You can do data-driven stories

by February 2, 2011
King County, Washington, sheriff

In addition to crunching data and running the SnoValley Star, Editor Dan Catchpole also took this photo of a King County sheriff’s deputy.

If you think you don’t have time to do data analysis, take a look at the story and graphics that Editor Dan Catchpole was able to do while publishing a weekly newspaper and a website with a staff of two: himself and a reporter.

Dan, editor of the SnoValley Star in Washington state, wanted to put some context into the public policy debate concerning wages for sheriff’s deputies. He compared the deputies’ pay to that in 14 area police departments and found:

“Deputies’ pay has climbed faster than other departments and will likely pull ahead of most departments in 2011 and 2012, according to the analysis.”

Today’s Tip: Find the middle ground in reporting about numbers, Dan says.

Dan Catchpole, editor, SnoValley Star, Washington state

Dan Catchpole

Between what he calls the “data ninja” takeouts that require lots of time and money and the “simple regurgitation” articles, a big window exists to produce data-driven stories.

For this piece, he used the free Tableau Public program that allowed him to upload spreadsheet data and create colorful online charts. “Humans are visual creatures,” Dan says. “I knew this piece would require a visual element.”

The program wasn’t complicated, he says. “I spent a couple of hours playing around with the program at home,” he says.  The site also has video tutorials. It took him almost three weeks to analyze the data in the midst of other deadlines.

For help with spreadsheets, check out this tutorial on Google spreadsheets, which takes less than 30 minutes to complete.