(Originally posted Sept. 30, 2010)
Databases of all kinds are extremely popular with online audiences. One of the world leaders in accumulating databases is The Guardian in England, and the Nieman Journalism Lab recently took a look at the organization’s approach to data. Particularly notable was how data editor Simon Rogers described the evolution of how they handle data. Now, for instance, they recognize a hunger by the public for raw data, so often they will throw up the database without even having a story yet:
Sometimes readers provide additional data or important feedback, typically through the comments on each post. Rogers gives the example of a reader who wrote in to say that the Academy schools listed in his area in a Guardian data set were in wealthy neighborhoods, raising the journalistically interesting question of whether wealthier schools were more likely to take advantage of this charter school-like program. Expanding on this idea, Rogers says:
“What used to happen is that we were the kind of gatekeepers to this information. We would keep it to ourselves. So we didn’t want our rivals to get ahold of it, and give them stories. We’d be giving stories away. And we wouldn’t believe that people out there in the world would have any contribution to make towards that.
“Now, that’s all changed now. I think now we’ve realized that actually, we’re not always the experts. Be it Doctor Who or Academy schools, there’s somebody out there who knows a lot more than you do, and can thus contribute.
“So you can get stories back from them, in a way… If you put the information out there, you always get a return. You get people coming back.”