There is a school of thought out there in journalism-land right now that says the future of journalism (and newspapers) lies in data.
The rationale goes something like this:
Our digital world produces mountains of raw data every year, far more data than any human being can possibly hope to make sense of. Much of this data comes from the federal government, which reports just about everything it does all the time.
Leaving all this data unconsidered is irresponsible because there are, no doubt, quite a few good stories to be found among the patterns and inconsistencies in that data.
So, journalists, to make themselves relevant and to make the stories they produce useful to readers need to delve into all that data and somehow make sense of it for the general public. This is a new kind of journalism that involves more than just going to the public meetings that most people don’t go to on their own. This involves statistical analysis and expertise in data organization, database manipulation, programming and graphic design.
I happen to subscribe to this school of thought about journalism, and while I don’t think reporters will ever stop going to boring public meetings, I do think that a whole new crop of tech-savvy reporters will find its niche in newsrooms, analyzing bone-dry spreadsheets and making sense out of them for the general public.
I bring this all up because, more than anything, I want the Chronicle’s website to be useful to readers, and I think that interactive online features that help people sort through our local government data will be useful (and interesting). Right now, the paper’s skill at doing this is nominal. We’re just getting started with free tools (Google-provided, mostly), and I’m looking into a high-end data management tool.
The motivation is there, but I’m short on story ideas. So I’m putting out a call for suggestions. What data exists out there in the Gallatin Valley or at the state level that you’d like to see analyzed? What trends do you think data would expose that readers should know about? Give me websites to visit and scrape. Give me ideas, anything. It’s all helpful at this point as the Chronicle starts to break into a new world.
Leave your idea in the comments or use the “submit a story idea” form in the sidebar of this site.