Journalism students reflect on experiences at NICAR conference

Monday, March 20, 2023 - 12:30pm

by Caitlyn Thomas

Thanks to a generous donation from the Deepe family, professors Jill Martin, Matt Waite and Chris Graves were able to take thirty-three CoJMC students to the annual NICAR convention in Nashville.

NICAR stands for National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, and is put on by Investigative Reporters and Editors. The four day convention is hosted annually. 

Computer-assisted reporting is a form of data journalism, and the convention held a multitude of break-out sessions, led by professionals from all over the country. These sessions ranged anywhere from hands-on lessons in utilizing Google Sheets for data collections to how to find and collect various forms of data to enhance a story.

“I attended 12 sessions throughout the trip and even though I am not experienced in data or even familiar with all the software, I found the work that the panelists did to be very admirable,” senior journalism and ADPR major Odelia Amenyah said. “I was very moved by the various conversations that were had.”

While some sessions were more on general uses of data, others narrowed down their focus, such as the Making Sense of Criminal Justice Data, hosted by Ethan Corey of The Appeal, Cheryl Phillips of Big Local News and Weihua Li of The Marshall Project. This session gave attendees a look into how to obtain and look at statistics from the Department of Justice, as well as our own local court and prison systems.

“As new technology is being introduced into society, my biggest takeaway from NICAR is to ask questions,” Amenyah said. “Analyze the data and see how it impacts people, our communities and our environment.”

Other sessions focused inward on the newsrooms themselves, such as the sessions on how to propose an accessibility team or role in your newsroom, and diversity equity and inclusion in data reporting.

“I think the conference for me was a reminder to always value people,” Amenyah said. “And when you do that, you can point out and figure out the ways that systems, policies, algorithms, corporations and others are not by looking at the data.”

The college’s very own Professor Waite was one of the presenters at the conference due to his knowledge of data journalism. Waite gave a talk about bringing data journalism to sports reporting to a room packed full of eager attendees. Waite’s class was one of the many hands-on sessions where attendees got to work through examples on their own and do analysis of the presented data.

From sports to cryptocurrency, climate change and elections, and even some sessions on using coding languages like Python, there was a session for everyone to attend and enjoy. 

In addition to the information presented, NICAR also gave students a chance to bond with peers over our love of all things journalism.

“I learned a lot and met so many interesting people,” senior ADPR major Walter Fitzsimmons said. “But honestly the best part about the trip was the unexpected bonding and experiences with the people I've been seeing in classrooms and hallways for the past four years. We went to Nashville as J-school peers but came back as lifelong friends.”

CoJMC students in Nashville for the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) conference.