NICAR 2024 Recap

Marysa Barela

NICAR 2024 was one of the highlights of my journalism education and I am sure it will not be the last in my career because of all the valuable tools, information, and connections I made at the conference. This opportunity allowed me to get hands-on experience and learn from some of the best data journalists in the world. I learned ways to protect myself, my data, and to conduct investigative journalism through new methods such as programing and A.I. with the highest quality and code of ethics.

While learning from experts in the field, I also made connections with potential employers and peers creating opportunities that will shape both my personal and professional life forever. This formed close friendships with my team members and fellow students from across the country, giving us all a once-in-a-lifetime experience trying different foods, speaking with Baltimore locals, and exploring the city.

This conference shifted my perspective of the journalism field being daunting and competitive to welcoming and collaborative. It brought me joy and confirmation that was needed in the midst of my Senior year, inspiring me to continue learning about data and investigative journalism after the conference. All of this would not have been possible without the generous contribution of the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment and Professor McDonald. I am forever appreciative of this opportunity and the amazing memories, knowledge and connections that were formed at NICAR.


Kevin Baskar

Attending NICAR for the first time was nothing short of amazing. From the moment I touched down in Baltimore, I found myself immersed in a vibrant community of journalists from all over the country. Going in, I had a solid foundation in programming and data, and I was eager to explore the practical applications of these skills.

What unfolded during the three-day conference was truly special. Seasoned professionals were sharing their insights, tips, and tricks, which enriched my understanding of the application of such technologies. One of my favorite sessions included Noah Pransky, a broadcast journalist from NBC News. Pransky had illustrated how to cover local elections better, including what financials to pay attention to. It really made me note down the importance of understanding campaign finances as well as making sure to always “follow the money.”

I really am truly grateful for the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment for giving the opportunity to attend this conference. Their support granted me access and exposure that I had never had before. Most of my life, I have been mainly exposed to journalism in a Texan atmosphere. The amount of exposure I got from seeing journalists not only across the US, but from the entire world has really benefited me. Going to such a special event as NICAR to enlighten my knowledge on the intersection of data and journalism is one I will never forget. I also am looking forward to going back, as my first-time experience was nonetheless amazing.


Melanie Faz

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the NICAR conference in Baltimore, Maryland. As part of the Media Innovation Group AI team, I was excited to attend AI-related sessions and see how other journalists are using AI in their work. Simply looking at the schedule beforehand filled me with excitement because I knew I was going to learn so much. NICAR was truly an amazing experience, it made me fall in love with the field of journalism and the possibilities this career has to offer. 

My favorite sessions were Doxx Yourself and Analyzing AI Algorithms. Doxx Yourself taught me how to protect my data and take preventative measures against doxing. The session leaders were so charismatic and engaging, and they taught me how to remove my private information from the internet. The AI algorithms session showcased the investigative pieces other journalists published. Their work was inspiring and aligned with some of the AI projects we hope to pursue. 

Some highlights of the trip are seeing journalist Leslie Rangel again, meeting journalism students from other universities, exploring the city of Baltimore, getting dinner with Texas journalists and learning how to scrape data without coding. 

My biggest takeaway is that journalists are just curious people. Normally, networking is daunting and makes me so nervous. However, NICAR helped ease my fears and now I’m excited to be in the field because everyone is so helpful and nice. In simple terms, NICAR taught me how to work smarter, not harder, and how to utilize the latest technologies in my journalism work. 

I want to thank the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment for the opportunity to attend NICAR. I am so thankful for the experience and as graduation approaches, I’m excited to use the skills I learned. 


Aislyn Gaddis

NICAR was an incredible and invaluable experience. The sessions I attended and the people I met showed me so many resources and tools I know I will use in my career, and the innovation I saw there made me optimistic about the future of journalism. 

I attended sessions covering a wide range of topics such as the command line, cryptocurrency blockchains, microdata, Google Analytics, web scraping, APIs, risk ratios and extracting data from PDFs.

What made these sessions even more special is that some of them were taught by leading experts in the field or even the creators of the tool we were learning about. For instance, I took a class on rvest with Hadley Wickham, who even encouraged attendees to contact him with problems or suggestions we have with the software.

Aside from the sessions I attended, I got the opportunity to network with other students and industry professionals. Not only did I learn a lot from their diverse experiences and perspectives, but I was able to get contact information to reach out to them in the future. 

It’s no secret that the journalism industry is struggling right now, but NICAR was full of new tools and strategies to adapt journalism to the digital world and keep it strong, which was so encouraging for me as a student about to enter the industry. 

