How infusing analytics into journalism programs is improving future workforce skills

Data science isn't just for STEM majors. A course at the University of Oregon is helping journalism students learn valuable analytics skills.

Image: iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Liberal arts students have a long history of math and statistics aversion--and many do not consider themselves naturally talented in these disciplines. But as social media and the ability to peer into troves of data emanating from many different sources become more the order of the day in fields like journalism, marketing, and advertising, college grads are finding themselves competing in job markets where employers want analytics skills.

"The first thing I hear from students when they get exposed to analytics is that they're not good in math, but I tell them, that's not true," said associate professor Heather Shoenberger, who is in charge of the Insight and Analytics Lab at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

Shoenberger's class primarily focuses on the fundamentals of advertising.

"The students who enroll in these classes are great at creative thinking and at understanding the types of roles in advertising that might be available, but they lack skills in evaluating consumers and in understanding what it is that consumers want," she said.

Acquiring an understanding of consumer behavior and preferences that enables students to target their ads better, requires work in analytics, big data and statistical analysis.

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The University of Oregon entered into partnerships last year with Alteryx, comScore and Shareablee to provide students with data and self-service analytics tools and data. "This venture lets us offer our students vital tools that will prepare them for the rapidly changing job market, and it produces research that will inform the future of advertising and journalism," said Shoenberger.

In one class project, students worked on creating an advertising buy for selling console games on TV.

"By using data from live TV, the students wanted to create a campaign that would reach the most console game users," said Shoenberger. "They applied analytics and found that 32% of viewers who use console games were watching TV between the hours of 11 pm and 2 am, and that most were in the 18 to 24 age group. The students did additional research and discovered that 57% of these viewers were Hispanic. This helped the students identify some specific channels such as Univision for an ad buy, and to schedule the buy at a later time of day that would be less expensive."

Already, graduates of the program are seeing results as they head into the job market. In one case, a student graduate got a job with a media firm and was immediately thrust into the role of a database analytics researcher. "I already had a clear idea of what the data and the metrics would look like, so I had a relatively easy time getting adjusted to the job," she said.

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The analytics and research work also encompasses data cleaning and other para-IT tasks that new media graduates would not normally expect to tackle--but that employers are looking for.

"It actually gets beyond these first-level skills," said Shoenberger. "Employers also are looking for media and advertising graduates who are able to look at data and do critical thinking. This includes the evaluation of the credibility of the research sources themselves, as well as evaluating the data."

While media and marketing companies should be excited about these classes that are emerging in schools like the University of Oregon, Stanford, and Texas State University, there are also steps that they can take to build roads into emerging talent pools.

Participating in on-campus recruiting and actively partnering with colleges and universities through internship programs can both be highly beneficial.

"We are always looking for real-world projects," said Shoenberger. "A company that comes to us with a project not only has the opportunity to get a project completed, but it can also see the students in action--and it might find some strong candidates for open positions."

Also see:
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Why content marketing and native advertising are the future of publishing
How to succeed as a data scientist even if you aren't an analytic
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By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...