Tag Archives: propublica

6 ways of communicating data journalism (The inverted pyramid of data journalism part 2)

Last week I published an inverted pyramid of data journalism which attempted to map processes from initial compilation of data through cleaning, contextualising, and combining that. The final stage – communication – needed a post of its own, so here it is.

UPDATE: Now in Spanish too.

Below is a diagram illustrating 6 different types of communication in data journalism. (I may have overlooked others, so please let me know if that’s the case.)

Communicate: visualised, narrate, socialise, humanise, personalise, utilise

Modern data journalism has grown up alongside an enormous growth in visualisation, and this can sometimes lead us to overlook different ways of telling stories involving big numbers. The intention of the following is to act as a primer for ensuring all options are considered.
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Can we go beyond ‘Share on Facebook’?

ProPublica have created a rather wonderful news app around education data. As Nieman reports:

“The app invites both macro and micro analysis, with an implicit focus on personal relevance: You can parse the data by state, or you can drill down to individual schools and districts — the high school you went to, or the one that’s in your neighborhood. And then, even more intriguingly, you can compare schools according to geographical proximity and/or the relative wealth and poverty of their student bodies.”

This is exactly what data journalism is great at.

What’s more, the Nieman article talks breathlessly about ProPublica aiming to make data “more social”. What they describe is basically an embedded ‘Share this’ text box (admittedly nicely seamless) and a hashtag. But the news app page actually has a lot more to it: for example, once you’ve given it permission to access your Facebook account, it tells you how many friends have used the app, and appears to try to connect you to schools in your profile. This is how that’s presented on the homepage:

This came as a refreshing relief, because the ‘share this’ strategy reminds me of organisations who say their social media strategy is to ‘get everyone on Twitter’.

Still, it made me think of the range of challenges that Facebook and other social media platforms present. For example, if you land on one of the comparison pages, the offering isn’t so compelling: the reason to install the Facebook app is just “Share this”.

As I’ve written before, technology is a tool, not a strategy, so here are some other opportunities that might be explored:

  1. Publish your school’s scores to Facebook graphically, not just the generic link. Images work particularly well in news feeds, and would be much better than the dry list of names that is generated by the ‘Share this’ button.
  2. Turn conventional news values on their head: be positive. This is a curious one: positive headlines seem to get shared more on social media, so could users celebrate their school’s ratings as much as bemoan them? Could they generate a virtual report card with a ‘Try harder!’ line? Imagine a Facebook editor who asks “Where can we put the exclamation mark?” Yes, I know, it makes me feel uncomfortable too – but I also hear Yoda’s voice saying “You must unlearn what you have learned…”
  3. Build on where they’ve come from: if a friend has used the app to send them to a comparison page, can you build on that in the way you invite the user to connect through Facebook? Could they add something to what the friend has done, and correspond back and forth?
  4. A Facebook-based quiz which sees how well you guess where your school rates on different scales. Perhaps you could compete against your current or former classmates…
  5. A campaigning tool that would allow people to use data on their local school to petition for more support –
  6. Or a collaboration tool to help parents and students raise money, or organise provision.

Competition, fun, campaigning, conversation, collaborating – those are genuinely social applications of technology. It would be interesting to start a discussion about what else might suit a news app’s integration with Facebook. Any ideas?

5 tips on data journalism projects from ProPublica

A few months ago I heard ProPublica’s Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson speak at the Digital Editors Network Data Meet, giving their advice on data journalism projects. I thought I might publish notes of five tips they had here for the record:

1. Three-quarters of the top 10 stories on the site were news apps

Online applications prove very popular with users – but they are more often a landing page for further exploration via stories.

2. When you publish your story, ask for data

Publication is not the end of the process. If you invite users to submit their own information, it can lead to follow-ups and useful contacts.

3. Have both quantitative and qualitative fields in your forms

In other words, ask for basic details such as location, age, etc. but also ask for ‘their story’ if they have one.

4. Aim for a maximum of 12 questions

That seems to be the limit that people will realistically respond to. Use radio buttons and dropdown menus to make it easier for people to complete. At the end, ask whether it is okay for the organisation to contact them to ensure you’re meeting data protection regulations.

5. Share data left over from your investigation

Just because you didn’t use it doesn’t mean someone else can’t find something interesting in it.

FAQ: What do you see in the future for investigative journalism?

Here’s another collection of questions from a University of Montana student that I’m answering here as part of my FAQ section:

Q: What do you see is the future for investigative journalism? Do you still see it as having a home at newspapers?

I think the future of investigative journalism is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed,as William Gibson would say. Nonprofit organisations (such as Amnesty or Human Rights Watch) are an increasingly significant source of investigative journalism. Then there are the more general investigative journalism operations, funded by foundations and donations, such as ProPublica. Crowdfunding projects such as Spot.us are going to be increasingly important. And then there are crowdsourcing operations such as those done by Talking Points Memo and, of course, my own project Help Me Investigate. Continue reading

Use a crowd, gain an expert

Karthika Muthukumaraswamy on how crowdsourcing experiments in journalism need to learn from their commercial counterparts – and how the end results could bring financial rewards for everyone.

The crowd has done a great deal for journalism: it has counted the number of SUVs on the streets of New York City, determined Bill Clinton’s financial impact on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and offered valuable suggestions to transform an impoverished Ugandan village.

Ever since journalism jumped on the crowdsourcing bandwagon following innovative business models in T-shirt designing and problem solving, it has been baffled by the intensity of crowd response. Consequently, the media’s implementation of it has lacked the selection process that is essential to use crowdsourcing to its fullest potential.

There are only so many T-shirts that Threadless can make and sell; there are only so many solutions to Innocentive’s complex problems; and there are only so many photographs that iStockphoto consumers will purchase. Continue reading