Visualize your data, show it for others

By · Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Data — not something that people tend to get excited about, look forward to, or seek out as an easy read. But technology has changed and is changing all of that.

Now, data information is even more visual. It’s clickable. And it’s interactive.

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011. It’s the 130th edition. The popular reference book is full of data — not only from the Census Bureau, but also from the federal government and other organizations. The Abstract itself is available in a PDF version online, and readers can browse among dozens of topics on its website.

What can editors do with data? Plenty. Turn the information into interactive maps, timelines, bar charts, pie charts, any kind of visual story told in layer upon layer of data — and more.

At The Roanoke Times, an online feature called DataSphere allows readers to click on all kinds of searchable databases about people, places and issues in and around Roanoke. Matt Chittum, who is the data delivery editor at the Times, makes data searchable and useable.

One example up on the Times website now is a searchable way to check out the area’s top high school athletes, which colleges they have committed to and what they’re doing. Another searchable database lets readers know about alcohol sales violations in Virginia. And during the holidays, readers could find out best places to view holiday light displays by city, county, town or ZIP code. Readers also could add their own displays to the database.

We came to know Matt Chittum through our Newhouse colleague Seth Gitner, who used to work at the Times. Last fall, Matt interacted with Newhouse students and faculty during a visit to our school, where he was a guest lecturer in classes and conducted hands-on training sessions.

As the spring semester is about to begin, we have much to think about in terms of data visualization and what Matt shared with us. One tool he introduced to us is Caspio, an online database application. David Milliron, a vice president at Caspio, has been an expert in database reporting since the two of us worked together at Gannett News Service, back in the 1990s. Small world.

There are many experts, application tools and news organizations out there making it possible for readers to view data in manageable, useable — and fun — ways.

Are you one of those experts? Do you have any favorite tools? We invite you to join our conversation.

Emilie Davis

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