The Data Visualization Society Early Career Committee is launching the Early Career Corner, a series of conversations with practitioners in the beginnings of their data visualization journeys. We hope this series will help amplify the work of early career members and encourage the early career community to learn from each other’s experiences in building skills, planning their careers, and more.
For our first conversation in this series, I spoke with Rosmery Izaguirre, a Data and Graphics intern at the Los Angeles Times. Rosmery graduated in December 2020 from the University of Florida as a journalism major. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Simran: Tell me how you found your way into data visualization.
Rosmery: In college, I actually majored in computer science for two years. I learned a lot about software and technical stuff, but I realized somewhere along the line that software engineering just wasn’t for me. And journalism was something that was always in the back of my mind—I was in charge of my student newspaper in high school. I made the switch to being a journalism major. And I started off with traditional reporting because I honestly had no idea what data journalism was.
Simran: Ooh! I’ve always wanted to go to NICAR. Tell me more.
Rosmery: I was amazed by what I saw there. I saw journalists coding… I didn’t know that this was something that I could pursue. So after I went to NICAR, I was inspired and took all the data-related courses I could. Then, when COVID hit, my breaking news internship at the Palm Beach Post was cancelled and I needed to find something to do. I decided to go back to my student newspaper at the University of Florida, The Alligator. But that time, instead of reporting, I told them I could do something data-related. I realized that nobody in the county was making charts for COVID. I thought, the numbers are out there… I’ll make the charts for us. I literally just put the data into Datawrapper and updated it daily myself. It was inefficient, but I did it, and that was really when I started to feel like a data journalist.
Simran: That’s incredible that after facing a setback in Summer 2020, as many of us students did, you took the initiative to make your own opportunities. What was that conversation like when you were advocating for the first use of dataviz and data reporting in your school newspaper?
Rosmery: The publication’s student editors were really open to it. The hard part was explaining what I was going to do and setting expectations so they weren’t expecting a New York Times-level chart. A good thing when you’re trying to communicate what you want to do is to have a prototype. In my case, it was building a Datawrapper chart with a week’s worth of numbers, or even just showing them different COVID trackers on other sites. They loved the idea.
Simran: That’s helpful advice. Now that you’ve worked on different sorts of visualizations since that first initial experience, do you have a favorite type of visualization?
Rosmery: I really love mapping. Especially in journalism, it’s becoming a big thing to be able to show things geographically and move from national to local scales in a single data story, from a whole map of the United States to zip codes or counties or districts. It helps give the reader a good perspective on location—where something’s happening and who’s being affected.
Simran: Yes, mapping has been especially huge in the past month given the recent Census release. I’d love to hear more about your current role at the LA Times. What’s a typical day like?
Rosmery: Today I started off with one of our COVID tracker shifts, which involves going through county websites and inputting COVID data for all of the counties in California. We’re doing that manually now. We also have shifts to take in tips for the newsroom and Datawrapper shifts, where we help other journalists make charts or maps for their stories. I’m also working on long term projects, so the rest of my day is spent either interviewing, researching, coding, doing some data analysis, or maybe working on some visuals for a story. We definitely spend a lot of time in the research and analysis phase for our big stories.
Simran: That’s so fascinating. Out of curiosity, what advice would you have for making the most out of a data visualization internship?
Rosmery: My biggest advice is just to continue to be eager about what you do. That eagerness will help you develop ideas, pitches, or do innovative things. As long as you’re pushing yourself, everyone around you will see that, and they’ll be impressed. Another piece of advice is to advocate for yourself, especially when it comes to ideas for data visualization or data journalism. Be your own advocate, because if you’re not forward with your ideas or the projects you want to do, then nobody’s going to know that you want to do them.
Simran: Now that you’ve had a couple of different work experiences, how do you evaluate whether an opportunity is right for you?
Rosmery: I didn’t know how to do this initially, but I talked about it with one of my closest mentors. People in this industry know each other. You can also go on Twitter and ask someone who works at a newsroom. Find out: What is the culture of this newsroom like? How am I going to be treated? What’s my team like?
Simran: You mentioned building connections in trying to understand a team’s culture. One question I personally have is, how do you network when you hate networking?
Rosmery: I 100% relate to this because I also am a self-proclaimed hater of networking, or rather, a hater of what I initially perceived networking to be. All of the relationships I’ve developed through “networking” are really just the result of being curious and asking people, “Hey, how did you do this?” Or, they are someone that I truly respect and admire, so their input and advice is valuable to me, and I relate with them as a person. So I would say: find a common interest that can create an organic relationship. Data journalists in particular love to talk about data. It’s a nerdy community that I absolutely love being a part of because when I go to NICAR, I’m in a room of people just like me who are learning Python and want to talk about Python all day long. I just really want to have a nice conversation with them. That’s how I would recommend approaching it. Let’s say you’re talking to a data journalist from the Washington Post. Just say something like, “I saw this thing you made and it was super cool… How did you do that?” And they’ll tell you exactly how they did it because, you know, data journalists love to talk about data journalism.
Thanks for tuning in to our Early Career Corner series! Be sure to check out this page for more ways to get involved with the early career community at DVS!