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Professor South teaches data journalism in China

Aug 5, 2019

Posted in: News

Which countries have the longest life expectancies? Is there any nation where men and women evenly divvy up the housework? How often has Donald Trump tweeted about China?

Students at Xiamen University in China answered those questions and more in a series of articles they wrote this summer as part of a course taught by Jeff South, an associate professor in the Robertson School.

Thirty-three students at the university in Fujian Province, in southern China, took the intensive one-week course, Data Journalism and Visualization, in June. Among other activities, the students, working in teams, wrote data-driven news stories and published an online magazine called the Data X-Aminer. Each article included online graphics and downloadable data.


Students said they appreciated the hands-on format of the course, which covered online research, data analysis and data visualization. Junbin Su, the head of the Journalism Department at Xiamen University, said the published stories were “incredibly beautiful.”

The articles covered a range of topics, including:

For each story, students obtained and analyzed data from the Chinese government, the United Nations, the World Health Organization or other source. After finding a focus, the students then conducted interviews and other research and wrote their articles.


Xiamen University is similar in size to VCU. It is a public school with about 30,000 students. Its academic units include the School of Journalism and Communication and the College of Art as well as a medical school and law school.

South gave a guest lecture at Xiamen University when he served as a Fulbright Scholar in China in 2014. He then returned to Xiamen to teach summer courses in 2015 and 2016 as well as this past summer.

South, who also teaches data journalism at VCU, said statistical analysis can serve as a solid foundation for news stories. Combined with human sources and anecdotes, data can make stories more accurate, authoritative and interesting.

That is what the Xiamen University students discovered in South’s course.

One team, for instance, analyzed median life expectancy data from the World Bank. They found that on average, people in Hong Kong and Japan live the longest (about 84 years), followed by Italy, Spain and Switzerland (about 83 years)


Another team examined survey data from the United Nations and other sources on how couples divide up the housework. Worldwide, women spend an average of 4.5 hours on housework a day, vs. 1.9 hours for men.

The students reported that the gap is smallest in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, where women do housework for four hours daily and men for three hours. The biggest disparity is in Guatemala, where women spend an average of 6.4 hours a day on unpaid domestic work and men just one hour.

Another group of Xiamen University students downloaded President Trump’s tweets. They found that Trump tweeted 641 times about China from January 2011 through June 18, 2019.

Trump’s number of China-related tweets has fluctuated by year. It hit a high of 170 tweets in 2012 — but then dropped to a low of 14 tweets in 2016. Since then, the number has risen steadily: to 46 in 2017 and 92 in 2018. Before 2019 was even half over, Trump had tweeted 91 times about China.