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What journalists must know about data

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IRE President and New York Times editor Sarah Cohen has some advice on where to get started in working with data: "No matter what others say, a strong facility with Excel is pretty much a baseline. It’s the tool of choice for so many other people that if you are not proficient with it, you really can’t even get started … I know there are people who think Excel is terrible and that we shouldn’t be teaching closed-source tools. But it is still on everybody’s desktop."

A five-step data journalism introduction

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Northwestern University's Knight Lab offers an online course in data journalism, "a syllabus of sorts to make sense of the endless articles, tutorials, videos, tools and other resources for learning the digital skills a new journalist needs to succeed." It starts with philosophical underpinnings and proceeds through Internet basics, web design fundamentals, using version control, setting up a personal web site, and getting started with web programming using jQuery.

A journalist's guide to encryption

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It might not protect you and your sources from the NSA's high-powered surveillance efforts, but this article from Poynter's Jeremy Barr could help you head off accidental disclosures and casual snooping. At the top of Barr's list is PGP encryption for email. Also, "in addition to encrypting your email, many web security experts recommend using Tor to browse anonymously, encrypting your hard drive and setting up a Virtual Private Network to help protect your identity."

Follow-the-money tools on health grants

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Freelancer Brenda Goodman saw a story about scientific research on human-chicken interactions, which led her to write on the ACHJ site about two databases for looking up health research grants: "In this era of sequestration cuts, what research projects have wrangled scarce public dollars in this country?" Goodman writes. She then explains how to use the Tracking Accountability in Government Grants system and the Research Online Grant Reporting Tools (RePORT) database.

One-stop shopping for Google tools

It's Google's world, but at least now it's going to be easier to find your way around, Poynter's Kristen Hare writes in a post about Google's new Media Tools site: "The site offers stops for finding trends and surveys, sections on publishing, a maps engine — including a lite version that allows users to customize maps and add in locations — and even the company’s own Transparency Report, showing requests from governments around the world for removal of content."

Is this the Internet's most useful site?

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Walter Hickey makes that claim for Wolfram Alpha, brainchild of Mathematica's author, and he lists his reasons on Business Insider: "It's not a search engine, it's not an encyclopedia, and it's not a calculator, but it's a little bit of all of that. It's really the only member of its field." Examples: You can calculate the odds in almost any game of chance, or find out "how long it takes to write, read or speak a certain number of words."

Online classes to sharpen digital skills

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On the 10,000 Words site, Angela Washeck lists nine online master's programs to help working journalists gain digital media skills. They include offerings from the universities of Missouri, Florida, and North Carolina, plus non-traditional offerings like Poynter's News University: "Now, there has been some debate regarding the value of a graduate journalism degree. Whatever side of that fence you’re on, I think we can all agree that learning more is never a bad thing."

A new tool for creating storyboards

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John Koetsier has an introduction to Amazon's Storyteller, a tool for turning scripts into storyboards with props, characters, and backgrounds: "You start by uploading a script to Amazon Studios — or by playing with one that’s already there," Koetsier writes. "Then simply page through the script paragraph by paragraph. Storyteller will try to match up characters, props, and background with the words in each chunk of text, and it does a surprisingly good job."

How to keep a speadsheet organized

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If your spreadsheet has a column labelled "name," you're probably doing it all wrong, Phillip Smith writes in an exhaustive post on the PBS Idea Lab: "How often have I stared in dismay, dumbfounded even, and grumbled to myself, 'You didn't really put all of that into one column, did you!?'" Smith explains what's wrong with that, and how it ought to be done, He also lists principles to keep in mind when building spreadsheets, and best practices for working with them.

A pen that's more than just a pen

Helen Fields sure likes her Livescribe pen and she writes about it for the Science Writers' Handbook. It costs $120 to $200, and to use it, you have to write on special pads that cost $25 per pair. But for that, you get a pen that automatically synchronizes your handwritten notes to your audio recordings: "I find the pen particularly useful for checking quotes," Fields writes. You can pre-order the NASW-funded Handbook from the NASW Bookstore.