News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Data Visualization

June 17, 2010

Is Data Viz Knight’s New Killer App?

Data visualization appears to be the new darling the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, judging from the new batch of Knight News Challenge winners named June 16 at the Future of News and Civic Media conference at MIT in Cambridge, MA.

Knight called data visualization “one of the most promising new areas of digital journalism,” as it handed out $2.74 million in the fourth round of the five-year award program, including several six-figure grants to data visualization proposals. Here are some of the winners…

  • Citytracking: This San Francisco-based project of Stamen Design (creators of Oakland Crimespotting) will get $400,000 (the biggest prize this year) to create embeddable data visualizations of municipal data.
  • The Cartoonist: An Atlanta-based venture by videogame designer Ian Bosog, was awarded $378,000 to develop a free tool to create cartoon-like current event games.
  • GoMap Riga: This Latvian initiative will receive $250,000 to develop a live user-generated online news map.
  • Tilemapping: This Washington DC-based hyperlocal map tool project will get $74,000.

Knight awarded grants to a dozen projects in total.  Some are designed to explore new funding mechanisms. For instance, a recent j-school grad from Chicago will get $250,000 to develop NowSpot, a real-time ad building tool using social media content. Another team will get $75,000 to pilot a Spot.us-style story development and crowdfunding project in Kentucky (with media partner Louisville Public Media).

Other grantees will build and test new reader engagement tools. A $350,000 award will go to the San Francisco developers of LocalWiki, project to create a toolset for community wikis. And Arizona State’s CitySeed project will get $90,000 to develop an app to geotag story ideas which others can then debate and act upon.

Other winning projects include virtual collaborative video editing, a “pro-am” reporting project with US Marines in Afghanistan, the rollout of a hyperlocal news model in Vermont, and an open courtroom reporting project in Boston.

Here’s the full list of the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners, with details about their projects. You can also watch video of the announcement, including a lightning round of presentations by the grantees. More coverage can also be found on the PBS IdeaLab blog. Through June 18, follow the rest of the conference via the Twitter hashtag #fncm.

Learn more about the five-year history of the Knight News Challenge. On June 16, the Knight Foundation published a comprehensive report about this program.

Yesterday, Knight also announced that former MacArthur Foundation executive John Bracken will be the new News Challenge director. He’s taking over for Gary Kebbel, who is moving on to become dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln).

The News Challenge announcement was just one part of the first day of the three-day MIT gathering, which brings together past and present grantees with other news and technology experts. A plenary discussion on “crowdbuilding,” (or “collaborative co-production”) featured anthropologist Gabriella Coleman, who studied open-source communities and who emphasized the value of ethically stable communities with select, committed participants. Also speaking at this session was Harvard Business School professor Karim Lakhani, who stressed the value of unique rewards to drive community participation.

The first day of the conference wrapped with the first of many project demos from the MIT Center for Future Civic Media. Watch for additional coverage this week.

September 01, 2010

OpenBlock launches demo site for Boston

On Aug. 26, the OpenBlock project launched its first demo site, serving the Boston area in partnership with the Boston Globe.

This project is the open-source successor to EveryBlock, a Knight News Challenge-funded project that was acquired by MSNBC one year ago. OpenBlock is “an open-source software initiative to bring hyperlocal news and data capabilities to news organizations of all sizes.”

Here’s how this project could benefit all news organizations…

OpenPlans (a nonprofit technology organization focused on civic engagement and open government) is developing OpenBlock. In June, Information Today reported: “Now, through three interrelated Knight-funded projects, OpenPlans is, according to Nick Grossman (the company’s director of civic works) aiming to ‘take [EveryBlock’s] source code and make it better and easier to use, so that other online news organizations can build similar sites in their towns.’”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded its OpenBlock Initiative through three grants totaling $458,625, to:

  • “Streamline and extend the EveryBlock code base and build a community of open source software developers and newspapers who can use and improve the software.”
  • “Install and test OpenBlock at The Columbia Tribune (Columbia, MO), and add new features in the context of a smaller newspaper.”
  • “Install and test OpenBlock at The Boston Globe, to add new features in the context of a larger newspaper.”

