Creating a tech savvy career

By: Jessica Habjan

Online managing editor for Computerworld, Sharon Machlis gave an overview of some useful tools to help present data and add visualization to your stories. The more data the better right? But instead of just shoving numbers into your stories engage your readers by using these tools to present it visually.

Also, director of computer-assisted reporting for ProPublica, Jennifer LaFleur pointed out some resources to open source government data and how document Cloud can help catalog your documents and turn them into data.

Data Visualization Overview

(ranked form easy to more difficult)


  • Obvious choice for looking at and analyzing numbers.
  • A great graphics tool for fast online graphics for a story.

Google Docs – Gadgets:

  • Just publish it and embed it into your story.
  • As you update data in your Google Docs spreadsheet the graphic updates.
  • The downside…data lives on Google’s servers so it may not be the best choice for more important or sensitive data.

Google Fusion Tables:

  • Better than Google spreadsheets.

IBM’s Many Eyes:

  • Very versatile.
  • There are explanations of each different one.
  • Easy to use.
  • Not good for sensitive data. The point is to collaborate on data. It requires you to upload your data to their site which is very public. Everyone can see your data.

ESRI Mapping for Everyone:

  • Very low intimidation for anyone who has never mapped data.
  • Very simple with a low learning curve.
  • It is limited to data they have. You can not upload your own data.


  • Modules for Droople blogging platform.
  • Upload your own data and it gives you the embedded code.


  • Not designed for creating graphics.
  • Designed for you to upload data for instant data analysis. They give you sample analysis and suggestions on ways to use it.
  • Very easy site to use.


  • Really easy to do group series were your charts can be interactive like the ability to turn data on and off)
  • Creates an easy visualization
  • There are lots of demos to customize your data.
  • Costs about $80 for a site wide license for one domain.
  • Based in a java script library so you need to be comfortable with code.

Google Charts API:

  • Designed for content management.
  • Tons of tutorials.
  • Based int java script code so you need a system to support the code.
  • Google has control and might turn off someday

Tableau Public:

  • Free!
  • Designed for web.
  • Everything is hosted on their severs so not for sensitive data.
  • Won’t go public until published.
  • Need Windows OS to create it. Once created it can be seen on both PC and MAC.

  • Designed for journalists and bloggers.
  • Data is hosted on their servers.
  • Very new start-up and will be improving.
  • Very little documentation on site so you need to click around to find out how it works.

Google Refine:

  • Designed for cleaning and organizing data.
  • It is about to be turned over to open source community.
  • It is a software application so data lives on your own system (OK for sensitive data).
  • A very powerful tool.

30 free tools for data visualization chart:

Accompanying story

Google Fusion Table tutorial


Sources for Government Data

Federal Government:

  • A gathering of all federal contracting data.
  • Fed to by federal agencies so sometimes it is not updated as often as you hope (may need to the gov. site for most updated data).

  • US Census Bureau Fact Finder
  • Not intuitive at all.
  • Gives you quick information on a specific location.
  • Gives you all the geographies that a specific address falls in.


  • Re-purposed census data.
  • It is publicly available and there is no need to be a member with IRE to access it.

  • Tells you all the affiliated clients with a county and breaks down their lobbying records
  • It is a re-purposed look at records.
  • It downloads to a CSV.
  • They are in process of adding 2010 data.

  • Search by survey scores and reports for nursing homes.
  • It is easier to search than the federal sites.

  • Allows you to walk through a town and compare clinics.

Document Cloud:

Document Cloud is a nonprofit document service started in part with ProPublica and the New York Times. It is designed for reporters and journalists. To become a member you need to email them and request a membership log-in.


  • Allows you to upload a PDF and does a conversion to text if it is an image.
  • You can have a private ProPubica access to your documents.
  • You can share notes and add comments to documents that you can share between your colleges.
  • It allows you to keep you documents private or make them public
  • Does analysis of data within your documents. It will show you all the dates mentioned in a set of documents and plot them on a timeline. If you click on a date in the timeline it will take you to the place in the document where that date appeared.
  • It will analyze entities in your documents and allows you to edit your entities.
  • When you upload a long document you can tell it to email you when it finishes.