Islington Now – and working on data in the newsroom

In March, I worked on Islington Now, a hyperlocal blog and unpublished newspaper that forms part of our MA timetable. Throughout the three weeks that it was running I worked on some data stories there and these are some of my reflections.


In the newsroom, geography is everything (H/T to Henry Taylor for that quote). As part of our team’s content strategy we wanted to make data pretty central to the Islington Now operation and we meant that literally.

The first week, when I was online editor, I made sure that the online team (all of whom were Interactive students) were in the earliest so we got to sit at the very centre of the newsroom.As that is where pitches and stories get thrown around – catching a passing idea may lead to a chance to do some data journalism. So, for example, we got to do some data work on the Islington Council’s budget, which went into the paper (but unfortunately was not published online).

It firmly embedded what we could do in the minds of the other student journalists. So, despite being moved further away from the others in week two (due to room changes), we then got approached quite a lot when anybody had a story that could have a potential data element.

Saying “no”

“You guys are good with numbers, right?”. On the one hand it is lovely to be approached by journalists with some numbers but often there simply is no point in using a graph to show something. For example, a pie chart showing that of someone’s fortune, the son gets half and the daughter gets half.

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Static visualisations should be just like journalism. In almost every case, you should get the angle and make sure that is the most prominent thing. Sometimes the numbers just do not have a way of being visualised that is of any use to the story.

Verifying numbers

During the second week, I was passed numbers from the National Housing Federation by reporter Ben Finch that showed their estimated number of people affected by bedroom tax. I used a simple formula to divide that by the population and to see how many people were affected per thousand residents. Islington came out as being the third worst hit borough and twice as bad as the London average.

I was pretty sure that I was tight on my numbers and the news team were pretty keen to make it the splash of the paper. But I just wanted to check the figures over with the NHF to make sure that what I was doing was a legitimate way to use the numbers. Also, I was concerned about the announcement that morning that there had been concessions made on who the tax would apply to. A quick phone call told me the data had been created as I had expected and we were able to run with this:
Islington hit twice as hard by bedroom tax

With a Google Fusion Map added in to make the story a little bit more interactive.

Sometimes you do work for no result

We were due to run some analysis on stabbings in Islington and I made this map of arrests relating to assaults with offensive weapons.

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It did not take too long but I made it was almost ready for publication. Unfortunately the analysis got dropped because of something else and the map never had a vehicle to work with. This can happen wherever you are and you just have to accept that it’s not right for that time. There may have been another opportunity for us to use the map though within the remaining weeks, so it was probably worth doing in any case.