The Detail is nominated for a Data Journalism Award with their production ‘Ambulance response times – How quickly did help arrive where you live?‘. An interview with The Detail journalist Kathryn Torney: “I have always been interested in stories based on statistics.”
Presenting your production in an elevator pitch, what would you say?
My investigation found that where you live in Northern Ireland makes a massive difference to ambulance response times in life threatening situations. I analysed 215,349 emergency calls made during 2010 and 2011 and found a wide variation in response times in different postcode districts. Among the very long waits was a one hour 29 minute wait for someone thought to be having a stroke. I compiled an interactive map showing the response times for each postcode district and also the longest wait for an ambulance for life-threatening calls made in each area.
What inspired you to make ‘How quickly did help arrive where you live?’?
There is currently a strong focus in the media on Northern Ireland’s health system. I wanted to look beyond the overall Northern Ireland-wide ambulance response time figures to show what was happening in different postcode districts. I also wanted to examine the impact of recent closures of a number of accident and emergency departments in Northern Ireland’s hospitals – which has put more pressure on those which remain.
Did you work by yourself or in a team?
I was the only person working on this project.
How did you get a hold on the data you needed?
My analysis was based a detailed dataset provided by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. This ran to 215,349 rows in Excel. I requested this information as a Freedom of Information request after carefully considering what column headings I would need and after a close examination of the ambulance service website and documents relating to response times. This allowed me to frame my request using the correct terminology.
Which tools were used making this production?
I used Excel to clean and analyse my data and also to produce the pie charts and tables. I then created my own spreadsheet of selected data and some of my own calculations which I used to compile the interactive map using Batchgeo. I presented my story with written articles, pie charts, tables and also an interactive map.
How did it take to make ‘How quickly did help arrive where you live?’?
The article was published just over two weeks after I received the requested data.
Were there any bumps in the road?
The most challenging element was creating my first interactive map. I tried a few map making websites before settling on Batchgeo. This was a learning experience for me and I was very happy with the result. The map brought my figures to life and told the story in a way that the written word could not do. But this was also supported and backed up by my detailed written article which gave the figures context and explained all of the key issues.
Do you have a useful tip for starting data journalists?
Check, check and double check all calculations. Save your work religiously as you go along. Ask questions about findings which stand out (this allowed the Ambulance Service to provide an explanation for long waits). Research your subject extensively before requesting detailed data to ensure you are asking for everything you need and are using the correct terminology. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of visualising your data – you may be delighted with the result.