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The British Broadcasting Corporation is the world's largest public service broadcaster.

Every day the BBC creates distinctive, world-class programmes and content to inform, educate and entertain up to 468 million people across the UK and around the world. The company takes a data-driven approach both in generating original and thought provoking content based on real-world research and in understanding how people use their services.

In this case study, we speak to Jim Taylor, a Senior Broadcast Journalist working on the breakfast show at Radio 5 Live, the BBC’s National news and sport radio service. Jim has been undertaking our Data Driven Journalism apprenticeship, a programme designed to equip journalism professionals with essential, practical data literacy and analysis skills. Delivered in partnership with Cardiff University School of Journalism, the programme benefits anyone wanting to use data tools and techniques to create more impactful stories and be more productive day-to-day.

Check out the full interview below to find out all about Jim's experiences so far - including details on how he applied some of his new found skills to write an important data-driven story broadcast on 5 Live on the topic of miscarriage leave. 

An interview with Jim Taylor, Data Driven Journalism apprentice

Jim Taylor profileHi Jim! Let's dive straight in. Can you tell me how is data involved in your day to day activities at Radio 5 Live? 

"Sure. My day-to-day job is basically planning, setting up and overseeing our radio programme. It's a general news programme covering every type of story. Anything that you might hear on a radio news programme from politics to sports to health to foreign news, it's a real range. When it comes to data, my job is to make sense of numbers to the audience. It's about trying to decide what is a story and what isn't. The aim is to generate ideas for original stories that will live on 5 Live but also travel across the BBC where appropriate."

What were your key motivations for taking on the Data Driven Journalism apprenticeship with us?

"There were a few reasons. Firstly, I would say that for journalists generally, being able to interpret data is important because there's so much more data about and it's just a growing part of journalism these days. I noticed that the general data literacy level of both the people I work with and the people consuming a lot of the content we produce wasn't where it should be, so my decision to join the apprenticeship was about trying to increase and improve that level of understanding around numbers. I thought it would be beneficial for us to have someone on the team who had looked into building those data skills on a deeper level. 

From a personal point of view, the course looked like a great avenue for my career development. I thought to myself, what are the skills that people are going to be looking for in years to come that I don't already have? I did Maths A Level at school and I really enjoyed it but I didn't ever think it was something that I would want to do with all of my time. I enjoyed writing, so that's why I studied journalism at uni and I sort of assumed that most journalists hate maths. So I thought, if I actually enjoy maths, I might as well take advantage of that!"

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Can you tell me about your experiences of undertaking the apprenticeship with Cambridge Spark supported by School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University? Which modules have you enjoyed the most or have helped you the most at work?

"The more practical based modules have been the most immediately useful. The modules covering data sourcing, data preparation, Excel for data analysis, visualisation and charts have all been really useful. With Excel in particular, although I had used it before I hadn't really understood just what it could do. So, just feeling a bit more confident, being able to manoeuvre things around within it has been great." 

What have you enjoyed about the apprenticeship most so far? 

"What I like most is that I'm actually learning something new and I'm getting time out of my job to do that! I haven't done any formal learning since uni. Everything I've learnt since then has been from working alongside people and seeing how they do things and picking it up as I go along.

To actually have the equivalent of a day a week just to focus on learning new things is brilliant and it's quite a nice mix of people in the group. Getting to speak to people in other BBC departments and learn a bit more about other people's jobs has been really good."

Can you talk me through an example of how you've applied what you've been learning to your work?   

"Last autumn we launched a new breakfast programme on 5 Live and I was lucky enough to take a break from the daily programme rota to work on stories for the new programme to get us a bit of impact when we started. Myself and a colleague surveyed over 100 of the country's biggest employers to find out what their policies are around miscarriage leave. We wanted to find out how many had a policy, what type of leave they offered, how many days it was, whether it applied to men and women or just to women and so on. We used the results to create a news story that went out on 5 Live, Radio 4 and the BBC News Channel as well.

Putting the piece together was the culmination of what I want to get out of this apprenticeship, which is to generate data stories which are then seen and heard across the BBC. That's what it's all about for us, and the key data element was processing the results of the survey when they came in."

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Tell us a little bit about that data interpretation journey:

"Using the skills I'd been learning, we created a spreadsheet where we cleaned and filtered the data and used conditional formatting so that we could immediately highlight the interesting results about the companies in terms of the type of leave that they offered. Myself and my colleague had a working version of the spreadsheet containing all of the information but  I also used Power Query to generate a presentation version of our results to eliminate sensitive info and make it easy for others to understand the most interesting results.

I also made a dashboard page that included a few charts and then used a few different functions that allowed you to click an employer from a drop down menu and it would immediately bring up the number of people they employ, what type of leave they offered and what they say."

Finally, has doing this programme made you a better journalist and if so, why and how?

"Yes it has! How do I sum it up? I just feel like I see a lot more potential stories now. So whenever I hear about an issue or I hear about something that's happened, my brain starts thinking like 'oh how would I substantiate that? Or where would the figures be for that?' Or you know, how could I build on that if I were able to get the data behind it?

I was also promoted from Broadcast Journalist to Senior Broadcast Journalist at the beginning of the year after I had started the apprenticeship and I've now got my eye on the next step up from there too."

In addition to Jim's interview above, we also received some very positive comments from Catherine Norman, Jim's line manager at the BBC; 

"A lot of journalists are curious and good at checking facts and sources but not always good at digging around into data. Jim is a very thorough journalist anyway but he also likes dealing with numbers, so this course was perfect for him. For the miscarriage leave project - we had some brilliant case studies of parents who had had to take annual leave when they’d miscarried, but we didn’t have the data on lack of miscarriage leave to back it up, or to make the story travel further (news organisations love a good top line that’s come from some data).

Jim created the survey himself and processed the data when it came in so we could extract a couple of really good top lines from it. The story went on a lot of BBC services as well as providing good content for the 5 Live Breakfast show (where Jim works). His story even made some companies change their outlook so they now have an official miscarriage leave policy when they didn’t before. Now that is powerful data journalism and a real credit to him!"

Find out more about the Data Driven Journalism Apprenticeship

Interested to find out more about how your organisation could benefit from apprenticeships in data science, analytics and AI? The Data Driven Journalism apprenticeship offers unique flexible online learning, monthly ‘Industry Expert Insights' speaker and inspiring, specialist professional trainers to empower you to develop a strong understanding of the value and opportunities enabled through the smart use of data in your role and your news organisation.    

Fill out the form at the bottom of the page and one of our consultants will contact you directly to answer any questions you may have about our full range of training options.

Read more about data science in media and broadcasting 

Check out some of our other case studies exploring BBC data apprentice experiences with Cambridge Spark: