CUNY, Fall 2015

Fundamentals of Interactive and Data Journalism

» When: Thursdays, 6:00-8:50 p.m.
» Where: Room 440
» Instructor: Nadja Popovich


This three-credit course will introduce students to data journalism by exploring essential concepts, tools, and story forms. The course will cover data storytelling, as well as the basics of programming and design.

You'll learn how to find, clean, analyze, and interpret data. You'll work to find and tell compelling — and sometimes even fun! — data stories.

You'll learn HTML/CSS and be introduced to JavaScript. You'll also use existing visualization tools and libraries to make clear, informative graphics.

The course covers fundamental technical skills that will serve as the foundation for your further coursework at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

You'll leave this course knowing how to:


Week 1 | Overview

We'll do intros and run a quick, in-class demo. Then, we'll review examples of top-notch data and visual storytelling.

Order of operations:

  • Introductions
  • Syllabus review
  • Intro to data and visual journalism
  • In-class assignment: graphics critique

Class slides

Readings for week 2:

Week 2 | Speed data-ing

We'll find some data, then tease out the really interesting bits using basic spreadsheet functions.

Order of operations:

  • What is data and where can we find it?
  • Data types
  • Basic Excel tutorial
  • Basic numeracy
  • In-class assignment: What's the story in the data?

Class slides

Homework for week 3:

  • Finish one spreadsheet exercise and email me your answers by next Thursday, Sep 10, at midnight. (Reminder: There is no class next week.) For extra credit: finish a second spreadsheet exercise by Thursday, Sep 17, at 5:30 p.m.
  • Find some data you like. Bring it it to class on the 17th and be prepared to say a few sentences about why it's interesting and what story you might pursue from the dataset.

Readings for week 3:

Week 3 | Charting data

We'll cover different types of charts and the fundamentals of good data viz design.

Order of operations:

  • Overview of chart types
  • How (not) to lie with charts
  • Design: space, color, typography

Class slides

Homework for week 4:

Pitch due for first major assignment (see assignments section below)

Readings for week 4:

Week 4 | Mapping data 1

We'll dive into the fundamentals of mapping and talk about best practices for map design.

Order of operations:

  • How to not mislead with maps
  • Organizing information spatially
  • Design: grouping, hierarchy, color
  • In-class assignment: make a point map

Class slides

Homework for week 5:

First major assignment due next week: Tell a data story with charts and graphics

Readings for week 5:

  • None, please focus on your project

Prep for week 5:

Week 5 | Intro to HTML/CSS 1

You'll learn how to make a basic HTML web page and then class it up with CSS (ahem, you'll appreciate the pun later).

Order of operations:

  • Under the hood: How web pages work
  • Learn to say "Hello world!"
  • Styling with CSS (inline and external)
  • 10 CSS selectors you need to know now
  • Uploading your site to the web

Class slides

Week 6 | Intro to HTML/CSS 2

Building on last week's lesson, you'll learn how to make better web pages.

Class slides

Readings for week 7:

Prep for week 7:

Week 7 | Mapping data 2

Taking the HTML/CSS we've learned, we'll dive into some customized mapping with CartoDB.

Order of operations:

  • Guest speaker: Aurelia Moser, map scientist at CartoDB
  • CartoDB presentation + tutorial
  • In-class assignment: make a map using CartoDB

Homework for week 8:

Pitch due for second major assignment (see assignments section below)

Prep for week 8:

  • Purchase a domain and hosting on Midphase (cheapest level; please purchase at least 48-hours before the next class)
  • If you haven't yet, install Fetch (trial)
Week 8 | Portfolio building 1

You'll start building an online portfolio using WordPress (themes via CUNY).

Homework for week 9:

Second major assignment due next week: Tell a data story with map(s)

Reminder: you'll present your project in class next week, so be ready to talk about your work.

Week 9 | In-class presentations

We'll spend the class checking out and critiquing everyone's mapping assignments.

Homework for week 10:

A draft of your third major assignment (portfolio) are due in class next week.

Week 10 | Portfolio building 2

You'll continue building your portfolio website.

Readings for week 7:

Homework for week 11:

Third major assignment due next week: Make a journalistic portfolio using WordPress

Week 11 | Analytics, SEO & SMO

We'll talk about web analytics, search engine optimization (SEO), and how to give your work wider reach on social media too.

Order of operations:

  • Guest speaker: Kayla Epstein, engagement editor at Guardian US
  • Analytics, SEO & SMO presentation
  • In-class assignment: Set up Google Analytics and add analytics to your website
Week 12 | Hard-to-get data

No way to "download the data"? No problem. We'll open up your browser console and learn how web pages are structured in an intro to web scraping. We'll also talk about how to extract data from annoying (but common) formats, like PDF.

