I started out my career putting together the agate page for a sports department at a midsize Midwestern daily. I was 17. It didn’t take long to learn the value of my job. My sports editor used to say more people would read the agate page, with its box scores and list of statistics, than would read the stories people wrote. That was true.
But those were abbreviated, cut to fit the space: leader lists and scores whacked off to fit the space on the newsprint that day.
That’s no longer the case. With databases, you can include everything, and they’re easier on the eyes.
But for the real scoop, I turn to to our database expert, Katie Lohrenz, who has held my hand more on many occasions as I struggled to learn layers of the new journalism.
Katie was the driving force behind two recent additions to our web site, “Varsity Kansas,” which is becoming the go-to site in our market for prep sports, and the “Daily Crime Maps.”
As we look at the third installment of Rob Curley’s seven ways to save our industry, all I can say is, go Katie:
“The idea with these database-driven sites is that we’re taking information we already collect and putting it out in a way that our readers can use the way they want to.
“As a newspaper, The Wichita Eagle has always printed a list of local crimes once a week, although it’s hard to recognize patterns when they’re presented in text. But now you can go online and see that list mapped out. I live in beat 41, and now I can see what’s going on in my neighborhood.
“My boyfriend lives in beat 17, and I can see that it’s quieter down there. I can look at a single type of crime across the whole city and start to see patterns.
Need to buy some drugs? Try cruisingdown Broadway.
“VarsityKansas does the same thing with the prep sports statistics we gather each week. I try to catch a few of my alma mater’s games each year with my dad. We’ve seen our team’s star running back accumulate some pretty amazing yardage.
“Now, I can check online and see where this kid, who has led the state in rushing, is headed as team starts to face tougher competition.
“The idea is that most news articles are written for our readership in general. But each individual reader has specific interests, and given all the information we as reporters have, they might focus on different details. I can dive straight into what’s going on within a few blocks of me, or how my friend’s students are doing this season. I decide what’s relevant to me and I come back often for updates.
“Advertisers benefit, too. If you’ve got a shop near East High and want to reach the East High community, you can target ads specifically to that school’s pages on VarsityKansas. We’ve never been able to offer that level of geosegmentation before.
These narrowly-focussed ads are cheaper, too, so it’s good option for local businesses with small budgets. I haven’t seen specific numbers, but our advertising staff still haven’t stopped gushing about how pleased they are with VK, so I’m guessing I’ve cemented my job security.
“And if putting information in the hands of the people doesn’t motivate you, I’d bet surviving the next round of layoffs does.
For other helpful discussions on databases, see Mindy McAdams’ excellent post “What Journalists Should Know About Databases”.
Also, there’s this previous post on maps.