During the 2015 UK general election the Trinity Mirror Data Unit created a special interactive tool which allowed readers to find out more about their own constituency. The Find My Seat tool was used across all their titles including the national Mirror newspaper as well as the Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Mail, Manchester Evening News, Newcastle Chronicle and north Wales’s Daily Post. The tool has recently been relaunched for the 2017 election. Patrick Scott (now at the Telegraph) was part of the team behind it — in an interview by Antia Geada, he explains how they did it.
The main problem when it came to the data was getting it broken down to the correct geographical areas. Obviously because we were doing the project in conjunction with the election the most relevant breakdown was for parliamentary constituencies, so any data we used had to be available in that format. This was probably the main constraint I was under and meant that we couldn’t display some of the data for Scottish and Northern Irish constituencies because it simply wasn’t available.
[Statistical site] NOMIS was fantastic in this regard because it provides very flexible options when it comes to picking the areas you want your data to cover. It’s also pretty much the definitive source for the measures I was interested in anyway so, in the main, I didn’t have to stray too far away from there when it came to getting the data.
The main exception to this was the house price figures which I sorted into constituencies myself using [the programming language] R and the Land Registry’s price paid data.
The goal with all the measures was to draw them from the official channels (NOMIS, Office for National Statistics etc.) so as to keep them authoritative and reliable.
In terms of managing the whole thing it was just a case of keeping a master spreadsheet in as tidy a condition as I possibly could. This involved grouping different measures into themes by colour and lots and lots of use of Excel’s
RANK function. If nothing else it taught me that constituency codes are far far easier to match up than constituency names.
Making election data visual
When it came to the visuals the main challenge was to distill all the information we had into something that was easy to understand and relevant to the conversations surrounding the election debate as well as to each individual who used the search tool.
Find My Seat ended up being effectively split into two parts with the top part giving basic information like the name of the constituency the person lived in, who their MP was, who won last time and who was standing this time.
The second part was the more detailed ‘issues’ section where we attempted to build up a picture of what was happening in each constituency in terms of the economy, the cost of living, immigration and pensions.
Because Trinity Mirror sites don’t have paywalls we are reliant on page views and advertising to bring in cash. In this sense interactives like Find My Seat are good because it is content that can be used across the group and promoted throughout the build-up to the election without needing to be updated.
I think it had about 250,000 uses across the group while it was up and running. It probably did well in terms of dwell time too.
Antia Geada is a former student of mine on the MA in Online Journalism (now the MA in Multiplatforma and Mobile Journalism and the MA in Data Journalism) This interview was conducted for the Second Edition of the Online Journalism Handbook.