Social Science Data Journalism

Note: This article was first posted on 6 March 2018.

The inability to articulate one’s expertise seems to be a trademark of the social science graduate experience.

Social scientists may specialize in one or more areas, often ascribed based on the courses completed by (and therefore offered to) the student. In essence, one’s entire professional profile and personal brand is often determined by the institution(s) at which the student studies, the ebb and flow of departmental budgets, tenure decisions, and a number of other exogenous factors.

But enough about academia writ large. I want to focus on a specific specialty within the social science scholarly community: data journalists.

I take in data visualization reviews like some folks watch Real Housewives. I make popcorn, grab a beverage, and settle in to witness the drama: the triumphs, the hysterical mishaps, and the sometimes embarrassing outcomes. I also learn and develop new ideas for my own data projects.

 Photo by chombosan/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by chombosan/iStock / Getty Images


To my everlasting shame, I did not come across the term “data journalist” until January 2018, during my third day as a Medium subscriber. I came across this brilliant summary of the best data products of 2017 by Benjamin Cooley. When I came to the end, I took a look at the tags as a way to find more articles like Cooley’s. He had tagged his article, among other terms, with “data journalism.” In fact, Cooley calls himself a “data journalist” in his Medium profile.

Okay, I’ll bite.


Data journalism, as it turns out, is exactly what I do on a daily basis. Most of the articles under this tag evaluated, critiqued, and provided evidence-based commentary on data visualizations from all over the internet. It’s forensic journalism for the visually-stimulated data scientist.

And it was me.

It may sound like a trivial thing to find a term that so precisely reflects one’s vocation. But more than anything, I was grateful to find a community of people with whom I could readily identify and engage. For an academic-turned-corporate-consultant, these findings are invaluable.