Data journalism at the Globe

Our final guest speaker for the class was Matt Carroll, a reporter for the Boston Globe who specializes in data.  Matt is the go-to data guy in the newsroom: reporters can come to him with their datasets whether they have an idea for a story in mind or not, and he will help them identify the story’s “nut graph,” its primary value or news-worthiness.  In the last few years he has also been doing data visualizations, which he says require a “balance of artsy and hard science to make a point simply and elegantly.”  A recent story he contributed to included a series of graphs showing trends in Boston’s towing records.  The nut graph for the towing story: one parking lot in Allston had substantially more tows than any other location in the city.  He is also responsible for the Globe’s weekly data visualization Snapshots, such as this map of Massachusetts showing the average income per capita in each town in 2008.

Matt describes the data visualization team at the Globe as smart guys, some with news backgrounds, some with programming.  Matt himself does not do any programming, however.  Instead he uses Google Fusion Tables to visualize data he has handled in Excel, Access, MySQL, or OpenRefine.  He says the tools are becoming easier to work with and that, in the case of Google Fusion, it is possible to make a nice map in two hours.

For more on our conversation with Matt, see my notes (PDF, 95KB) from the session.  For opportunities to connect with data journalists in the Boston area, check out the Boston Hacks/Hackers meetup group, started and run by Matt, which brings together “journalists who want to learn more about digital and technologists who want to learn more about media.”



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