At the moment I watched Joe Biden declaring the victory in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, it reminded me of four years ago when I was a political news reporter in Washington D.C., I led an in-depth coverage of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. I was working 24/7 non-stop to interview think tank experts, get data from various polls, and write news reports on the latest voting trends. All of the effort I made was trying to provide the most accurate, unbiased, trustworthy news to the people.
At that time, most polls and mainstream media such as the New York Times and the Huffington Post favorably projected victory for Hillary Clinton. But the outcome of the election has surprised a great many people – Donald Trump took the office. I was shocked too and thinking in my head – Where did the prediction go wrong? It turned out that many news organizations, adhering to traditional political judgements, were not unable to relate to the anger and resentment of Trump supporters. The news outlets incompletely presented the voters’ distribution, underestimated the power of social media like Twitter, and consequently created an information bubble for readers or audiences. It enlightened me that it is crucially important to collect big-scale data to uncover the underestimated groups, adding objectivity to my news report with a more holistic view.
However, in the era of big data, it is not easy to find a reliable source of data and analyze it. When people log onto Twitter, Facebook or browse news websites, massive amounts of data are pouring into people’s heads. Sometimes it could be overwhelming to get any useful information. Data can reveal facts, but also can mislead people. Data could be exaggerated or downplayed by individuals or entities for political purposes. The ability to examine the data, discover valuable findings, and deliver the most accurate facts to audiences, is a must-have to a news reporter.
Working for Sinovision for seven years, I deeply understood the importance of data in the news world, especially in the political news. As a credentialed White House news reporter in Washington D.C. I truly recognize how data matters in every corner of political affairs, such as influencing the policy making process and the voter’s behavior. I was also greatly impressed by the utilization of data in other mainstream media. Data can generate insight, detect outliers, reveal false statements. Data can also be visualized using charts and dashboards which has been a very effective way to provide information.
When I was covering the US-China trade war back in 2018, I analyzed the long-term US-China trade deficits and surpluses, the US-China currency exchange rate and the volatility of the US stock market. The trend and correlation between trade war and U.S. economics index could be easily observed. When I conducted interviews with government officials, without being supported by solid data, it was hard to raise good questions with a focal point. Data-driven journalistic mindset could add credibility to my news reporting, to a greater extent, enable me to unbiasedly present the status quo of the US-China relationship to my audiences.
In March 2020, the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in California. There were at least three sources of information: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(C.D.C.), the local governments, and the President’s Twitter. In the mixture of truth and false, facts and rumors, people felt lost and anxious about the confusing statements.
Even so, organized and locationized coronavirus data were rarely seen on local government websites in early March. Some news websites had the daily updated number of cases published by each county. But the tracking of the daily increase or decrease in cases and death is lacking. With the help of a friend who works in the tech industry, I built a web scraping system to automatically pull data from reliable sources and calculate the daily differences in new cases and deaths in every county in the Bay Area. My daily Covid-19 news reports with visualized data helped local residents to understand their county’s coronavirus situation fully in one glance.
Admittedly, before I have solid data analytical and coding skills, I can not claim myself as a data journalist. I know that there is still huge room for improvement and a lot more I need to learn. Studying data journalism will not only enhance my data analytical skills and critical thinking mindsets, but also help me deliver more trustful, objective and comprehensive news reports to my audiences. The Stanford Journalism Program offers the best curriculum which is exactly what I need.
The required courses such as News Reporting and Writing Fundamentals and Journalism Law can solidify my journalistic knowledge and skills. Foreign Correspondence can teach me how to engage American audiences in international news stories. Investigative Watchdog Reporting is a great chance to learn how to use data to unveil an individual or entity’s wrongdoing. In Professor Cheryl Philips’ Big Local News and Public Affair Data Journalism, I can learn about the data-driven perspective of covering local and public affairs news. And I also do not want to miss Professor SedarTumgoren’s Data Journalism and News Application Building courses. His beginner friendly teaching style is very encouraging to me and I look forward to building my own news application in his class.
Besides all that, I cannot wait to equip myself with tools such as Python, SQL, and Tableau. Meanwhile, the 15-people small class size is ideal for journalism students. The class size facilitates the interaction with professors and provides personalized tutoring and guidance on students’ projects.
Last but not the least, the Stanford Journalism Program provides us with rich internship opportunities in its professional news partnerships and media platforms. These opportunities will help me build connections and get first-hand experience in the industry which I can benefit from in my entire career. And in the last few years, I visited the Stanford campus many times. Every single time, I was enchanted by its beautiful campus and its culture. I can’t imagine how enjoyable it is to study and live on campus. It will be an exciting and fruitful journey.
I am highly motivated toward a career in data-focused journalism, and I believe that I am well suited for the program, as I have the skills, experiences and enthusiasm needed in order to meet all the requirements of your program. The Stanford Journalism Program would be a milestone to my future career and I will continue to pursue justice, objectivity, and creativity in political journalism.
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