The Chicago Tribune is nominated for a Data Journalism Award with their ‘2011 Illinois school report cards‘. An interview with Tribune journalist Brian Boyer: ‘We made the best resource for parents in Illinois to learn about the performance of the schools their children attend.’
What inspired you to make ‘2011 Illinois school report cards’?
Every year, the State of Illinois releases a giant dataset about school performance. It’s extremely complex and we wanted to make it easier for folks to understand.
Did you work by yourself or in a team?
Like everything we do on the news applications team at Tribune, it was a team effort. The original version of the schools application was built by Chris Groskopf (now at the PANDA Project) and Joe Germuska. The nominated version of the application builds upon the original version, and was made by Joe Germuska, Alex Bordens and myself.
How did you get a hold on the data you needed?
The majority of the data in the application is released annually by the state. But other elements of the site came from data that ProPublica released and also other data from the state.
Which tools were used making this production?
How did it take to make ‘2011 Illinois school report cards’?
About a month.
Were there any bumps in the road?
The size and complexity of the data was definitely a challenge. It’s only ~3000 rows, but it’s more than ~9000 columns wide, and columns are hierarchical. The code to deal with the data was a large part of the effort. That said, the greatest challenge when making any product, software or otherwise, is building the *right* thing for your users. We interviewed dozens of people to learn about their needs and about the gaps in our original schools application.
Do you have a useful tip for starting data journalists?
Know your users. Learn their needs. Build things that satisfy those needs. Or, in short: build useful stuff.