The MuckRock Foundation is seeking a data journalist to help tell critical stories impacting communities around the United States, with a mix of analysis, visualization, and creative approaches to data collection and audience engagement. We’re seeking candidates excited to take our portfolio (94,000 records requests and counting!), newsroom partners, and a thriving community to invent and test new ways of investigative reporting, with a strong focus on internal and external collaboration and investigations that can be localized and adapted by other newsrooms. The position will have initial focus areas of institutional law enforcement failings and COVID-19 that support the work of organizations serving communities of color as well as news deserts across the United States, with the beats shifting to other subjects over time based on public need and organizational capacity.
We’re expanding on this work with a full-time Data Journalist position focused on identifying high-value data and teasing out major stories in collaboration with partner newsrooms, community groups, and other organizations dedicated to informing the public. Working in conjunction with the rest of our team and external partners, you’ll collaborate on the largest public records campaigns ever undertaken, steer data gathering efforts that touch every community in America, and then visualize and report out the results. As projects progress, you’ll also help train others on how to build on your work to broaden its impact and help insure stories live on after their publication data.
We’re open to a broad range of skill sets, but you should be comfortable with crunching numbers from a variety of angles, making it intelligible through text and visualizations, and explaining your work to partners and the public. You should also be excited for the bumps and challenges that come with using rough prototypes for new ways to gather, clean, and analyze data and documents at scale, before we’re ready to show those secret projects to the world.
Success for the role will be measured in the impact of your reporting, how often partners are able to build on and adapt it, and the ability to capitalize on unique journalistic opportunities based on our data, network, and software.
We’re looking for someone who can identify and turn around both quick insights when warranted as well as help guide an enterprise process to the finish line, but we’re looking for opportunities to continue to help the right candidate develop both those skill sets.
We’re also keenly focused on ways of sharing how we work and what we’ve learned along the way, helping others build on our work and processes to help broaden our long-term impact.
A “typical” week might involve a training with partners to help them localize data you’ve obtained via a series of public records requests, pitching a feature idea to our DocumentCloud and MuckRock development team, checking in on some outstanding FOIA requests, and helping map out a new data set that we’re just beginning to explore. Tasks might also include helping guide crowdsourcing efforts to get people to contribute information at a local level, providing office hours to help others in the field, or devising a visualization to show just how long FOIA requesters have to wait for a response.
This role is an experiment for us — we have an enormous amount of data and ideas, but we’re looking for someone excited to build on them and take them in new directions, with an eye always focused on building a more informed public through well-reported, explained, and occasionally fun projects.
Who we’re looking for
We’re looking for someone with at least some experience doing data analysis and visualizations, whether in a traditional newsroom, non-profit, or research environment, or as a byproduct of other efforts. We’re more interested in building and nurturing evergreen databases than churning out quick hits, but the ability to work on a deadline is always helpful when working with newsroom partners.
Women and members of under-represented groups are strongly encouraged to apply, as well as those with relevant experience outside of journalism such as community organizing, non-profit and advocacy organizations, and other roles that require a high degree of clear communication and organizational skills.
You love data: Collecting it, exploring it, and telling its multifaceted stories
After a decade filing public records requests, we know how messy data can be, from PDFs of spreadsheets to user contributions that spell one town seven ways.You understand that even in the world of spreadsheets and databases, things are never cut and dried, but you still push on. You’re interested in coming up with and helping execute data gathering, cleaning, and presentation challenges that other organizations would think are impossible.
You’re comfortable with pivot tables, and at least bold enough to try dumping data into SQL, R, or pandas when warranted. You know how to turn that into a visualization that tells that story accurately, clearly, and engagingly, and want to build on that experience.
Your work’s impact matters
There’s a lot of career paths for those who are interested and capable in data analysis, but few where that work can so directly help change policy, assist the public, and build up our democracy than the types of stories and projects we’re working to tackle. We will be relying not just on your skills and graphical taste as a data journalist, but also your judgment to make sure that the work we’re doing is responsible and in the interest of the communities we serve.
You also want your work to be engaged with directly by those communities in a way that’s fitted to their needs, interests, and access, which could be a web interactive, a print chart, or an audio explanation shared over radio. A lot of this we’ll publish directly, while some work we’ll do with and through partners. Our goal is to continue reaching a broad audience while also having significant local impact in communities around the United States and, ultimately, the world.
You love to share your work
Our default ethos is open, though we recognize that there’s often good reasons for keeping things private temporarily or in the long term. That said, you should be comfortable and excited about being open with your work — your data, your approach, the requests you file, the code you write — and helping others build on it.
Part of the job will involve occasionally talking with internal and external partners on your approach and findings, and helping extend that work in new ways. You’ll occasionally do webinars and write ups of your “reporting recipes,” and even sharing how we work as a team. You see this as work, but also as a chance to gain new insights, connections, and perspectives that you couldn’t gather alone.
- Able to effectively analyze and understand a variety of types of data, identifying potential story ideas, data blindspots, and areas for cleaning.
- Able to talk with internal and external stakeholders — including MuckRock staff, newsrooms, community groups, and civic technologists — to help identify and pursue novel story ideas or help support, expand, and nationalize local efforts.
- Participating in internal and external training opportunities as well as documenting and explaining your work for others to build on.
- Collaborating with MuckRock and external staff partners to launch wide-scale data gathering and cleaning efforts, such as public records campaigns, web scraping, crowdsourcing, and other efforts that integrate tightly with our editorial strategy, homegrown software, and public needs.
The salary for this role starts at $65,000 (not dependent upon location) and includes the following benefits:
- Three weeks of paid vacation annually, plus ten holidays (US postal holidays), and week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off.
- Health insurance with full premium for employees paid and 75% of premium for dependents.
- Professional development, including covering costs for conference and event attendance.
- All board meetings are open to all staff and include meaningful engagement.
- Company dental, vision, life, 401k, and health flexible spending account plans.
- Budget for a new laptop that you pick out and other home office purchases.
- Distributed team with flexible scheduling.