By Mugambi Mutegi
Editor's note: in July, IRE hosted the 2013 class of Alfred Friendly Fellows for training in training in computer-assisted and investigative reporting, covering Excel spreadsheets and more. One of the fellows, Mugambi Mutegi, wrote about his experience using Excel for the Alfred Friendly Press Partners, republished below.
In the short time I have been alive, I had not until recently come across anybody who, upon using MS Excel for the first time, instantly fell in love with the program.
I’m sure such people exist, but I can hazard that they do not exceed six – worldwide.
For me, the most appealing function about Excel was the ‘X’ button at the right hand corner of an open window.
Just point your mouse at the button, click and, voila, the universe regains some normalcy.
No formulas required.
I managed to steer clear of Excel and its evil cells and columns for a long time, until I was employed at Business Daily.
There was no escape this time, I thought. I just had to get used to it — to process data and plot graphs, among other uses. —
I, sadly and — retrospectively – regrettably, had never taken time to learn any new stuff over and above what was required to (barely) survive.
PS: I happen to love interesting things in life so spare me that look.
Therefore, when I skimmed through the AFPP mid-term seminar program, I was far from excited to find the word ‘’spreadsheets’’ listed therein.
I was finally getting to meet two of the six people who love Excel.
We flew to Columbia, Mo., and when the appointed day and hour arrived, Mark Horvit introduced himself and his colleague, Jaimi Dowdell.
“Two out of six? In the same room? At the same time?” That was me mentally wrestling with the concept of probabilities.
Mark is the executive director for Investigative Reporters and Editors, where Jaimi has been a training director since 2008.
The two laid out a tag-team training outline for us, and when they were done Jaimi took the floor.
She taught us about fusion tables, using social network analysis to find connections and how to find and download data on the Internet.
As I stated earlier I am for cool stuff, and whatever Jaimi was teaching was indeed 50 shades of cool.
Like a thirsty dog, I lapped it all up. Inwardly, I dreaded the moment when the lesson would be abruptly ended by the mention of “spreadsheets”!
Jaimi seemed just as passionate about what she was teaching as she was lively.
Not that the latter mattered to me, I was processing a ton of new stuff every time she spoke. Dozing off was not an option.
When Mark came on, I was relieved that he matched (if not surpassed) Jaimi’s energy. Remember, at this point, I was already biased against one of his topics and the least he could do was to bore me in the most energetic way possible.
Boy, was I in for a shock!
Allow me to digress in order to infuse a little bit of context at this point.
As it so happens, I am the Business Daily reporter who, more often than not, is assigned to cover the release of secondary and primary school national examinations.
This means that twice a year, I have to sift through hundreds of numbers and names, trying to sniff out a story other than what the Education Minister presents.
I will not go into the details of how I accomplished this in years past, but let’s just say, at the end of those days, I was a spent soul in desperate need of a stiff drink.
This is not the only instance where I have to deal with a lot of data.
Let Mark re-enter the stage.
Here he was effortlessly exhibiting how to use Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR).
In no time, I was grouping and crunching random data and offering suggestions on stories that could be pursued.
I felt happy that I had learned something invaluable, but I also ended up feeling like a refined dummy.
I have always prided myself on being a technologically savvy individual.
Therefore, I felt terrible that I had allowed my prejudices toward Excel to prevent me from exploring its versatility.
I could not help but wonder how much more relaxed the days I handled national examination results would have been had I taken the time to study Excel just a bit more.
I learned a lot during the midterm seminar, but personally, Excel and the neat tricks and tools such as using the scraper and getting data from “locked” documents stood out for me.
A friend just read this blog and told me, “I am glad you have seen the light. Excel is the very fiber that runs this world.”
I now know of four Excel lovers – including myself, a new recruit.
Where are the other two?