Data, journalism and your career
With limited and constricting resources what can news organizations do to serve the community and stand out in the competitive environment? What can a journalist do that provides high value to the news organization? What is the next tech skill that you can learn that will make you a "keeper" if there are more cutbacks? One answer to these questions is Data.
The Data Explosion
A major change in the reporting landscape is the exploding amount of public data available. The Obama administration has made data availability a priority and dramatically more federal agency information is available online. State governments are becoming increasingly data transparent. Local governments have followed and leading cities like San Francisco have made more and more information publicly available. The World Bank has recently opened a substantial amount of information to the public. The United Nations has extensive development data online. The fast approaching big wave in the data ocean is the 2010 Census.
Isn't data boring? — Data isn't boring to readers.
[The following links are from Paul Grabowicz's excellent KDMC tutorial on Digital Transformation. Here's a direct link to the section on Databases, Data Visualizations and Map Mashups. I highly recommend you spend an hour (or two) with the entire Transition to Digital Journalism tutorial.]
Databases are popular with Internet users - "40% of adult internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities," according to a survey published in April 2010 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
- The Texas Tribune reported that six months after its launch one third of the pageviews on its website are for its online databases - nearly three times the traffic to its stories.
- Mission Local, a local news site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, created a restaurant health inspections map that had more than 8,700 page views the day it was posted - more than 51 percent of the total pageviews at the site that day. City inspection data for the map was supplied by the EveryBlock project.
- The Data Blog run by the Guardian in Great Britain is one of the more popular features on the publication's website.
- Gannett newspapers have been pioneers in adding databases to their local websites, as part of their Information Center online strategy. See MediaShift's October 2008 story on Gannett's Information Centers strategy.
I never studied math
You also never studied blogging or social media. Just like all the other things you've learned in the last 5 years you are completely capable of learning to use data. The great news is that there are a treasure chest of free and easy-to-use tools.
Here are some of my current favorites…
- Google Maps (link to the official blog)
- Google Gadgets(charts and graphs)
- ManyEyes(charts and graphs)
- Protovis(roll up your sleeves, but well worth it.)
There are many more but this short list will show you what's possible for free. BTW, almost all have tutorials on the KDMC site.
What can one journalist do?
One journalist can do amazing things for the news organization. Consider English Major Matt Chittum at the Roanoke Times. Chittum is the Data Delivery Editor at the roanoke.com/datashphere. You can do that, too.
How do I?
Training is a great way to learn new skills. This is especially true with data. Learning to use data takes focus that is hard to come by in a hard-charging newsroom. Many training budgets have been cut and then hacked.
You can get that intensive training opportunity—for free—at KDMC's upcoming Interactive Census Workshop.
Making Data and Data Visualization central to your news organization isn't a silver bullet. It definitely is something that will serve your community, drive traffic and make your publication more engaged with your audiences.
Give your news organization and your career a shot adrenaline. Learn to use data to tell stories that really relate to your local community. Learn to use the upcoming Census information to inform your community in ways that will have an impact.
Check out the amount of high-value, hands-on training and the industry-leading presenters in the Interactive Census Workshop. Then click the apply button.