The Boston OpenBlock demo site is fairly minimal so far. The OpenBlock Project blog says that there are “plenty of known rough spots. The home page map doesn’t have popups yet, the theme could use work, and there are some broken pages. And there are no maps on pages other than the front page.”

News organizations of all sizes should keep an eye on this project, explore the test sites as they develop, and offer input to the development team. Such participation will help make make OpenBlock a more useful, practical tool for news organizations. And perhaps a lucrative tool, as well—OpenBlock is an example of a structured information service that could support the news business model through new kinds of data-supported products.

January 21, 2011

US Census upgrades American FactFinder tool, new data coming soon

Many journalists have long relied on the US Census’ American FactFinder online tool to analyze Census data. This week, that tool received a major facelift—and it soon will be populated with data from the 2010 Census…

The new American FactFinder features more ways to search, and more ways to manipulate tables and map data.

Table-related upgrades:

  • Customize table views
  • Sort and filter columns of a table
  • Transpose rows and columns
  • Save customized table


Map-related upgrades:

  • Select geographies from the map
  • Create maps from a table
  • Place labels and markers on maps
  • Download maps as PDFs


Coming soon:

  • Transpose rows and columns
  • Bookmark, download, and save/restore query


Take a virtual tour and read tutorials.

There’s also a guide to building deep links into American FactFinder. If you have existing links to data in the old FactFinder, the Census site warns: “The current American FactFinder will be discontinued in the Fall of 2011. At that time, any deep links into the discontinued system will no longer work.

Data from the American Community Survey, the Economic Census, and Population Estimates will be moved to the new American FactFinder “in the coming months,” says the Census site. For now, you can access that data via the existing FactFinder interface.

February 15, 2011

The booming data business: Report, conference explore emerging options

News organizations generally don’t think of themselves as data companies, but they are—or at least, most have the potential to develop this business alongside their news and other offerings. A new report and upcoming event from Giga Om could help news orgs figure out where data opportunities might lie, and how to capitalize on them…

>The report Big Data (available to Giga Om Pro subscribers, 7 day free trial) covers the equipment and systems needed to store and manage large databases—or especially complex ones, as might be generated from a content management system and archive of decades’ worth of news stories, or from the web analytics for a complex, dynamic site.

Better data management tools can help journalists and editors analyze or visualize complex issues, especially those buried in unstructured information. It can make your publishing efforts more scalable. And—perhaps most importantly to the news business—it can support advertisers through data, analysis, and services.

These topics and more will be discussed at GigaOm’s March 23 event in New York City, Structure: Big Data 2011. One theme of particular interest to news publishers is how businesses are spinning out separate companies built around their data. The conference is mainly geared toward CIOs and technologists, but news publishers and technology managers might gain strategic insight here.

November 01, 2011

New tool compares Presidential candidates’ fundraising

The U.S. Presidential election is just one year away, and candidates are in high gear for fundraising. News organizations looking to cover the role of money in this election have a new tool from OpenSecrets.org.

OpenSecrets.org, part of the Center for Responsive Politics, last week launched a new Fundraising Over Time tool…

This web app lets users compare the fundraising efforts of individual candidates in a specific time range: by day, week or month. The resulting charts may be used in commercial news outlets with permission from CRP.

The Investigative News Network explained: “For example, by inputting Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain, users can see that while Bachmann raised for more in June, Cain was the frontrunner in September. The site also has an interactive map of the United States that allows users to hover over their state to get quick stats, or click for a more detailed breakdown of how much money candidates are getting from their state.”

This is one of several new interactive features for the OpenSecrets project Banking on Becoming President.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

January 16, 2012

Data journalism: New Guardian e-book, news dataviz examples

Data journalism is a useful set of skills for journalists who seeks a challenge or expanded career options. And some of the most skilled practitioners in data journalism work at The Guardian.

Recently Simon Rogers of the Guardian distilled some key data journalism how-to tips and big-picture insights into a short e-book. A few highlights…

In his introduction to Facts are Sacred: The Power of Data (Kindle edition, $3.99), Rogers observed:

“This is more than a collection of stories; almost a manifesto for a new way of seeing things. In the past two years, data journalism has become our industry standard, our way of telling the big stories.

