The Year in Data Journalism: Q&A with Sarah Cohen


Continuing our series on The Year in Data Journalism, we spoke to award-winning journalist Sarah Cohen of the New York Times about developments in data journalism this year and her hopes for 2013.


What do you do at the New York Times?

My title is a “reporter,” but I am a member of its longstanding computer-assisted reporting team. The Times is a big place, so it shouldn’t be confused with the great Interactive News section that Aron Pilhofer runs, nor the industry-leading graphics department, led by Steve Duenes and populated by data journalism gurus Amanda Cox and Matt Ericson, among others. My job is to use data journalism in the reporting side of the newsroom, which means it goes into finding and documenting stories more than it goes into explaining and presenting them to readers. It’s a fine line – our other groups do a lot of reporting – but it’s a little more specialized and a little further back in the process. We start with a story idea rather than a data set (much like graphics starts with a concept not a dataset), and try to find or create the data needed to identify whether it’s true.

What was your biggest data driven achievement this year?

I’ve only just started at the Times, so I haven’t had a big project yet. Stay tuned.

What excites you in this field at the moment? Any interesting developments that you’d like to mention?

I’m really interested in using machine learning in my reporting soon – it seems a perfect place for this kind of technology, and I’m anxious to give it a try. I’m also excited about the prospect of updating my visualization skills for reporting – they atrophied a little while I was out of the newsroom and the tools have changed dramatically. I hope to pick up more R skills at the CAR conference in February, and also get up to speed with D3.

What about disappointments?

None yet!

Any predictions about what the future holds for data journalism in 2013?

More integration between reporting and presentation, which have been moving together pretty quickly over the past two or three years.

Anything else you’d like to share with everyone?

Thanks for the opportunity, and I hope I have more to show for my time next year.


Image credits: New York Times