Last week, the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released a set of data documenting student access to advanced classes and special programs in public high schools. ProPublica used that data for some traditional news analysis but also went beyond that. Nieman Journalism Lab reported on the non-profit news outlet's data journalism project, which incorporates and encourages sharing the data in social media.
"The Opportunity Gap," ProPublica's online story package, is based on OCR data that covers 85,000 schools and about 75 percent of public high school students in the US. In other words, the amount of data is enormous, but ProPublica's app makes it easy for users to access and cross-compare data from different schools. Its news app team designed the app to encourage public participation by including tools for sharing data on Facebook. It even made it possible to generate individual URLs, making sharing and linking to the data even easier.
The Nieman article pointed out that the app's social dimension is there for a reason - it adds another layer to the attempt to have social impact. "We invest so much time into acquiring data and cleaning data and making sense of data," said Amanda Michel, ProPublica's director of distributed reporting. But people need to also understand the significance of that data. For this aim, ProPublica's broader strategy is to make data overall more social.
Paul Bradshaw commented on the new app, lauding the aim of making data "more social". He noted that the app goes beyond mere sharing on Facebook, for example, showing which friends that have tried the app, but still leaves a lot of social media ground untouched. He goes on to give suggestions on how news outlets could make further use of social media in sharing data. One way would be by creating campaigning and collaboration tools that would allow data to be used to petition for support and fundraising.
When it comes to social sharing in data journalism, news outlets are still far from making use of the full potential of social networks, which is why relatively modest moves to that direction are able to make waves among enthusiasts. Nevertheless, the new app attests to ProPublica's position in the lead in innovative use of social media as part of its reporting. Earlier, it was reported that the non-profit turned to Twitter to allow users to share investigative stories online. Will other news organisations take comparable steps to rise to the challenge?