One of the most basic sources of story ideas for a journalist is a news diary listing forthcoming newsworthy events. For the journalist looking for ideas in data, having forthcoming data releases in your diary can be especially useful.
Here is a quick guide preparing your own data news diary.
Step 1: Create a calendar
You will need a place to keep all the events in your news diary. Some people use an old-fashioned physical diary or notepad, but for a data news diary it is better to use an online calendar tool like Google Calendar, or a digital document as this allows you to paste the URLs where the data will be published.
Online calendars in particular have the advantage of being able to set reminders (see below), but use whatever fits best into your routine — you can always set reminders separately.
Step 2: Search for forthcoming data releases
Many of the places where you get data will have a “forthcoming releases” or “release calendar” page where they list datasets that are scheduled to be released on a future date. UK examples include:
- Office for National Statistics: Release calendar
- UK government statistics (upcoming) on gov.uk (this can be filtered by topic, organisation and world location)
- NHS England: 12 months statistics calendar
- Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA): Upcoming data releases
- Ofcom: Statistical release calendars
Look also at regional or international calendars, such as Eurostat’s Release calendar and UNdata’s update calendar.
Step 3: Add the releases to your news diary
Decide on a timescale that you’re going to fill in your news diary: for example, you might decide to add data releases for the next two months, or six months, or some other period. Anticipate that this will be something that you repeat regularly.
Once you’ve decided how far to plan ahead, add all the releases to your calendar from a particular organisation that you think might have any news value at all. Set the threshold low because you cannot anticipate in advance exactly how newsworthy any data release will be.
For example, data on flooding may not look very newsworthy at the time you compile your diary — but if there’s a series of floods before it’s released then you will have wished you’d added it.
Try to include the following:
- The date of the release
- A plain language description of the data
- The official name of the data release in case you need to search for it
- A URL if one exists yet
- A short description and any notes/thoughts
- December 6
- Cancer referrals/admissions data
- Cancer Services Profiles, 2022 Annual Update – https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/cancer-services-profiles/2022-annual-update
- “Data at GP, Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and national level on: cancer incidence and screening; Two Week Wait (TWW) referrals; diagnostic services; emergency presentations and admissions
If the planned release doesn’t yet have a description, search for previous releases of the same dataset to find out (for example, the data release above only said “Not yet published” so the description was taken from finding the 2021 Cancer Services Profiles Annual Update.)
Step 4: Set reminders
Now you’ve filled your news diary with potential data leads, make sure you set the following reminders:
- Set a reminder to update your news diary at the end of the period you covered with more forthcoming data releases for the next period (e.g. two months, six months).
- Set a reminder for each data release that you already think is going to be newsworthy.
Set each reminder far enough in advance that you can plan appropriately — for example, you might set a reminder a week before in order to organise interviews for one data release, but a month before if you’re planning a bigger feature or need time to work with earlier releases to develop particular data skills.
Bonus step 1: Estimate future data release dates
In addition to the above steps, there are ways you can add other data releases to your news diary that don’t have a public release date.
Although not ever organisation publishes a calendar, most data is released on a regular, and therefore predictable, schedule.
If you can find the last release of a dataset, and identify whether it is annual, quarterly (every three months), monthly or some other frequency, then you can add estimated future release dates to your news diary.
For example, if you find data on Football-related arrests and banning orders and see it was released in the third week of September, and it covers a year of data, then you can set a reminder to check for the next update around the same time next year.
If it’s quarterly, then set a reminder for three months’ time.
Another example: all UK police forces release data on crimes and outcomes, and stop and search, every month, and all UK councils release data on spending above £500 every month. You can set yourself a reminder to check it on a particular date, and keep checking every few days until you can work out when it tends to be published.
Bonus step 2: Add national and international ‘awareness’ days/weeks/months
It’s not just data releases that set the schedule of stories using data — there are dozens of national and international themed days, weeks and months that can be used as a convenient news ‘hook’ to do a data story. Here are two examples:
- World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to publish a data-driven backgrounder like How many journalists died last year?
- Equal Pay Day is an opportunity to do an analysis of ”What is the gender pay gap like where you are?”
You can find many lists of these days — but make sure they apply to your country. A few you can use are:
- UNESCO International Days
- Awareness Days (this has filters for UK, US or International, as well as theme)
- There Is A Day For That (filter by country)
Again, factor in preparation time for any stories — you can plan months in advance for these days and even have your story written up and ready to go well before the day itself. The key thing is to make sure that you’re using the most recent data that will have been available by that point (so: check if another release is due before the day).
Do you have any tips for building a news diary around data releases? Please let me know in the comments or @paulbradshaw
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