Using data to scrutinise local swimming facilities (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt3)

(Read part 1 here and part 2 here)

The third student to catch the data journalism bug was Andy Brightwell. Through his earlier reporting on swimming pool facilities in Birmingham, Andy had developed an interest in the issue, and wanted to use data journalism techniques to dig further.

The result was a standalone site – Where Can We Swim? – which documented exactly how he did that digging, and presented the results.

He also blogged about the results for social media firm Podnosh, where he has been working.

Andy’s techniques included creating a screen scraper using Yahoo! Pipes and Google Spreadsheets, visualising and mapping opening times, and, of course, some old-fashioned research (a recurring theme in the MA data journalism work).

What is particularly interesting is how Andy shows readers his working – explaining inconsistencies in the data, how it is gathered, and issues with making comparisons. Spreadsheets are embedded.

Instead of ‘not letting the facts get in the way of a good story’, Andy is refusing to let a good story get in the way of the facts: we are invited to build on top of the sterling work that he has done.

His early visualisations, for example, showed that the West Midlands was the worst region for swimming pool provision. Then in a later one:

“By clicking on the visualisation you should be able to see a correlation between demand and supply. In the top left-hand corner click on facility m2/1000 (this shows the amount swimming surface area per 1000 people). Now click on participation rate – and the map looks remarkably similar, with the same dark areas, while the West Midlands is one of the lightest regions. In other words, where there’s the most availability of swimming – in the South West, South East and in East, there are more people swimming.

“Now let’s look at the West Midlands – one of the worst regions for supply and demand … As you can see, it’s Birmingham that’s the worst offender, in fact it’s significantly worse than other regions within the West Midlands.

“Of course there’s a health warning over all of this. The report does point out that, even in Birmingham, supply is able to meet current demand – which sort of contradicts the evidence that superior supply leads to more demand. However, what we can say with reasonable confidence is that with doubts over the 50 metre pool and the only pool to have been rebuilt so far is Harborne, it seems Birmingham does indeed have a long way to go before it has anything like the supply of pools some other parts of England enjoy.”

Video stories, Flash interactivity and mapping the local music scene

Three other MA Online Journalism students developed skills in different areas to add specialist expertise to their broad online journalism toolkit.

One student refined her Flash skills to produce a website for the Basel Social Media Apero that combined animation, video, and a Twitter feed.

Ruihua Yao explored video and produced a series of video profiles of members of the Chinese community in Birmingham. Ruihua filmed the subject speaking in their native language, then dubbed the video with their stories in English. What emerges is a picture of very highly educated Chinese citizens unable to use their education to contribute to British society.

Natalie Chillington set herself the challenge of creating a live map of upcoming gigs in Birmingham that would automatically update when new entries were added to the Google Doc (which also fed a listings). Both were for a new site covering the music scene in the city, The Music Quarter.

This was a technically ambitious project which hit a number of obstacles along the way. To Natalie’s credit, she overcame all of these to produce something which looks simple, but is actually very complex. This post explains the stages Natalie went through in exploring automatically updated maps.

In the next and final part of this series (live Monday) I’ll be talking about Alex Gamela‘s work, which includes a Google map that has had over 80,000 views, a moving Flash interactive, and a piece of multimedia journalism combining video, visualisation and more data journalism.

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2 thoughts on “Using data to scrutinise local swimming facilities (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt3)

  1. Pingback: links for 2010-07-25 « Social Stoke

  2. Pingback: Local history as a game (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt2) | Online Journalism Blog

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