12/9/2013

The Mutually Beneficial Partnership at the Core of Women as Academic Authors

 

By Ron Coddington, Assistant Managing Editor, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is America’s leading source of news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty members and administrators. Based in Washington, D.C., The Chronicle has an editorial staff of more than 70, including a Visuals Department responsible for packaging and presentation across platforms.

The Visuals Department includes several teams. The newest team, formed last year, is the Data and Interactives team. Led by Josh Hatch, a veteran of USA TODAY and other major news organizations, the team includes two interactive news developers and a data reporter.

The Data and Interactives team usually works with our staff researchers and reporters to gather and analyze data. We have also crowd-sourced data, as we did with the recent Adjunct Project.

But recently we happened on another source for data that blossomed into a precedent-setting partnership between journalists at The Chronicle and academic researchers at the University of Washington: a massive set of data gathered and analyzed by the university’s Eigenfactor Project. It promised to be a great match from the outset: the authoritative analysis of the Eigenfactor Project combined with the presentation skills of The Chronicle’s team of news app developers.

Women as Academic Authors, 1665-2010 had its origins in the summer of 2011, when Chronicle senior reporter Jennifer Howard interviewed Jevin D. West, a researcher at Eigenfactor, for a story about neuroscience. His work was based on information from JSTOR, the digital library of academic sources.

We later learned that Jevin and his colleagues, including Jennifer Jacquet, had tapped the JSTOR corpus to identify trends in gender representation in scholarly publishing. They were in the process of analyzing about two million articles representing 1,765 fields and subfields over four centuries, from 1665-2010.

We realized that the data was sure to be popular with our core audience of higher education thinkers and academic professionals, and so were eager to work with them. We set out to build a news application that enabled our audience to find their own stories in the data by comparing fields and sub-fields with which they are familiar.

After a few calls to kickoff the project, we established a presence on Basecamp and got down to work in April 2012. On the Chronicle side, Technology Editor Josh Fischman, Senior Reporter Robin Wilson, and Interactive News Designer Josh Keller were assigned to the project.

Jevin briefed Josh on the data and an existing Eigenfactor presentation using some of the same data. They spent most of April and May understanding its complexities. We received our first Excel file of test data on June 1 - the first of many files we received as we worked through the data structure.

Midway through the project, Josh, our lead developer, accepted a position at the New York Times. It was a crucial loss at a critical time during the project’s development, but Brian O’Leary, another Chronicle developer, picked up where Josh left off and thanks to his deep knowledge of higher education data and great coding chops, took over without missing a beat. He added a number of improvements and enhancements in an iterative manner.

In terms of presentation, the data is organized in 24 major fields with which our core audience is familiar. The fields default to alphabetical order, but can be sorted by the percent of authors in the field, or the percent of female authors. Each horizontal bar displays circles sized to indicate the number of authors in each of its subfields. Hovering over a circle reveals the author number and the percent of women. The slightly darker shading of the horizontal bar represents the overall percentage of women authors in the field. Each field is expandable to reveal its subfields.

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We initially experimented with having a slider at the top to view the data by increments of 25 years. However, we realized that the variation in data from year-to-year was minimal. There was however a significant difference when viewed in larger increments of time. We finally decided on three tabs. Each tab spans a different timeframe (1665-1970, 1971-1990, and 1991-2010.) A fourth tab is a total for all years.

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The project was well received by our audience. It generated much comment from social media, blogs, and other web sites. Chiara Ojeda was one of many who explored the interactive visualization and found stories in the data. She posted takeaways on her blog, Tweak Your Slides. Jessica Hale, in her essay Practicing What We Preach about harassment and advocating for change (published in Academia.edu), cited the project as a reference.

Internally, the project underscores our continued commitment to empower multi-disciplinary project teams, which we encourage to make decisions, experiment, and take risks.

We are now on the lookout for new partnerships to bring together research and analysis by scholars with data visualization and presentation by the Chronicle. We believe this has the potential to become an excellent model that engages our core audience, attracts a new readership, and benefits scholars by providing them with data visualization that can aid them in their continuing research.

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