Sophisticated data journalism tools are giving local reporters a way to dig deep into community records and uncover powerful stories that have never been told before.
Some of the most groundbreaking stories in local news were brought to light thanks to big data. Now, with many of the top data journalism tools available for free online, reporters are finding new ways to access information and use raw data to create interactive charts. Pushing the limits of creativity, local reporters are changing the way community news stories are told on the web.
Here are seven of the most interesting data journalism tools being used in local newsrooms today.
The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting’s online database is a must-visit website for any local reporter. Searching through the databases maintained by NICAR, local journalists can find countless potential story ideas. Reporters can search by city or county name, or scroll through databases like the U.S. Recreational Boat Accident Database, the DOT Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Federal Campaign Contributions, or the National Bridge Inventory on the hunt for potential stories. Most databases accessed through NICAR are available to purchase, with record layouts available, as well as code sheets.
Datawrapper is an open-source tool that offers a straightforward way for local reporters to create understandable charts. With data serving as the foundation to comprehend complex issues, Datawrapper fills a niche with its ability to generate charts that are interactive, responsive, and embeddable on any website. More importantly, Datawrapper’s charts can be generated without a reporter or editor needing to have any coding or design skills. Reporters just upload their CSV files, or data from Excel or Google Sheets, into Datawrapper, they choose a chart and map type, then they publish the chart. Datawrapper is used by publications like the New York Times, NPR, and Bloomberg.
Statista is a portal of research and studies that local journalists can use for data visualization projects. Reporters working for community news outlets can start by typing in the name of their city and seeing which reports pop up. For example, enter “Provo, Utah” and you’ll quickly find data reports on the major retailers of electricity in Utah, the lowest c-section rates at major hospitals, and domestic airports in the U.S. with the lowest airfare. Any of these reports could serve as a jumping off point for an article. All access accounts on Statista start at $588 per year.
Import.io turns data from any website into a structured format or API, which can then be used to generate interactive data visualizations. In layman’s terms, that means a journalist could find the data he or she needs from the US Census Bureau website or HealthData.gov and then funnel that information into Import.io. Import.io would then automatically create an API based on the data. That API could be used to create an interactive chart or a map that would go along with the reporter’s story on the web. Import.io offers special pricing for journalists and other non-profit organizations.
Previously known as Google Refine, OpenRefine is one of the data journalism tools that doesn’t require users to have coding skills in order to manipulate large data sets. OpenRefine is similar to Microsoft Excel, but with a few key differences that make it more accessible to the journalism community. OpenRefine “cleans” data to remove duplicate values. It can be used to help editors merge copied sets of data or check for inconsistencies. OpenRefine is open source and free to use.
6. Open States
Local reporters on the political beat will want to check out Open States to keep tabs on what the politicians in their areas are up to. A collection of tools for tracking what’s happening in state capitol’s around the country, Open States aggregates information and offers a way for reporters to quickly bring up recent votes for the legislators representing their communities. Open States also offers up information about upcoming legislation. Bill, legislator, committee, and event data on Open States comes from official websites for state legislatures, clearly linked at the bottom of each page for easy sourcing. The site is free to use.
7. Talend Studio
Talend Studio is software that journalists can use to build extract, transform, and load, or ETL, processes. Editors can use graphical tools to map big data sources, then generate code automatically. Talend Studio speeds up the process of reading data and converting it into the selected format, before rewriting it for a new database, based on whichever rules a user sets. Like many of the other tools on this list, Talend Studio is free and open source.