Moody College Students Attend Data Journalism Conference
By Eniola Longe
Reporting Texas TV
ATLANTA – Made possible by Moody College School of Journalism scholarships, several University of Texas students received $1,800 stipends to offset costs of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference.
Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. hosted the annual conference March 3-6. It was the organization’s first hybrid event since the pandemic broke out in 2020.
Lainie Dickey, a junior Journalism and RTF major, jumped at an all-expense paid offer to attend a data journalism conference.
“The stipend from Moody was crucial for me to come because I work two jobs and it was not going to be possible for me to attend without the scholarship,” Dickey said.
“Getting that scholarship really gave me that financial freedom to just enjoy myself and not worry about the money I’m losing while I’m here.”
Christian McDonald, a University of Texas data journalism professor, was one of the facilitators at the conference.
“It’s important for students to see the work that went into good journalism, so they can repeat that, and become the best journalist they are,” McDonald said.
An annual attendee, McDonald said while the hybrid event offered the best of both worlds, the in-person option was his preferred mode of attendance.
Daniel Lethrop, an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register agreed.
“The pandemic and my experiences in the pandemic have made the in-person option particularly important for me,” Lethrop said.
McDonald said it’s hard to replace the in-person experience.
“Nothing beats being able to meet people who you might have seen in a panel, to be able to approach them, and ask them specific questions, as opposed to only seeing them online,” McDonald said.
After two years of just work and school, and with travel restrictions lifting, Dickey said she was comfortable attending in person.
“I have already been fully vaccinated and boostered, so I decided that it will be okay enough for me to travel,” Dickey said.
Under strict instructions from her parents, Dickey said she wore a mask at all times to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
IRE Director of Events, Stephanie Klimstra said every attendee was required to be fully vaccinated, including the booster. A mask mandate was also in place, except during meals.
With a heavy focus on skills acquisition, the conference equipped students, new, and veteran journalists with the technical know-how for ideating, executing, publishing or producing in-depth, investigative stories using data.
Recognising the potential for information overload, McDonald said that the most important takeaway from students was not learning all the new skills in one day.
“You’re going to understand that it’s possible,” he said.
Lethrop added that it is important for students to come for events of this sort.
“Because in my career, this is where I have learnt the most about being a journalist,” he said.
The conference also offered a unique opportunity for students and professional journalists to interact.
“It’s more than just the learning, it’s a networking opportunity for students,” Dickey said.