When it works well it works really well.
This is a sort of companion piece to me complaining about how data journalism takes forever (ok, slight exaggeration).
Sometimes its very quick and it pays off really well.
The week before last I wrote a piece about how one in 130 16 and 17-year-olds received a custodial sentence during 2009.
The figures are from a parliamentary written answer about rates of custody among teenagers across England and Wales.
From finding those figures and getting them into a nice spreadsheet, it was quick and easy to sort them from smallest to largest, and discover that, not for the first time Merthyr was the worst (I feel bad for Merthyr it usually doesn’t come out well when it comes to stats – it’s not the worst for the younger teens, it might have been nice to mention that in the story).
But 7.71 per 1,000 is a fairly horrible number, so simplify that fraction a bit to get a slightly more comprehensible and headline worthy one in 130.
And that is a statistic that has worked hard for the last week – with quite a bit of help from some good reaction.
It’s been the basis of a front page and spread and spawned to follow ups – one a comment from a man who runs a youth project in Merthyr and one from a councillor calling for a curfew.
Obviously anyone advocating coming down hard on little hoodlums is like a siren’s call to the tabloids, so the curfew call (and the one on 130 statistic) made the News of the World on Sunday (the youth project coordinator sent me a scan), as well as later in the day the Daily Mail and the Metro on Monday.
So one small bit of data journalism has filled a lot of space in quite a few newspapers this week.
As an aside, I love when stories I write get picked up by nationals (doesn’t happen too often).
The way most of them are written as though the curfew is likely to happen – I think we went for suggest, because as a currently suspended, independent councillor I’m not sure Adam Brown has that much clout – though you never know it might gain momentum.
Though still not as good as the time the Telegraph picked up a story about PCSOs in Biggin Hill been scared off by anti-social teens and made up an imaginary person to quote.