Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On using MySQL and Navicat for this class

One of the key skills that students will learn in Data-Driven Reporting is working with data using a relational database. As journalists, we'll be asking questions of our data just like it was any other source on our beat. What do you know and when did you know it? How does this relate to that? What are the trends over time? What sticks out as odd?

We'll do this by using a free, open-source database called MySQL, and a database client called Navicat Essentials, which costs about $10. (Not to be confused with full Navicat, which costs between $60-$100, but worth it if you have the cash.)

There are a ton of different kinds of databases out there, by MySQL is common enough to run most of the Internet, and many other data journalists in the community use it, so it is easy to find documentation and help on how to use it. It is also cross-platform (can run on Windows, Mac or Linux) and free to install, which is important for me, because I want you as students to learn something that you can carry with you no matter what kind of computer you use or your (or your company's) financial means to buy software.

MySQL will be loaded on our lab machines, but I encourage you to install it on your own computer. We'll carve out some lab time to do this together so I can help with any challenges you might face, but if you are technically inclined and want to get a head start you can download a nice Mac install here, or follow Windows directions here.

Navicat Essentials is the software that we will use to talk to the database. Again, there are tons of options here but I wanted to find something that was cross-platform and relatively inexpensive. There are other free managers out there, like MySQL Workbench, but Navicat Essentials has an excellent import wizard that is worth the $10.

What are you missing with Essentials vs the full version of Navicat? The two main differences are being able to import/export data in more formats (Excel being the most relevant) and the query builder wizard. I will use Essentials in class so that no one is left behind, but know I use the full version in my day-to-day work and was happy to expense the $130 to my company.


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