Order of operations:

  • Basic web scraping (without coding)
  • Intro to Tabula
  • In-class assignment: Scrape data using Google Sheets and use Tabula to extract tables from pdfs

Class slides

Homework for week 13*:

Final pitch due. We'll go over details in class.

*Note: There is no class next week for Thanksgiving. The next class will be on December 3rd.

Week 13 | Intro to JavaScript

You'll learn the fundamentals of JavaScript – "the most popular programming language in the world."

Order of operations:

  • Intro to JavaScript
  • In-class assignment: Use JavaScript to modify HTML/CSS

Class slides

Download the in-class demos

Readings to help with your final:

*(read through the "JavaScript Gotchas" section)

Week 14 | In-class work time for final projects

You'll be given time in class to work on your final project. I'll also take nominations for topics you'd like to re-visit as a class this week.

Order of operations:

  • Finish up JavaScript lesson
  • Review HTML/CSS: layouts
  • In-class assignment: Work on final projects

Class slides

Week 15 | Final project presentations

Prepare to (quickly) present your final project to the class — and to give constructive feedback to your classmates.

Assignments and due dates

1. Tell a data story with charts and graphics

2. Tell a data story with map(s)

3. Make a journalistic portfolio using WordPress

4. Tell a more complex data story*

*More details to come in class


Participation in class discussions will be an important factor for your final grade. I'll be looking to see that you have completed readings from the week before and are paying attention to the day's lesson.

In-class exercises are a prime opportunity to try out new skills. You'll be graded on effort (did the student try to complete the exercise to better understand the lesson at hand?) and, during group work, participation (did the student contribute?).

You have four major assignments* this semester. In assessing your work, I'll take into account:

*Specific criteria for each assignment will be detailed at a later date.

How letter grades will be assigned:

A: professional quality work, requiring minimal editing
B: good quality work,requiring moderate editing and revisions
C: unsatisfactory work, requiring heavy editing and revisions
F: unacceptable, un-editable work

Grading for the class as a whole will be based on your overall performance, with the weights of assignment and other grades as follows:

In-class participation 20%
In-class exercises 20%
Assignment 1 15%
Assignment 2 15%
Assignment 3 15%
Assignment 4 15%
Total 100%

Academic integrity

It is a serious ethical violation to take any material created by another person and represent it as your own original work. Any such plagiarism will result in serious disciplinary action, possibly including dismissal from the CUNY J-School. Plagiarism may involve copying text from a book or magazine without attributing the source, or lifting words, code, photographs, videos, or other materials from the Internet and attempting to pass them off as your own. Please ask the instructor if you have any questions about how to distinguish between acceptable research and plagiarism

In addition to being a serious academic issue, copyright is a serious legal issue. Never "lift" or "borrow" or "appropriate" or "repurpose" graphics, audio, or code without both permission and attribution. This guidance applies to scripts, audio, video clips, programs, photos, drawings, and other images, and it includes images found online and in books.

Create your own graphics, seek out images that are in the public domain or shared via a creative commons license that allows derivative works, or use images from the AP Photo Bank for which the school has obtained licensing. When in doubt about attribution, ask.

Extra resources

If you need help on a project, you can reach out to one of CUNY's coaches. Coaches work one-on-one with students to guide them through projects and help them problem-solve. Consult a coach if you've tried something for yourself, but it hasn't worked out to your satisfaction.

Kirsti Itameri: Design, WordPress, Illustrator, Photoshop, Social Media. Office hours: Tuesdays 6:30-8:30 p.m. or by appointment. Email:

Meghan Louttit: Interactive storytelling, JavaScript, Jquery, HTML, CSS. Office hours: Wednesdays 6-8 p.m. or by appointment. Email:

Malik Singleton: Data storytelling, WordPress, HTML, CSS. Office hours: Monday and Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Email:

Nicholas Wells: Data storytelling, HTML, CSS, R. Office hours: Tuesday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. Email:

Jue Yang: Data storytelling, data analysis, GitHub, UI/UX, information and visual design, interactive storytelling, JavaScript, jQuery, Python, web scraping, HTML/CSS. Office hours: Virtually and by appointment. Contact:

About the instructor

Nadja Popovich is an interactive journalist at the Guardian in New York, where she makes graphics and writes about health, science and politics. While there, she has been a part of several award-winning projects, including Are You Reflected in Congress?, Beyond the Border, and NSA Files: Decoded. Nadja has previously taught at NYU's Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism. She received a bachelor's degree in global health from McGill University and a master's degree in journalism from NYU.



Office hours by appointment. If you're have any questions or just want to schedule some time to chat, please drop a note by email.