Data Journalist of the Year

Scroll down to meet the Regional Press Awards nominees for Data Journalist of the Year

This award seeks to recognise those journalists who are making use of the wealth of data and information that is now available to newsrooms. It could be using their skills to mine data bases for that nugget of information that cracks a story wide open, or fantastic use of FoI, or tracking down and interpreting facts for readers that reveals a true insight into an important story.

The Shortlist

Aimee Stanton, JPIMedia

“Telling stories with numbers can be a tricky process and my job is to source and use (often complicated) publicly available data sets to produce exclusive stories for all our titles. My stories have been featured on multiple front pages including The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post, Wigan Post and many more,” writes Aimee.

“Bringing a data story together has a number of stages. After finding data, I use advanced Excel techniques to clean and analyse it and then present it in a simplified way which is suitable for sharing across our titles. I also make the data more understandable by normalising the figures and interviewing a case study to bring the numbers to life. I also include interviews with experts so I can better understand what the figures are telling me. This is all included in a story pack and shared across all titles. The idea is that every paper can have an exclusive data driven story in their patch with expert comment, a case study and visuals ready to go alongside it. I also produce my own version which is featured on the central content section of the JPIMedia websites.

“Although these stories are driven by numbers, I am passionate about bringing a strong human interest angle to the stories that the Data Unit shares out across the group and a number of my hard-hitting investigations in the past year have done just that.”

These include:

Children with special educational needs (SEN) are being ‘forced’ out of mainstream schools:

“This investigation used public data from the Department of Education, the Scottish Government and the Department for Education and explored special needs inclusion in mainstream schools across the UK. A leading inclusion charity told me the figures show SEN children are being ‘forced’ out of mainstream education.”

The trainspotting generation: middle aged and a drug user:

“Using public data from Public Health England and NHS Scotland, this story looked at why more middle aged people are using Class A drugs. This story included a very strong case study with an 62-year old ex-user who explained it was never too late to quit.”

Political spending on Facebook:

“Using open data from the Facebook Ad Library, this story revealed how much local politicians have spent on Facebook advertising (some with tax payers money) and revealed that hundreds of ads broke Facebook’s transparency rules and were subsequently removed from the website.”

Judges’ Comments:

A data journalist who knows her strengths and works to them. Key stories that needed to be exposed.

Three very good reports especially Generation Trainspotting.

Annie Gouk, Reach Data Unit

“As the deputy editor of data and multimedia at Reach, I use open data, FoI requests and data scraping to create daily content for all the regional titles in the network. Alongside quick-turnaround, breaking news and longer-term investigations, I regularly collaborate with designers, coders and multimedia specialists to produce data visualisations, interactives, videos and audio,” writes Annie.

“My major investigation into Universal Credit was months in the making, combining several sets of data for the first time in a standalone long-form site for each of the newsrooms involved. 

“This deep dive into the benefits system shows the increasing number of people being moved to UC, detailed breakdowns of those most affected, those being capped or sanctioned, and related figures on rent-arrears, homelessness and food banks.

 “At a time of growing concerns about the impact of UC nationally, this data project sheds light on the devastating human cost of these policies at a local level. 

“The sites have brought in thousands of page views across the network, with an impressive average engaged time of 15 minutes thanks to their creative use of data visualisation.

In 2019 I also began work on The North in Numbers for the Reach-wide Laudable project. 

“The first of its kind, this local data-led podcast tells the human stories behind various statistics for the north of England. 

“I bring together data analysis, wider research, and key interviews with experts and those most affected to provide new insight into vital issues that have a major impact on the north – whether that’s the huge increase in homelessness, the rise of knife crime, or the boom in restaurants seen across the region.

“The focus on people, and the addition of images, links and data visualisation through Entale, helps engage a wider audience in the statistics – which can otherwise feel impenetrable for many.

“As the episodes can be embedded directly into articles, there’s scope for them to be used again and again in any related stories published by northern titles within the network. 

“My piece on housing affordability is an excellent example of how even hyperlocal data can be used for quick-turnaround articles. Exclusive analysis of two sets of data on house prices and earnings, broken down by small geographies, revealed the most and least-affordable neighbourhoods in each title’s area.

“A postcode-search interactive allows exploration of the figures for any neighbourhood in the UK, giving readers a clear understanding of the housing affordability challenges where they live.

“These examples of my work show how local data can not only be used for ambitious, public-interest investigations, utilising new formats, but also for impactful daily news content – in a way not seen outside of the Reach Data Unit.”

Judges’ Comments:

Logical work provided strong results.

Powerful and impressive portfolio highlighting the plight of the most vulnerable in our society. Truly important journalism.

