Local News Needs to Embrace Data to Survive

Journalism.co.uk have been publishing some essential reading on the theme of data journalism.

Catalina Albeanu’s podcast last week looked at how data journalism is still generally considered to be a rarified skill, and how a cultural change is needed in order to get the smallest newsrooms on board.

Albeanu’s guests, Megan Lucero, from The Times and Sunday Times and Tom Felle, journalism lecturer at City University London, agreed that minimal training is required to gain the basic skill set needed to get started with understanding and manipulating data sets. Lucero says that data should be treated as any other source which leads to a story and journalists should be careful not to manipulate the data to fit a story. Felle thinks local journalists who aren’t engaging with data are missing out on a key source which can help to foster engagement with the local community. He points to local authority published figures such as crime stats, fly tipping, environmental data, road traffic accidents, educational results, health and child care reports which can provide the local stories communities really want to know about.

In a separate article for Journalism.co.uk Caroline Scott looks at Solomon Dashboard a new, free web application which has local journalists in mind. The budget for the project was partly funded by Leeds City Council, and they have been the first to adopt the tool for creating The Leeds City Dashboard which publishes data on car parking, bicycle bays, football results and house prices amongst weather reports and statutory notices.

Solomon is currently in Beta and has the feel of a project which will evolve, but Scott has also been looking at Urbs.London, which was launched during summer 2015, and is somewhat further down the line as a fully fledged local data platform with a following of over 22,500 people, and 300 published articles.

Speaking from the Hyperlocal Data Journalism conference in Preston, journalist and co-founder Gary Rogers explained that the project was started as something of a personal challenge for himself and partner Alan Renwick to see if they could run a publication just based on data. They believe that there is a disconnect between the influence of technology on the publication and distribution of news, and the way it has yet to revolutionise news gathering.

The publication uses the London Datastore as a primary source for news gathering. The Datastore project is run by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and provides high quality explorable data sets over an expansive range of topics. Urb.London see themselves as a kind of data broker, mining data sets, and turning singular data sources into multiple stories for consumption by their readers.

In order to make the data as simplified as possible, all stories on Urbs.London are under 400 words, and link back to the original data for verification and authenticity. “We were trying to build an interlocking picture of little stories which gave you the bigger whole,” said Rogers. “One story wouldn’t do it, but if you read four of them, you would get a bigger picture, so it is about linking and connecting all the way through. It sounds ambitious, but if you start with small building blocks, the Lego clicks together and you begin to get insights from looking at one thing to the other.”