solution possible?
Croswhite mentioned that the conservatives that make up E&EI believe that climate change is real and that something should be done about it. He said that a revenue-neutral carbon tax would not harm the economy, so long as taxes were cut from elsewhere, preferably the income tax. Croswhite also addressed the potential argument of international competitiveness by saying that in order to get other countries to make equal cuts in carbon emissions, tariffs should be put into place. He brought the panelists’ speeches to an end with the hope for such a solution.
“Conservatives don’t have to choose between addressing climate change or hurting the economy, we’re keeping the economy strong with this policy.”
I honestly did not know what to expect when I walked into Genevieve Grdina's presentation at Marquette's PR and Social Media Summit. I had misread the schedule in a rush, so I was in the wrong room. When Grdina, associate manager of corporate communication at Facebook, started talking about journalists as people who cloud Facebook's company goals by reporting using any possible Facebook connection to attract readers and who always barrage the personal relations (PR) people for information, I started to feel like I, as an aspiring journalist, was probably not in her target audience.
Yet, as her talk went on, I realized that she had many PR gems that I could apply to my career as well. Here are her three challenges Facebook has to face as a new company, and what they mean for journalists and news outlets.
Challenge #1: "Facebook was first"
Grdina talked about how Facebook is the first of it's kind. This results in their having to face unique obstacles. It also means that Facebook is breaking down barriers and having to make sure the world is ready for that. Grdina talked about how many laws surrounding communications are from the 1980's and are therefore long since outdated.
Similarly or journalists, lines are increasingly blurred. In a world where information is shared across platforms in the blink of an eye, it is important that reporters are increasingly cautious about who they get information from and what said information is.
Challenge #2: "Lack of branding"
This is applicable to journalists individually and media outlets as companies. Grdina explained the debate at Facebook about whether or not to have advertisements. They thought that ads would not be needed. We discuss branding everyday in JOUR 2100: creating a personal digital brand. Everyone needs to know how to market themselves. As Grdina said, "If you don't give your product a brand, someone else will."
Challenge #3: "Intense scrutiny"
Though this is particularly appropriate for a worldwide company like Facebook, it's true on a small scale as well. In applying for internships and jobs, everyone is subject to intense scrutiny. Social media puts a person's entire life on the internet for employers to read. Yet, Grdina pointed out that that scrutiny can be harnessed in a productive manner, like Facebook did with internet.org. Journalists and students can also use their personal brand to show the professional world who they truly are and what they stand for, rather than thinking of it as a way for employers to find reasons not to hire them.
Hearing from the PR point of view was refreshing. Grdina's advice is useful, not just for people who are trying to run a business, but for anyone entering the professional world - including the journalists who give those in her position a bit of a hard time.
As for my own brand, the Facebook motto is apt. The journey really is only "1 percent finished."
This site is my way of connecting you to the happenings of my journalistic adventures and the rest of my digital portfolio.