David Donald was a visionary in the world of data journalism, eagerly embracing new techniques and technologies and sharing them with a passion that was infectious.
An IRE training director early in his career, he was a unifying and calming force among staff and members and was an invaluable mentor to many young journalists. He defined the best of IRE.
Donald died Dec. 10, 2016, of complications from mesothelioma. He was 64.
He was praised by many as a compassionate teacher who was always there for any journalist who needed help or even just someone to listen to the latest challenge they were facing.
"David made difficult stuff easy," recalled John Bones, managing director of SKUP, the Norwegian Foundation for Investigative Reporting. "It was fun to be a student when David was the teacher. Suddenly I understood everything."
Donald’s obituary in The Washington Post revealed how much impact he quietly had on his chosen field.
"There would be no data journalism in Europe without David Donald. I know this because he not only trained me in data journalism in London more than 20 years ago but he also trained me in how to teach data journalism in the hope that it would take root in Europe and elsewhere," said Elena Egawhary, a British educator and journalist. "He's worthy of the IRE Ring of Honor because he changed the face of European journalism — he made European journalists care about numbers and the stories they can tell. He turned us into data wranglers and gave us an extra tool when investigating wrongdoing."
Many of those he trained echoed similar sentiments.
"David Donald changed the course of my career — his training, mentorship and overall support elevated my journalism and changed my perspective on finding and outing truths," said London-based journalist Crina Boros. "I once asked him why he mentored. 'I, too, once stood on the shoulders of giants,’ he said. ‘This is my way of giving back.'"
After leaving IRE in 2008 to join the Center for Public Integrity, Donald went on to investigations that turned large data sets into powerful, award-winning stories. These included a nearly year-long project exposing faulty Medicare billing practices, which found $11 billion in fraudulent fees over a decade; the vast underreporting of sex assaults on college campuses; and the cruel impact of subprime lending.
He also taught data journalism at American University and served as data editor for the Investigative Reporting Workshop. And to the end of his days, he continued contributing his skills to IRE.
"David Donald took journalism to a much higher and sophisticated level globally," said Brant Houston, who was executive director at IRE during David's time there and taught with him after his stint at IRE. "He demonstrated again and again how data journalism could produce tremendous impact and then taught other journalists how to do it themselves. And he did it all with humanity, wit and humility."
Donald enjoyed great wines and poetry, and was unbeatable at 20 questions, friends recalled.
He received a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio's Kent State University in 1997, a degree he completed while working in computer-assisted journalism at the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. His first master's was in English, earned from Cleveland State University in 1980.
Joyce Donald, David’s wife of 34 years, told The Washington Post in 2016 that David "taught himself SQL and other computer languages, and he’d still read me poetry at night when we were together."
They have one son, Ryan Donald.
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