CRC Press is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with Sharon Machlis, authors of Practical R for Mass Communication and Journalism.
Sharon Machlis is the author of Computerworld’s Beginner’s Guide to R, host of InfoWorld’s Do More With R video screencast series, admin for the R for Journalists Google Group, and is well known among Twitter users who follow the #rstats hashtag. She is Director of Editorial Data and Analytics at IDG Communications (parent company of Computerworld, InfoWorld, PC World and Macworld, among others) and a frequent speaker at data journalism and R conferences.
Q&A with Sharon Machlis
Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your book Practical R for Mass Communication and Journalism. What would you like your audience to take away from the book?
Thank you! I hope readers will see how the R programming language can help them tell stories with data. While there is some investment in time to learn a new skill, the payoff is well worth it.
What inspired you to write this book?
I learned about R when I was working on an investigative reporting project. My first reaction was, “Why didn’t someone tell me about this sooner!” I want to be that “someone” for other people who are working with data.
What audience did you have in mind whilst writing your book?
Journalists, policy analysts, public relations professionals. and other people who wants to use data to communicate information in a compelling way.
What makes your book stand out from it competitors?
There are already several excellent books on the market to learn R, but none focused specifically on journalism and related fields. A lot of topics in general statistics and data-science books won’t be relevant – or interesting -- to most journalists and PR people. I think learning is much more effective when lessons are tailored to readers’ interests. This book’s examples are designed to be things that a journalist or policy PR person might want to do, such as analyze extreme weather events, storm-related flight delays, or election results. Practical R for Mass Communication and Journalism doesn’t aim to turn people into data scientists or teach them statistical theory. The focus is on learning elegant, repeatable, and dependable ways to extract meaningful information from data -- and then share those results with others.
Who has influenced you the most?
The R community is amazing. People are so generous in sharing their knowledge and contributing open-source code for anyone else to use. I’d like to pay that forward and help others to learn.
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your writing style.
This is more about my communications in general than writing specifically. But in addition to writing for newspapers, magazines, and technology Web sites, I’ve also done a lot of one-on-one communications via amateur radio. As a ham radio operator, I’ve spoken with people all over the world. And, I passed a lot of messages in and out of besieged Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia. One of my most cherished possessions is a certificate from the Amateur Radio Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina for “extraordinary contribution to transmitting humanitarian messages.”
What do you feel has been a highlight for you, in your career?
The article that prompted me to learn R for data analysis ended up winning the American Society of Business Publication Editors “Azbee” National Gold Award for Impact/Investigative Reporting.