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Data Journalism

The Week In Data

This week we pick our favourites from the recently announced nominees for the Data Journalism Awards, nine examples of data-driven journalism at its finest.

by Paule d'Atha On May 14, 2012

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À propos de l'auteur

Paule d'Atha désigne l'équipe des journalistes de données d'Owni : Julien Goetz, Sylvain Lapoix et Nicolas Patte. Twitter @pdatha.


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At the recent International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, the list of 57 nominees for the Data Journalism Awards was unveiled. The eminent jury for the award, chaired by ProPublica founder Paul Steiger and featuring #DDJ forerunners such as Wolfgang Blau (Zeit Online) and Aron Pilhofer (New York Times), has the tough task of selecting six winners from the more than 300 entries from around the world. The results will be announced on May 31 during the News World Summit in Paris. Organised by the Global Editors Network (with support from Google) and the European Journalism Centre (EJC), the competition covers three categories: data-driven investigative journalism; data visualisation and storytelling; and data-driven applications (mobile or web). Each category contains three prizes – first prize in each will earn the winner €7,500.

While according to the 57 nominees all the credit they deserve for their efforts in advancing the science, the Week In Data team decided to present a selection of the nominated projects that we feel best chime with our own conception of data journalism. Of course we encourage all our dear readers to journey through the maze of projects themselves, for their own enjoyment.

Enjoy below, then, the nine projects that made the biggest impression on us.

Ich bin ein Berliner

Satisfying the curiosity of germanophone politics nerds everywhere, The 149 Members of the 17th Berlin Parliament is a map created by the Berliner Morgenpost that allows the user to poke about the federal parliament in Berlin, virtually meeting its 149 tenants. Working off a database hosted in an online Google spreadsheet (a method we use a lot here at OWNI), the application allows you to filter by party, district, committee, origin, occupation or gender. The end result of this simple idea is readable and user friendly, a real success.

Open cop shop

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, certain cops (about 5% of the police force) have been disciplined for breaking the law. Many were for driving while intoxicated or without license plates, others for sexual or physical assaults. All this data being public, the (multi-Pulitzer winning) Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decided to crank out this little application. Fans of detective shows will find all their favourite ingredients: mug-shot of the offender; classification of the culprit according to offence; investigation documents cleared to be published; and the terms of their suspension. Or their acquittal, Wisconsin being a state like any other.

Staying with sirens – fans of the legendary Sim City and its colorimetric 3D maps will be drawn to the site (or is it an application?) devised by students from the investigative journalism workshop of the University of Halifax, Canada. Here we have a fine example of participative public data: the 130,000 phone calls received each year by local police, from traffic control to the most horrible crimes. The maps display, zone by zone, both the crimes and the response times of the authorities, while graphics make comprehensible the various obligations incumbent on the police depending on the time of day or night. As a result, citizens can get a clearer idea of the work done by their law and order services. Open data applications such as this are the reason why today so many people around the world are arguing for absolute transparency of public data: to identify issues, gather responses, and improve our daily lives.

Waiter, the bill please

Another central mission of data journalism is to offer citizens a simple way to perform complex tasks. That mission is perfectly fulfilled by the Finnish project Verokuitti Tax Receipt. Spend five minutes in the shoes of a native Helsinkien, by entering your monthly income in euros and clicking “Print tax receipt”. At a glance, you can then see how much you would contribute in taxes to the Finnish state, and to the head of state specifically; to the expansion of the metro system; and the interest on sovereign debt. In short, a real gold mine and a guarantee of democratic transparency. It feels good, just thinking about it.

Documenting Siberian traffic accidents

While obviously the application Pedestrian accidents in Novosibirsk in 2011 (via Google translate) is not so fun, it still shares the same spirit of repurposing public data in service to the wider community. Again based on a shared database, the map allows any user to examine every pedestrian accident that occurred in Siberia’s largest city in the past year. The application reports the exact location of the accident, the parties involved (driver and pedestrian) and injuries, and allows the user to filter according to the month (upper strip) and the type of incident.

Man know thyself…

Faced with the inexorable ageing of the population, the application Visualising Our Future Selves has a go at predicting what we will become. Thanks to the work of News21 in the areas of demographics, health and the economy, one can anticipate the future and see where you stand in relation to others with regard to several criteria (age, sex, race – in the sociological sense used in the US – and finance). Here again we have widely available yet difficult to grasp data being presented in a clear, beautiful and interactive manner.

…then thou shalt know the Universe…

Insults, abuse, violence. The daily lot of journalists attempting to practice their trade in Afghanistan. Highlighting a scourge which has been increasingly prevalent in the last 10 years, the team at Nai MediaWatch compiled a dramatic map of 266 such incidents that have included the death of 22 people to date. Note bene: all the data on the site is downloadable and reusable.

…and God

Our absolute favourite find of the week is the wonderful application 2011 Brazil State-Level Business Environment Ranking (Flash), a comprehensive and exemplarily clear statistical dashboard of the situation in the country of Brazil. Based on 32 pages of methodology (in Portuguese, we’ll leave you the honour of reading through it all), this remarkable overview is essentially flawless, and ought to be quickly copied by newsrooms around the world.

Profiles

Rounding off our selection, Known to police is a video made by the Toronto Star criticising the systematic documenting of citizens for inclusion in police databases, ostensibly to improve criminal investigations. In gathering the information, it appears that some citizens are stopped on the streets more often than others. Just down to random chance?

We’ll no doubt find some of these projects rewarded in Paris at the end of May. Built around the substantial increase in open data worldwide over the last twelve months, the very notion of data journalism continues to progress, aided by this type of recognition. While we still don’t know if #DDJ represents an economic engine in media evolution or just an expensive toy in the transformational chain, the subject has at least the merit of gathering together motivational strength in the most inventive communities.

Notwithstanding the uncertainties and questions related to the future of media, we’ll enjoy the cool breeze blown by this discipline of data journalism, as a hermeneutic of a new world.


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