Network News: September 24-30

Lessons Learned From Ohio’s Data-Palooza

Test score posts get lots of traffic. All of the time. In all of our education states.

And in almost every other StateImpact state, there is some version of test score data (e.g., gas well data, unemployment figures) that keeps them coming back.

So, we decided that it was time to iron out some rules of the road that might help us all improve the experience of sifting through these massive data dumps. We imagined who might be interested in the data, what they might want to know and how we might be able provide them with it, given the tools we have. What we developed was a series of posts, sortable tables, links and pathways that we think will help users quickly find what they are looking for and interpret what it means–and give reporters some solid resources for future stories.

With the help of data maven and StateImpact Ohio reporter Molly Bloom, here are a few maxims that we landed on:

  • Keep things as simple as possible. If you are dealing with an annual data release, put the name of the year (or years) up front in the title so that readers can easily find what they are looking for.
  • Present only the most crucial information in your sortable table(s). Link out to that bigger data set for further information or, better yet, create other, secondary tables with subsets of the info. Similarly, if the dataset is too large to fit into a filterable table, break it up into smaller chunks (e.g., traditional public vs. charter school)
  • Put short, simple, plain-English definitions for your fields (and any institutional jargon) up top, in bullet points, and make the terms bold.
  • Keep your intro text brief and to the point, but make sure it sets the stage and links out to any topic page you might have on the dataset.
  • Create a sitemap ahead of time to make sure that you are linking to the right pages in the right places. Build out whatever pages you can ahead of the data release.
  • Be sure to also create a topic page that explains what this data means for the various parties who rely on it (e.g., teachers, students,  parents, policy-makers).

And here are some additional tips from Molly Bloom, who patiently waded through this process with us:

Molly Bloom

Molly’s Words to the Wise:

  • It’s a good idea to plan ahead and have a logical organization for your data sets. But be prepared for stuff to change. In our case, the data and data layout was different from what we had expected and planned for.
  • Don’t try new things on deadline. Really.
  • Team up with JPup and listen to John Stefany.
  • It’s OK to go back and clean up little things later. In fact, it’s a really good idea to go back and make sure everything links together.

We’ll be touching base with each of our digital reporters in coming weeks to see how these and other lessons learned might benefit your data presentations.

Last Week’s Reader Faves

Most visited stories last week, in raw numbers:

  1. TexasHow Fracking Disposal Wells Are Causing Earthquakes in Dallas-Fort Worth
  2. Oklahoma: Oil Espionage: Traders Spy on Oklahoma Hub With Satellites, Sensors and Infrared Cameras
  3. Texas: The Final Numbers Are In: Over 300 Million Trees Killed By the Texas Drought
  4. TexasWhy Earthquakes Are Shaking North Texas: Scientists Investigate Links to Disposal Wells
  5. OhioSchool Report Cards
StateImpact Texas dominated the numbers game this week, thanks in part due to their owning two stories that have paid off handsomely over time: the Texas drought and the possible connection between earthquakes and natural gas drilling. The lesson here? Find a story in your beat that people care about and that is linked to state policy–and then own it. Follow through, have the related stories and be there for them when they are looking for the low-down.

Most visited content on each site, in order of popularity:

What does that mean? Well, we took the top post from each of your states, according to traffic. We adjusted those figures to reflect each state’s population and then ordered the results.

  1. Oklahoma: Oil Espionage: Traders Spy on Oklahoma Hub With Satellites, Sensors and Infrared Cameras
  2. New HampshireState Workers: Overpaid, Underpaid, Or Just Right?
  3. Texas: How Fracking Disposal Wells Are Causing Earthquakes in Dallas-Fort Worth
  4. Ohio: School Report Cards
  5. IdahoAfter The Wind Boom, A Fight Over Idaho’s Energy Future
  6. Indiana: Full Text: Tony Bennett’s State Of Education Address & Glenda Ritz’s Response
  7. Pennsylvania: Shale Play: Pennsylvania fracking map
  8. Florida: Breaking Back: Why Florida Schools Are Asking Janitors To Pass A Fitness Test

StateImpact New Hampshire

Emily Corwin

One of this week’s top posts–from Emily Corwin of StateImpact New Hampshire–was a quick hit about a think tank study. What could have flown under the radar, though, was brought to life with a great, ready-made map that provided national context and brief, solid, to-the-point writing. It was also a great, data-driven take on a timely economic issue–compensation for public workers. Good eye, Emily, and well done.

Heard on National Air:

Sarah Gonzalez’ piece on a new fitness test that Orlando schools are implementing for all new custodians, “Florida School District Requires Fit Custodians,” ran on Morning Edition Thursday, September 27. The story explored a unique and somewhat controversial method of trying to reduce the number of workman’s compensation claims being lodged against Orlando schools (and taxpayers).

Traffic Sources:





Search engines
Social media
Top search terms:

  • earthquake in texas
  • gangnam style
  • ohio school report cards 2012
  • keystone pipeline
  • fracking
Top referrers:

  • Facebook
  • mobile Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google
  • The Texas Tribune
Includes people who type in the URL or use a bookmark. Also includes referrals from mobile apps (eg Facebook iPhone app). Directed through email newsletters, etc.

Around the Network

Last week:

  • All reporters should have gotten access to their Google Analytics accounts so that they can run their own queries on site traffic. (If you can’t get in there, let Swope know and he’ll hook it up.) For tips on getting the most of the tools, see Media Bistro’s basics or Google’s comprehensive set of tutorials. Keep in mind, however, that although tracking your site’s traffic can be instructive, traffic alone is not our goal. What we’re aiming for is solid, data-driven reporting on the intersection between state policy and human experience. Numbers are interesting, but numbers are not the name of the game.

This week:

  • StateImpact TexasMose Buchele will be heading to NYC this weekend to pick up KUT‘s Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association, awarded for the station’s ongoing coverage of the Texas drought.
  • Our own Ken Rudin will spend Wednesday and Thursday at St. Louis Public Radio, where he and Neal Conan of Talk of the Nation will host a live presidential debate-viewing spectacular before a sold-out audience. (And you get to hear his corny jokes for free!)
  • Becky Lettenberger is spending the week out west, shooting pictures and taking names with Joe Wertz of StateImpact Oklahoma. We’ll look forward to having her back in the mothership on Friday (It’s been a while!).
Thanks again, everyone, for another stellar week. Keep up the great work.

Your editorial team,

Chris Swope, Jessica Pupovac, Ken Rudin & Becky Lettenberger

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