“It’s not just about reporting and news organizations—data has become the hope for companies across the world, a potential source of revenue, either in exploiting it or helping others analyze it. The divisions between what we do in the media and what happens out there in the rest of the world are breaking down—and data has played a huge part in that.”

10 lessons from this book:

  • Data journalism may be trendy, but it’s not new.
  • Open data means open data journalism.
  • Has data journalism become curation?
  • Bigger datasets, smaller things.
  • Data journalism is 80% perspiration, 10% great idea, 10% output.
  • Long- and short-form data journalism.
  • Anyone can do it…
  • ...but looks can be everything (design).
  • You don’t have to be a programmer.
  • It’s (still) all about stories.


Meanwhile, Placeblogger.com founder and media geek Lisa Williams has posted an editable online spreadsheet listing examples of data visualization projects for news. Feel free to add more examples.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

June 05, 2012

Knight invests in startup Umbel for better audience metrics

Who are your reaching with your news and information? Are you reaching who you want to reach? How can you convey this important data effectively to advertisers and funders? These are crucial questions for any for-profit or nonprofit publisher, large or small—especially community and niche media outlets.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced an investment in Umbel, a startup which aims to provide real-time audience information enhanced with data visualization…

According to Knight, Umbel “marries traditional research and big data analysis of social sources to give publishers real-time intelligence about the audiences that engage with them. With this information in hand, Umbel empowers publishers to convey their audience’s true value and brand preferences more effectively to advertisers and sponsors.”

Knight invested an undisclosed amount in Umbel’s $3.7 million Series A round of venture financing. This was done through the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund—a new, early-stage venture fund dedicated to advancing media innovation.

Of course, one problem with using audience data as a sales tool is that it’s often boring and ugly—packaged in tables, bar charts, spreadsheets, or bullet points almost guaranteed to put an advertiser or funder to sleep. Also, only looking at the numbers can sometimes obscure the nuanced patterns of how audiences engage with publishers.

So far Umbel’s system is available only in private beta testing, so there aren’t many details on it. However, Umbel’s about page explains the key role data visualization plays in its system, and also shows an example graphic:

“In 1995 the first living organism’s genome was sequenced… The ability to identify and measure the traits of a genome provides insights to better understand organisms and powers the invention of new solutions that benefit us all. In 2011, Umbel sequenced the first Digital Genome. Measuring and identifying the traits of a digital organism will prove valuable for digital consumers, brands and publishers who want to understand and improve digital lives.”

Understanding patterns in media consumption and audience engagement is getting increasingly complex—especially as mobile devices are starting to take over as the most common way that people access the internet.

One especially thorny issue is recognizing how users shift their experience of your content across multiple devices over the course of a day or a week. A given user may tend to use a smartphone at certain times, a tablet at others, and a laptop or desktop computer at others.

Also, beyond merely consuming content, audience members can share it with their networks, add commentary or context, or directly engage with publishers about the content.

Understanding these and other patterns can help publishers craft strategies that keep pace with the needs and preferences of their digital (and increasingly mobile and multi-device) audiences—and craft advertising and sponsorship options that demonstrably complement how your audience engages with your content.

It’s unclear at this point how much Umbel might be taking mobile media or multi-device users into account. Gathering such data poses special technical challenges, compared to gathering data from how people access websites via computer. However, if Umbel’s data visualizations serve to more clearly illuminate important usage patterns, that would be a significant improvement upon the output of most audience metrics currently available.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

July 25, 2012

Civic Data Challenge: Apply by July 29

The Civic Data Challenge, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, seeks to turn existing data on civic/community issues, health, safety, education, and the economy into beautiful, useful applications and visualizations…

Participants will choose datasets provided by the Challenge, and analyze them in conjunction with at least one additional dataset. They will identify connections and correlations and create visual representations and interactive products to showcase their findings. These may include infographics, apps, animations, videos, or other products.

Learn more and enter now.

Deadline: July 29, 11:59 pm EST on July 29.

On Twitter, follow @CivicData.

Winners will be notified in mid-August and publicly announced at the 67th Annual National Conference on Citizenship. (Sept. 14, Philadelphia)

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.