The government open data revolution is nigh, and journalists are already readying themselves to expose recalcitrant public bodies afresh in the New Year.
January 2011 is already earmarked in their diaries as the date when local councils will be required to provide detailed information on key areas such as spend, services and performance, presenting them with a rich, fertile and continuous source of material.
An afternoon meeting at The Guardian last week revealed how well many journalists are prepared. The web data revolution – a new future for journalism brought together exponents of the new journalistic arts being assembled to exploit millions of items of fresh data.
And it certainly appears that the campaign is already well advanced:
- a London university is running a course to train journalists in how to find headlines among the mass of newly released data
- The Guardian’s News Editor, Simon Rogers, says journalists will now be required to possess an ability to understand and deal with statistics, and will be trained to do so
- a freedom of information activist, Heather Brooke, is urging journalists in Britain to “push a little harder” to gain access to further public data.
- speakers also emphasised they are already well advanced in designing visualisation of data to dramatic effect, in support of shocking headlines in areas such as spend.
Organisers of this event say reporters around the world have been making it their mission to make public data truly free, to publish literally everything in the public domain, and some that still remains under lock and key, in the belief that a world run on these terms will be more democratic, more honest, more inclusive and more prosperous.
It’s a lofty global mission statement, but in Britain, the reality is that in just a few weeks’ time, local authorities will face a formidable challenge: how to explain what the statistics reveal, and how to protect their reputation.
So here’s your health warning:
- look ahead, see what your data is saying and why
- anticipate the headlines and the public reaction
- make sure you have your response ready
- and fix problems that data release will reveal before they get reported
The MPs’ expenses scandal started with statistics, but ended with careers in flames, and appearances in court. Local councils can avoid the same fate if they prepare themselves.