I want to thank the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment for sponsoring my attendance at NICAR. I learned so much more than I thought I would about different aspects of journalism, and I know that the knowledge and connections I gained there will be extremely useful in my future career. 


Yasmin Garcia

Going to NICAR ‘24 in Baltimore has been the highlight of my time while attending the University of Texas at Austin. It allowed me to see several career possibilities for myself within journalism. Before attending NICAR, I was uncertain where my career would specifically go, but this experience allowed me to narrow down my options and gave me a new love for the world of data. NICAR allowed me to see the importance of the intersection between technology, data, and investigative journalism and its role in impacting a community for the better.

What I thought would be a scary experience for myself turned into the best and most courageous decision I could have made to get out of my comfort zone, which helped me feel empowered. The atmosphere in NICAR had to be one of the most supportive and positive environments I’ve ever experienced. I immediately felt welcomed and lost all sense of fear that I had come with. I had the opportunity to interact with several students from other universities and professionals who are experts in their fields. These networking events were my favorite part of NICAR, and I will forever cherish the new friendships I made.

I also learned several skills that I’ll continue to use academically and professionally, which include how to protect myself better as a journalist, scraping without programming, using AI-powered tools, and wrangling data with code. NICAR has been beneficial for me in more ways than one, and I will definitely make plans to attend again. Thank you so much to the Dallas Morning News Innovation Endowment for giving me this opportunity!


Athena Hawkins

I want to express my gratitude to you for supporting my attendance this year at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference. There, I learned new data reporting skills, found career opportunities and presented the Media Innovation Group’s ongoing project on Texas local campaign finance. As a data fellow and graduating senior, I was excited to enter NICAR with three goals: finding new data analysis tools, meeting as many professionals as possible and exploring how data can enhance accountability reporting. 

I learned how to track cryptocurrency exchanges, parse federal campaign finance data, report on local court proceedings, build climate stories from weather data, extract text from complex PDFs and so much more! I also refreshed my command line and R coding skills.

The generosity of Prof. Kevin Robbins and the Griff Singer professorship gave me the opportunity to speak face-to-face with professional data journalists and editors seeking interns. I feel far more prepared for graduation knowing I have connections and career opportunities in the data journalism space. Attending NICAR deepened my passion for data-driven storytelling and gave me the chance to show off the work we’re doing for local journalism here at UT — work I’m super proud of! Thank you so much.


Karina Kumar

 Getting to attend the NICAR conference this year was a highlight of my semester. I truly want to thank the generosity of Prof. Kevin Robbins and the Griff Singer professorship for sponsoring my attendance at NICAR. There are three major areas of reflection for me from the conference.

First, I was able to make connections, network and meet experts in the field of data journalism which I am hoping will provide me with a wide network of journalists for advice/help in the future. It was so cool to be surrounded by people who also love the data side of stories and could provide experience and expertise in such a wide variety of topics. Second, I gained a wide variety of new skills from sessions at NICAR. I learned about PDF Plumber (which might even be applicable in our current local campaign finance project), federal campaign finance tools, how to use the DNS to investigate people, how to use APIs to gather data, and much more. And in almost every session the speakers made me aware of a new dataset I didn’t know about that could be helpful for future projects.

Third, the experience of attending NICAR was elevated even further because I was able to be a part of a panel with two other data fellows. It was so valuable to be able to present the work we had been doing for over a year now, get feedback, and relate to other journalists’ struggles in similar areas. This panel even got us connected with someone doing a similar project in a different state who we will now be able to collaborate with on our processes to help each other out.

The experience overall was wonderful. I learned new skills and made new connections that will directly apply to the work we are doing here in Austin. 


Rylie Lillibridge

Though my excitement to go to NICAR was originally met with equal nervousness over whether or not I’d be overwhelmed by the conference material, I soon found that I was in for an incredibly informative and supportive experience. I greatly appreciated the chance to learn about cutting-edge AI technology and techniques field-tested by data journalists.

My favorite panel was Caitlin Gilbert’s “Scraping TikTok and Instagram videos for investigative reporting.” In the panel, she discussed how she gathered data from social media for her story “The food industry pays ‘influencer’ dietitians to shape your eating habits,” a piece of reporting I have admired ever since its publication. As someone who aspires to pursue health journalism, the story of how Caitlin gathered a wide array of data for an important health story was insightful and inspiring. 

In addition to connecting with journalists from across the country and around the world, I also enjoyed getting a chance to get closer to my UT journalism peers. I left Baltimore confident in my abilities as a journalist, excited to use new tools and techniques, and supported by my network. I am so thankful to have learned so much and made life-long friends at NICAR 2024!


