Data journalism has taken off over the past few years as a way to present news and events in more creative ways. Information that was once difficult to break down for the reader (e.g. census data) has now found a life beyond the spreadsheet.
Here are five pretty sweet news experiments in data journalism. If this inspires you, you can find links to more resources and tools about data journalism at the end of this post.
The New York Times: “Mapping America: Every City, Every Block”
If you haven't yet played with the New York Times' census map, take five minutes and check it out. The maps use colors to illustrate the census data, demonstrating the distribution of race/ethnicity, income, education and housing in America. A post on O'Reilly Radar explains how the graphic uses a simple, smooth design, using a Google maps overlay.
The New York Times has been known for its nifty interactive data charts (another favorite: “How Different Groups Spend Their Day”). The Times has mastered how to create stunning and sharable graphics.
The Guardian's Data Blog
It's hard to talk about data journalism without mentioning The Guardian, which has made a huge push with data on its Data Blog. The blog recently posted a round-up of its data journalism from the last two years. In December, The Guardian launched a page devoted to bringing together data from its own sites and outside sources.
The Guardian's charts are sometimes very simple and other times interactive. They can serve as standalone graphics or complement a news story, usually relying on data curated from various sources. The best part is, they use mostly free tools, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab.
New Scientist: “One year on: Haiti's quake in context”
Aldhous explained in detail his process of creating the multimedia project to ReadWriteWeb. The resulting project proves how words and numbers sometimes don't tell the story as well as pictures.
The Texas Tribune: Data Pages
Local news outlets have long been valued for uncovering large chunks of local information — which is now a lot less boring thanks to data journalism. For instance, The Texas Tribune's data pages compile all sorts of data for the public interest, such as an interactive database of campaign finance reports and a map application exploring inmates in Texas. Curious about Texas government salaries? You can browse or search the government salary database.
The Texas Tribune launched in 2009 as an online-only news source that focuses heavily on databases in its coverage. The move proved successful for The Tribune's traffic: In the first six months, the site's databases accounted for more than a third of the Tribune's more than 5 million pageviews.
Presenting existing data and research in compelling ways is one important use for data journalism. But what about the untapped opportunities to create data? Crowdsourcing and aggregation is the next step for data journalism, which will only get cooler as digital tools expand.
MSNBC's EveryBlock is a rough sketch of the future. The site covers 16 American cities, collecting the news and other civic happenings in each neighborhood, calling itself a “geographic filter — a 'news feed' for your neighborhood.” For instance, you can find building permit and restaurant inspection information. It also compiles user-generated content from sites such as Flickr and Yelp.
While EveryBlock brushes the surface of user-generated content, crowdsourcing to create data journalism is an untapped opportunity. Though it's not exactly a traditional journalism example, Poynter pointed out how a website like PriceOfWeed.com uses crowd-sourcing to fill an information gap. Could publishers take some tips about data journalism from stoners? Maybe.