Project description

In the past year I have worked on a wide range of data journalism projects for The Age, a newspaper and website based in Melbourne in Australia. I\’ve produced work that involves written stories, video, graphics and interactives on a wide range of subjects including transport, education, economics, health, crime and demography. I often write the articles myself, design the interactives, script and present the videos and pull all the material together for the online presentations. There is not a data journalism team at The Age, so all these projects came about after I came up with the ideas, drew on collaborators within the newsroom and project-managed the work.

Here is a brief summary of the projects I have submitted for consideration in this entry (from most to least recent):

Schools that Excel: I gathered 10 years of school performance data in Victoria, from multiple sources, mashed it, cleaned it and analysed it to uncover the schools that had shown the most consistent improvement over the past decade. I also designed the interactives so that parents would be able to navigate the data on their school. Nobody had pulled all this information on schools before, and it sparked discussion on education philosophies and how schools can improve their performance.

Do You Earn Enough: I pulled together data sets from multiple government sources to produce a series of interactives that enabled readers to find out lots of useful information about their job. I compiled a database of more than 1000 jobs, and in five interactives readers can find out about the average pay, the hours worked, the demography of the occupation, its future employment projections and whether it has a gender pay gap. All this information is public data, but it is hard to access and use by members of the public. The series led to 20 stories, most of which I wrote. I couldn\’t include them all in this entry, so I included the piece that summarises all the interactives and the stories that formed the series.

Victoria Crime Interactive: There was a state election in Victoria last year and crime was one of the main issues. However, there was a lot of inuendo and misinformation floating around in the lead-up to the election, and politicians on both sides were twisting the data to suit their claims. I worked on a crime interactive that allowed readers to see crime rates in their suburb, and wrote a few stories fact-checking claims and demystifying the statistics to readers.

The most common causes of death in Melbourne and Sydney: Most of the projects I have included here were put together over a longer period, but I thought I would include this one as well as it had a really short turnaround. I extracted the data, analysed it and designed the interactive that accompanies this story within two days, and we used it to outline the disproportionate premature death rates among Australia\’s indigenous population.

Peak hour project: This was the biggest data journalism project I\’ve worked on in my time at The Age. It involved lots of bread-and-butter journalism, but I also had to learn new skills to pull off the project. I had to negotiate with HERE Technologies to get access to their data, I had to present video on a green screen for the first time, I had to learn how to understand complicated traffic dynamics, and I had to pull together all the written, interactive, graphical and video material into a coherent series of stories. This project was named one of the most memorable pieces of content The Age produced last year.

Melbourne by the numbers: Another project I executed in a short space of time. I had analysed Melbourne population growth and found lots of potential stories, so I decided to present the findings as a listicle and guide readers through the findings of the data.

Life cycle of a Melburnian: This story used maps and charts to tell an engaging story about how people move about at different stages of their life in Victoria. The information is all government statistics agency census data.

What makes this project innovative?

Australia does not have a very established culture of data journalism and there are only a handful of working data journalists in the country, so we do not have a strong open data culture or the connections with government sources to better provide data. It limits the scope of what we can do, so being able to work on ambitious projects in the first instance can be difficult. While The Age newsroom is large, I am the only data journalist and I am not part of a team. I largely handle all the data elements of stories such as scraping, cleaning and analysis myself, and will sometimes produce interactives myself if developers are not able to be freed up to work with me. Because of the size of the newsroom, I am also required to step off data every now and then to work on other general news reporting (for example, I used to run a morning commuter blog on Thursdays and Fridays, and whenever there is a big breaking news event I am the designated live blogger). But despite these limitations, I think I've been able to put together a strong portfolio of projects, particularly in the past year, which show what a dedicated data journalist can produce. Is spearheaded all of these projects and personally oversaw large parts of their production. The work I have produced is accessible to a wide audience, but I took great pains to make sure I presented the data with integrity and did not sensationalise or dumb down the infromation. I'm particularly proud of the peak hour project for being one of the first data journalism examples in Australia to connect to an API rather than rely on static data sets. I'm also proud of the 'Do you earn enough' series for managing to produce a data journalism series that successfully ran across 20 articles and maintained reader interest over the course of a month. I also have displayed a wide range of data skills and journalism skills to work on these very different projects.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Every project I have included for consideration was placed in the prime position on The Age's website, a spot that is reserved for high-impact and important content. The stories all performed well in terms of hits, audience engagement, audience retention and social media shares, all of which are metrics used to measure success at the news organisation I work for. Some of the stories were the most-read items of the past year, and my editor has told me that the Peak Hour project and the 'Do You Earn Enough' project were named as the most memorable content on The Age website by readers. In addition, most of my stories were picked up by other media in radio and television. The schools project recently has received an excellent response from readers for advancing the conversation on the state's schools, while my crime data analysis helped to prevent crime statistics from being manipulated during the state election campaign.

Source and methodology

Most of the data I drew on was government data that could be extracted from open data websites without too much effort, but I had to spend a lot of time understanding the limitations of the data. I mashed a lot of these data sets together, and because of different data standards I had to put a great deal of care and attention into making sure all the information could match up. I primarily use Microsoft Excel to analyse data and work out the design, layout and user interface of each interactive myself. I don't tend to build the bespoke interactives, but work extensively with the developers on making sure the data is presented in an accurate and accessible way. Whenever there are Carto maps or Infogram graphics used in the article, I produced these myself with my organisation's in-house subscriptions to the resources. I write and produce the stories myself as well, pulling together the analysis, interviewing people and finding case studies for the stories. I scripted and presented the videos I presented myself in this entry.

Technologies Used

Microsoft Excel Google Docs Google Refine Carto Infogram Tableau HERE Traffic Analytics Tools

Project members

Craig Butt


Additional links


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