Amaris Ovalle

NICAR 24 gave me the chance to explore more about data journalism and taught me new skills to make my stories better. The sessions covered so many interesting topics I wanted to learn about, so it was difficult to choose a handful to go to everyday. I attended more hands-on sessions where I learned coding skills like how to scrape a Wikipedia page using R, or how to clean a set of data using Python. I learned how powerful coding can be in creating data sets to uncover a story and how to create visualizations to present the data.

The sessions were led by professional journalists who shared their experiences and the knowledge they gained from working on data-driven stories. The networking sessions helped me connect with other student journalists and international reporters who told me about some of the stories they’re working on.

Outside of the conference I was able to have dinner with a group of veteran Texas journalists who shared some advice for becoming a data journalist and we even got to go sightseeing together. By the end of the trip, I left with some finished projects, a list of story ideas I wanted to write about and a network of reporters I could stay in touch with. I’m so grateful to the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment for this amazing opportunity to learn about some powerful tools to use in my career.


Carolyn Parmer

Thank you so much for sponsoring me for a second year at NICAR. Being able to speak about my work on a panel and learn so much from the other attendees made it an unforgettable experience. I learned how to code in Python and the command line, how to improve data visualizations with Adobe Illustrator, how to use Google Analytics and how to use string functions in Google Sheets to manipulate data. The Adobe Illustrator class was a lot of fun because I am currently taking a graphic design class at Moody, where I use many Adobe tools.

I thoroughly enjoyed leading the panel with Athena Hawkins, Karina Kumar and Professor McDonald. It was so exciting to look out to an audience and answer other journalists’ insightful questions. We hosted this panel about our work gathering campaign finance reports from local Texas entities and entering the data from them. Athena and I have been working on this project since January of 2023, so it felt great to tell an audience about all the work we’ve put in and look back on where it started (which is very different from where it is now!). I am proud to be part of a project that aims to increase transparency about local elections. 

Now that I am back at work on the campaign finance project, I look forward to using the tools I tried out at NICAR. Both years I’ve attended, this conference has renewed my desire to pursue data journalism and excited me about the possibilities this field offers. I greatly appreciate the generosity of Professor Kevin Robbins and the Griff Singer professorship that made this life-changing experience possible. 


Heather Stewart

Going to NICAR was an amazing opportunity to say the least. There was an excellent balance between networking and learning new data skills. In some of my favorite sessions, I learned how to scrape data from websites and about the best tactics for organizing an investigative reporting workflow. These are just two of the extremely helpful skills I gained at NICAR that I’m going to integrate into my work from here on out. I also learned about tons of investigative story ideas for wherever I end up after graduating in May, which is something I've always struggled with.

The wealth of stories that exist in data journalism (as I learned at NICAR) has made me feel more secure in my abilities to be a skilled professional journalist. The overall knowledge I gained about data journalism at the conference has made me even more excited to continue learning and developing my skills in this area. 

Talking with such a wide array of journalists and students from all over the world further opened my eyes to all the possibilities for my career. NICAR has allowed me to meet so many people in the industry that I can now reach out to for questions or support—all of which I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this conference. Plus, I was able to meet a handful of editors and reporters who I’ve gotten in touch with since the event. One, for example, from KXAN, invited me to tour their studio. I am extremely grateful to the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment for granting me the ability to such a career-changing event as NICAR. My confidence as a student journalist and future professional has truly blossomed from this conference.


Michael Zhang

I can’t say that my path pursuing the field of journalism has been straightforward. Whether it was from family, friends, or even the industry itself, the rhetoric around going into the journalism industry has been one filled with warnings, doubt, and overall cynicism. While my hopes to work in this essential feeled won’t be swayed by the cynicism of others, claiming that the constant negativity doesn’t affect me at all, would be a lie.

But after having the opportunity of attending NICAR, my dedication to join the countless other reporters within the field has grown in bounds. Seeing a new future of journalism that’s aided by tools in tech, counters this misled idea floating in newsrooms that “the internet is killing journalism.” From using new techniques such as  internet scraping to amass mass amounts of data assessing online perspectives and biases on popular social media platforms, to rehashing tech to break down legacy political processes previously run solely through paper and pen. Such as micro-local elections, campaign finances, etc. 

Getting the chance to use these tools to empower local community coverage and make newsrooms truly reflect community interests, gives me hope. Hope that there lies a future where the whole public can fully trust, and build strong communities centered around newsrooms.  

Sincerely, I cannot thank the Dallas Morning News Journalism Innovation Endowment enough for this opportunity. It’s been inspiring.