ProPublica’s Emily Hopkins encourages students to consider careers in data journalism

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The way journalists tell stories is constantly evolving, with data increasingly becoming an integral tool for reporting daily news.

That’s something journalist Emily Hopkins learned as a graduate student at Northeastern University School of Journalism in Boston. She now works as an Abram Reporting Fellow at ProPublica and she said her data journalism skills are in great demand in the investigative news organization’s Chicago-based Midwest office.

Hopkins returned virtually to her alma mater on Oct. 21 for a discussion at “Pizza, Press & Politics,” a speaker series hosted by the journalism school, where she discussed her career and the changing landscape of journalism. 

After earning an English degree from Boston University in 2013, Hopkins joined the Media Innovation graduate program at Northeastern two years later and dove full-speed into what she described as her “last chance” at crafting a hireable journalism background. 

She credited the data journalism skills she learned for much of her career accomplishments and encouraged students to create portfolios to showcase their work.

“You just have to find creative ways to get your work out there. If you’re interested in data reporting like I am, I think this is one place where I would say start a blog,” Hopkins advised students who attended the event.. 

“If you can do a special niche thing with data or with photography — something where most editors can’t really do it themselves — then you have something to point to.”

Hopkins said she took full advantage of Northeastern’s cooperative, or co-op, education program that allows students to gain work experience. During her co-op, she worked in local newsrooms and magazines. She also contributed to larger endeavors at the Marshall Project and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. Just before graduating in 2017, Hopkins was hired as a Google Newslab Fellow.

That same year she attended the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Conference, where she lined up five interviews in one day with media companies from across the United States. Though exhausting, the strategy paid off. She was hired as a data reporter for The Indianapolis Star soon after.

“Brute force your way into showing people that you can do something really cool,” Hopkins told students.

Since joining ProPublica in July, Hopkins has been working on a long-term project examining Chicago’s disproportionate enforcement of traffic laws by automated systems, which critics argue are often focused on communities of color. It’s one example of how data and social justice reporting can be married together for impactful stories.

As for what she will do next, Hopkins said, “I am focusing on the next two years of my fellowship — nothing else.”

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