Columbia Journalism’s Data Platform Workbench Awarded $250K

Columbia Journalism School’s Workbench, a platform aimed at making data journalism more accessible to reporters without coding skills, has won a $250,000 grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The project is led by Jonathan Stray, a veteran computational journalist who teaches at the journalism school and previously built the Overview document mining platform for investigative journalists.

Many people have tried to make data journalism easier, but open-source journalism software is incredibly fragmented. Good tools are hard to find and harder to use, most end up as abandoned Github repos. Data Journalists need a different approach: an extendible platform where friendly data journalism tools can live.

Workbench, initially launched in 2016 with a generous donation from Krishna Bharat, founder of Google News, is an open source project that offers accessibility, transparency, and allows extension of its capabilities. It will be the first data journalism "app store" for data processing modules.

The Workbench makes sophisticated data journalism possible for non-programmers, and it helps journalists build trust with their audiences as well as share tools and best-practice with each other.

The platform helps in every step of the data journalism workflow without coding or command lines, from scraping to publication to replication. Reporters drag-and-drop stacks of basic operations into re-usable workflows. You can add a live data source, stack modules to clean and filter it, and make an embeddable live chart.

It gives data journalists the ability to share with their audiences the completed workflows behind their stories thereby increasing transparency in the reporting process. Sharing the workflow also helps other journalists learn how to produce similar work. Anyone can duplicate a live workflow to create an editable copy.

Workbench also supports the unique demands of different stories by allowing other users to contribute Python code to extend it. You can use it to create workbook-style mixes of descriptive text and code, similar to the Jupyter platform. Then you can save your best code as a pre-packaged module that anyone else on the platform can use.

This modular, open source system also connects the news developer community by making it easy for programmers in one newsroom to share code and tools with journalists in other organizations.

The Workbench is an extensible system that advances the data journalism practice by making data tools accessible, building a community of data journalists and providing transparency for readers.   

The Columbia Journalism School’s support of Workbench is an example of the organization’s commitment to the long-term development of data journalism technology and education. Other examples include the recent launch of a new Master of Science in Data Journalism where Jonathan Stray is part of the faculty teaching the program.

To preview the platform, and sign up for the beta site visit cjworkbench.org.