Web designer. Information architect. Developer. User experience editor. Whatever the title, the need is growing for talented people who understand the presentation and collection of data. Some journalism background helps — newsrooms have their own pacing, vocabularies and personality. We are doing
decent work on homicides and shootings and this weekend we went live with a
new analysis of bridge safety data (do you really want to drive over the
bridge rated 3 out of 100?). For 10 years we’ve been doing a school report card for the region.
As good as these are, each project could be much
better. (A significant point on the bridge data is that this is the information the State of Pennsylvania did not want to release. Officials still haven’t released it, but the Inquirer was able to obtain it and we wasted no time getting it to the public.) We are already talking about ways to improve the presentation of the bridge data, by adding 1. a way to save or share the information on a bridge or group of bridges, 2. a way to search by major route, 3. a way to search for the structurally deficient bridges that we did not include on the first list, either because they are in the parts of PA and NJ outside our
eight counties or because they carry fewer vehicles than the cutoff level we used.
We are about to redesign and
rework the entire school report card, to make it much easier for our audience and to include more information. The Loudon Extra schools
guide is one inspiration. I am thinking about using an outside designer to get us started on the conceptual work. We
have people who will build a better web experience once we give them the specs,
but we need help with the process of developing and mapping out the
specs. We’ve started with Dylan Purcell, our data editor who also handled the bridge data; Rose Ciotta, who is our education editor, and Connie Langland, a reporter now working as a free-lance writer who originated the report card more than 10 years ago. In addition to the Loudon Extra, we studied the SFUSD School Info Google Map Hack (great use of the map as an entry point to data), GreatSchools (which has a good school comparison function), and the Star-Ledger school report card (which has some advanced analysis of demographic data, too).
Is there a demand? The Inquirer school report card had about 6,000 page views in the last four weeks, and 53,000 views this year. The map of the bridge safety data had 5,000 page views in three days. Readers want access to this data and they want it clearly presented. That’s an ideal job for a newsroom.