Tuesday Newsday: Data News Sites

Data journalism, news apps, open government data. In this age of Anonymous, Wikileaks, and proactive sources publishing freely available data, it is becoming critical that we have journalists and developers working together to make sense of it all and understand how it affects us.

Today there are a growing number of news outlets doing a fantastic job of both publishing data and creating interactions and visualizations to make sense of it. I wanted to showcase a handful of those sites so that people can understand why this type of journalism is important and how it works. And maybe even how to get involved if it’s of interest to you.



There is no shortage of people providing data sets today, the only thing to learn is how to narrow it down to the most useful one for you.

Fingal Open Data is doing a nice job in Ireland encouraging councils to open up their data. Their site http://data.fingal.ie/ provides data in CSV, XML and KML formats, and they’re currently running a competition for people to build useful apps given the available data.

Additionally in Ireland, sites like Gavin Sheridan’s The Story and John Handelaar’s Kildare Street are excellent resources for presenting data but also learning more about the types of data available in Ireland

I mentioned The Guardian’s Data Blog in a recent post about news developer blogs as a great example of community building. But clearly it is also one of the best sources in the UK for a wide range of freely available data sets. For each set of data they post, they offer a download of the data and recommend that if you do anything with it, you post it to their Flickr group. They often have additional visualizations and comparisons as well.

Example of data provided by The Guardian Data Blog


There are loads of additional resources for finding data, the trick is knowing how to search for the information you need. Sites like ScraperWiki (https://scraperwiki.com/), DataSift (http://datasift.com/), The World Bank (http://data.worldbank.org/),   BuzzData (http://buzzdata.com/) and more sites are growing and becoming available to the public for research and data mining.



It’s no coincidence that a lot of my news app examples have shown up in prior blog posts – there are some organizations who are very seriously ahead of the pack in terms of understanding how news and technology work together. On one hand I am delighted to have bright minds like these folks paving the way! On the other hand, it makes me a little depressed when I realize that Ireland is nowhere near this level of thinking.

NPR’s StateImpact (http://stateimpact.npr.org/) is a collaboration among NPR and local public radio stations in eight pilot states to examine public policy issues in depth. They provide explanatory, data-driven stories focused on how people’s lives are affected by government decisions.

NPR's StateImpact

The New York Times definitely has a well-respected team of interactive news developers and infographic designers. However it’s not always very easy to find them on their site. The Multimedia page is the best resource I’ve found for taking a look at cool interactive apps and images they create, but Small labs Inc has also put together a nice collection here: http://www.smallmeans.com/new-york-times-infographics/

NY Times Multimedia / Photos page

The Chicago Tribune has some of the busiest & best news app builders in the United States today and they are constantly kicking out new, interesting information in nice visual formats. Check out their site which has apps in many areas including community, schools, business, politics and more.

Chicago Tribune Maps & Apps

ProPublica creates not only fantastic interactive news applications like Dollars for Docs (which I referenced in my Quantified Self talk on skin problems), they also create excellent reusable tools like DocDiver that allow readers to work with the ProPublica reporters.

ProPublica Tools & Data



To learn more about data journalism, here are a few useful sites to check out and blogs to follow:

The Data Journalism Handbook: a work-in-progress coordinated by the European Journalism Centre & the Open Knowledge Foundation launched at the Mozilla Festival in London on November 5th 2011.

Data Journalism Blog: http://www.datajournalismblog.com/

Hacks/Hackers: http://hackshackers.com A grassroots journalism organization on a mission to create a network of journalists and technologists who rethink the future of news and information.

ProPublica’s Dan Nguyen’s Scraping for Journalism: A Guide for Collecting Data http://www.propublica.org/nerds/item/doc-dollars-guides-collecting-the-data – a great introduction to how to grab data that is in maybe less-than-optimal formats.

Also from Dan Nguyen, The Bastards Book of Ruby http://ruby.bastardsbook.com/ – an introduction to programming and its practical uses for journalists, researchers, scientists, analysts and anyone else who needs to make sense of data.

At the Society of News Design conference earlier this year, I went to some excellent talks by newsroom app developers who recommended that if you are thinking of going into this area, you need to know either Ruby on Rails or Django/Python, as those seem to be the dominant requested skills for news apps. I also liked this article recently on Poynter about using Backbone to create data news apps: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/147605/how-journalists-can-use-backbone-to-create-data-driven-projects/. You don’t need to know everything, just pick one and start creating projects.


And lastly, from the perfect timing department, here’s Matt Stiles, who is a data journalist from NPR, talking very recently about best practices in building news apps:

Data Best Practices from StateImpact on Vimeo.