03 December 2008

Data Lessons For Newsrooms

Tips for creating successful data projects have been published by a former interactivity editor with latimes.com.

Eric Ulken worked on a number of innovative data-based initiatives with the LA Times, including The Homicide Map, and he is now sharing the benefit of his experiences in an article for Online Journalism Review.

He writes: “In this post, I’ll try to squeeze some wisdom out of the lessons we learned in the process of assembling the Times’ Data Desk, a cross-functional team of journalists responsible for collecting, analysing and presenting data online and in print.”

And here are six of the suggestions from his “10 pieces of advice for those of you building or looking to build a data team in your newsroom”:

1 – Seek Enthusiasts

Ulken recommends that newsrooms “find the believers” when assembling a team to head up data projects.

“You’ll likely discover enthusiasts and experts in places you didn’t expect … we found eager partners on the paper’s graphics staff … we also found people on the tech side with a good news sense who intuitively understood what we were trying to do.”

2 – Learn New Tricks

Since few but the biggest newsrooms have the required funds these days to bring in technical experts, Ulken suggests it’s time to work with what you’ve got and “train and nurture your enthusiasts”.

3 – Reusable Only

“The goal of all this is to be able to roll out projects rapidly, so you need templates, code snippets, Flash components, widgets, etc., that you can get at, customise and turn around quickly.”

4 – Look Outside For Tech Solutions

According to Ulken, IT departments have a tendency to think “big-picture product roadmaps with lots of moving pieces”.

This might not be quite in line with hopes for a quick and customisable template, and he points out the various database tools used by the LA Times – such as Django and Caspio.

5 – Work With Breaking News

“Often it’s the quick-turnaround stuff that has the biggest immediate effect.”

As an example, Ulken highlights his website’s database of fatalities from a train crash earlier this year where journalists were inputting information shortly after receiving it.

6 – Share The Wealth

Since data projects can take up a lot of time and resources, Ulken says it’s important to try to reverse-publish any valuable parts or share them with broadcast counterparts within the newsroom.

Ulken recently left the LA Times to travel the world looking at different ways that news providers are using web platforms.

Follow his progress and read his findings on his blog – ulken.com.

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At 5/12/08 6:50 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard that many newspapers use Caspio for data collection, but these organizations should consider www.HostedDatabase.com which has unlimited databases and more cost-effective pricing.


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