Rukmini is currently a freelance data journalist from Chennai with multiple publications in domestic as well as international papers. She graduated from the Fergusson College, Pune to further pursue a communications degree from Sophia College in Mumbai. She has an experience of over 10+ years in the field of data journalism. . Starting off as an intern in Mumbai and then in Delhi, she has worked with The Times of India and has also edited for The Hindu. Throughout the session, she repeatedly stressed the importance of experience. She puts an emphasis on understanding real-life situations, “What actually happens behind the stories or books we read. How do courts work? What is the process behind the formation of a government policy?”. In her opinion journalism is “trying to enter debates to sometimes drive, react or report the conversation.” Besides, with a close understanding of the nuts and bolts of the country, one can be a good journalist who knows the right questions to ask. 

She then proceeds in trying to make us understand the role of data in the play of journalism. She says, “Data helps you enter conversations.” To contextualize a situation or to push back a narrative. Such endeavors are easily possible if you can position your data. Oftentimes she mentions instances where there has been a lack of data and she has had to create a parallel data set on her own.  She informs us of the skills required to enhance our portfolio to pursue a career in data journalism. Data scraping, cleaning, and data visualization are all important skill sets required for this job. She mentions data journalism as an up-and-coming field and a good career path for students of political economics.

We finish with a practice of “asking good questions”:

Q: As a beginner data journalist what are the software a person should master for data scraping or visualization?

A: I’ll tell you what I can do is only excel. So there’s that too otherwise I will suggest for scraping r and python visualization currently in India is quite low end so a bunch of free online software is what most people use or the pro version of it so between Datawarper, Infogram, and Tablue it covers most of the data visualization in India right now. But for anyone who wants to have more skills it’s good to have it in your arsenal.

Q: at a point in time, you are working on multiple stories so what sort of method do you have to archive all the data and then call upon it as and when required because you clearly can’t remember everything you’ve read. So, what’s your go-to method?

A: So much of the time there’s so much data you’ll end up manually entering or manually transcribing and if you are not doing anything with it, you just discard it or forget about it but keeping an archive of your own data is extremely important there’s an Indian website “Factly” run by Rakesh and this is his key message to all journalists. 

Q: Have you ever filed an RTI? Can you tell us how easy or difficult it is?

A: I have but other people have used it more effectively and I don’t do it as often. It’s a good thing to do; for example, during this covid, several states had set up an audit committee to determine how many deaths were due to covid so we filed an RTI to try and understand how many cases were coming to them and how many they were determining to covid. Unfortunately, they didn’t give us that data. However recently, people have used it to some successful extent by filing an RTI for mortality registration which is all-cause mortality.

Q: Has there been a lot of discrepancy with the reporting during the pandemic? like the number looked too fishy for the size of the population.

A: yeah, even with the civil registration data it is highly unlikely we get the full picture as states which do not do a good job of counting all covid deaths most likely do not  have a state capacity of registering all deaths.

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