Data as journalism

Data should be a driving force in online journalism, writes Rich Gordon of Northwestern in a post for the Readership Institute. In his view, the Gannett newspapers are leading the way thanks to the company’s restructuring of its newsrooms into converged “information centers.” Why data?

  • Data is “evergreen” content. Its value to users does not end after 24 hours.
  • Data can be personal. What’s more relevant to someone than, say, reported crimes in their neighborhood, or nearby property assessments?
  • Data can best be delivered in a medium without space constraints. The most valuable databases (say, property assessments or state employee salaries) contain too much information to publish in print. And even when print publishing is practical (say, listing real estate transactions in zoned editions), the data will be much more valuable if they are accessible and searchable at the user’s convenience.
  • Data takes advantage of the way people actually use the Web.It’s a medium for active behavior — for instance, research and interaction — not passive activity like reading or viewing.
  • Data, once gathered, can be excerpted in print. Once you’ve done the work of acquiring, formatting and enabling online access to data, it is easy to pull information from the database for traditional publications.

Gordon is particularly impressed with the Indianapolis Star’s “data central,” where the paper houses searchable databases on everything from property taxes to public safety, from education to sports.

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Advice to young journalists

One of the most creative minds in online journalism belongs to a guy named Rob Curley, now with Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. He’s been called an Internet pioneer, but he’s pretty old-fashioned when it comes to his message to young journalists.

Be able to write and report your ass off, and have a great mindset when it comes to how we might need to tell those stories — regardless of the current technology or methods of distribution. I believe in my heart that the key to being a successful journalist now (and in 25 years) will rest in a reporter’s ability to write well.

On his personal blog, Curley says his biggest problem with a lot of young journalists is that “so many of them have the crappiest attitudes on the planet.” He calls them “closed minded,” showing a disdain for new media that doesn’t make sense. Mind you, he’s talking mainly about print journalism grads, but he’s making an important point. Attitude counts for a lot–not just your work ethic but your openness to trying new things. Something to keep in mind.