Numlock News

Category: Open data

Country/area: United States

Organisation: Numlock News

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 1 Feb 2019

Credit: Walt Hickey, edited by Maureen McNabb

Project description:

Numlock News is a daily morning newsletter that scours the web to highlight the best and most compelling data journalism out there. Created by Walt Hickey, Numlock takes the perspective that data journalism is most effective when it’s delivered with a conversational, funny and engaging verve. Started just over a year ago, tens of thousands of readers subscribe to this daily digest of thrilling stats in the news. Numlock highlights not only traditional forms of data journalism from established shops but also opens up traditional reporting — culture, news or lifestyle — to unlock the data in the everyday.

Impact reached:

Numlock seeks to not only relentlessy highlight outstanding work from the best data journaists working today — be they at major periodicals, local newspapers or indpendent shops — but also to redefine in the reader’s mind what data journalism is: not a separate priesthood existing outside of the realm of reporting, but rather a vein of journalism that has existed a long time and only recently been elevated to the position it deserves. Whether it’s a technically intensive interactive or a few numbers from the Mayor’s office in paragraph nine, Numlock seeks to bring those numbers front and center and with a funny, inviting tone encourage readers to look a little deeper in the news they consume.  

Numlock has tens of thousands of subscribers, over 50 percent of whom read it every day and over a thousand of whom pay to support it. Numlock delivers data journalism that would normally thrive in a nice and delivers it to new audiences — students and those who otherwise would not be interested in reading up on quantitative reporting — and by delivering it in a snappy fashion, broadens the field to people who might not consider themselves someone who can be a data journalist. 

Numlock also includes a book club spinoff as well as an annual awards supplement, using the annual Academy Awards to highlight data journalism techniques and advantages to an audience unaccustomed to having quantitative reporting in cultural fields.

Techniques/technologies used:

Numlock uses fairly rudimentary statistical techniques, and often endeavours to keep things simple. In reality, too often the technique found wanting in the field of data journalism is the persuasive, compelling writing that encourages people to read it, the kind of conversational tone that convinces skeptical readers that this field can be for them. 

Data journalism is important, but it’s not just manipulation and facility with data: the journalism part, the compelling people to consume the work, is a critically undervalued portion of it, and there is little point to open data unless there are people who feel compelled or inspired to actually use it. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

Covering over 35 stories per week, five days a week, plus a special interview with a journalist each Sunday requires a degree of discipline. Still the committment to covering diverse, international and compelling news from a variety of sources and digging deep to elevate the data journalism buried within can be rewarding, and the effort is appreciated by readers. 

Thanks for your consideration, I realize this entry may be off the beaten path of what you’d typically entertain from this kind of category but I do hope this vein of data journalism becomes more prominent moving forward. Thank you for your time. 

What can others learn from this project?

That it’s crictical to remember the importance of readers, and to relelntlessly push ourselves to expand our audiences beyond the traditional — highly educated, typically male — audience for data journalism. By consistently making work accessible to passers-by, that’s how best we serve readers and underscore the role of journalism. Opening up data is one thing, posting material to GitHub is important, showing one’s work matters, and unlocking information and making it available is critical. But all that’s for nothing if data journalism remains an exclusive club, one that you need to have the correct degrees for, or an understanding of this code language or access to that software. 

Data journalists have a more powerful tool at their disposal: It’s one thing to make data open, and that is commendable, but the step beyond opening the door to data journalism is convincing them to want to walk through it, and that’s only possible by seeking out new audiences, young audiences, skeptical audiences, and inspiring and electrifying them daily. At its core, that is the fundamental goal of Numlock, an on-ramp to data journalism and a platform with which our most exciting voices and best work can be presented to new readers on their terms.

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