Chris McCall, The Scotsman

26/07/16 . GLASGOW. By line pic of multi media reporter, Chris McCall. Head and Shoulders of the Scotsman’s Chris McCall. by-line Chris McCall.

“Each of the three stories I have submitted for your consideration demonstrate how a basic grasp of data analysis can shed new light on issues important to readers. All three of these articles are based on FOI results obtained by myself, or from browsing publicly available datasets,” says Chris.

“The SNP is the third largest political party in the UK by number of MPs and registered members. Yet its funding model is radically different to that of Labour or the Conservatives. The party does not enjoy the financial support of hedge fund partners or the major trade unions. Instead, it relies on numerous small donations – and, increasingly, legacies left to the party by life-long members. This was an area I wanted to explore.

“The identity of SNP donors is not routinely reported. But by digging deep into publicly available data on declared donations, I was able to uncover the story of one of the SNP’s most significant financial contributors in recent years. 

“Starting with a single name on a spreadsheet, I pieced together an exclusive article on why a retired teacher from the Borders bequeathed most of her estate to a political cause she had spent her life dedicated to.

“The article proves that strong human interest stories can be built up from a data set – even those confined to a seemingly dry subject like political donations.

“Many datasets are regularly updated – meaning you can find a new angle on even well-reported political scandals. It was with this in mind that I looked at the ballooning costs of the public finance initiative (PFI) and its successors.  By submitting detailed FOI requests, I pieced together a dataset that revealed the costs to each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities of rebuilding schools.

“Most councils had signed off PFI construction deals based on calculations made via the now discredited Retail Price Index (RPI) formula. My story revealed for the first time these hidden costs, and has led to reviews at several local authorities in Scotland on this issue.

“Similarly, it was through FOI requests to Scotland’s higher education establishments that I was able to demonstrate how poorer students have become reliant upon Scottish Government hardship funds to remain in full-time education.

“While each university has its own eligibility rules for the government-backed Discretionary Fund, my research showed the vast majority of applications are being granted – raising questions about the cost of living for students, and whether alternative methods of funding should be examined by both Holyrood and universities.”

Judges Comments:

Clever research to reveal human faces behind the data.

Fine investigative work. Specially liked the story about the SNP donor. Great research with a human story.

Federica Bedendo, The Whitehaven News/ News & Star

“Working in collaboration with the Newsquest Data Investigations Unit has enabled me to uncover a range of issues which would be extremely difficult to report without the supporting data,” writes Federica.

“Finding and analysing the data meant being able to bring a series of exclusives to our readers.”

‘Dial 999: We’re having a climate emergency’: This investigation highlights the impact that the health sector has on our environment. It is based on under-reported open data published by the NHS, showing that 60 per cent of trusts in England are not on track to meet the Government’s carbon reduction targets.

“In the current political and socio-economic climate, very few people are prepared to publicly criticise the NHS and the work the trusts do with limited resources. With the Government pushing for net-zero emissions, there was a clear public interest in reporting that trusts were not following guidelines on greener transport plans. The balancing act in this investigation was to report the shocking findings, while also making clear what challenges the trusts are facing in meeting Government demands.”

‘Thousands of days lost to exclusions’: This investigation highlights the effects that funding cuts have on vulnerable children.

“It reveals the extent of school exclusions in Cumbria, with a focus on the number of children excluded due to drug and alcohol issues. A drug and alcohol charity highlighted the difficulties schools face in carrying out prevention work due to funding cuts.

“It emerged that mental health plays a big part, with children seeing self-medication as the only solution.

“The article is based on previously unreported data published by the Department for Education. It is very difficult for newspapers to report on this kind of issues. Schools are often unwilling to highlight problems they may be faced with, due to increased Government scrutiny and reputational pressure.

“Data is one of the only ways of getting an idea of the extent of these kind of issues, and even then, a detailed picture is difficult to gauge due to the different way data is gathered for state-maintained schools and academies.”

‘Sellafield spends £256k on handling wrongdoing’: This investigation is part of a series of articles trying to unearth the extent of bullying at Sellafield, Europe’s largest nuclear site and Cumbria’s biggest employer.

“I wrote a series of articles reporting on allegations of bullying and harassment at Sellafield and  I spoke to former and current employees about their experiences. After this, I felt that it was crucial to find out how much Sellafield, which is publicly funded, was spending to deal with the allegations.

“Through a series of Freedom of Information requests I uncovered the cost of bullying and harassment claims at Sellafield to taxpayers. This enabled me to show both the human effect of the issue and the wider impact on the community.

“This investigation has sparked a series of follow-ups which have played a key role in holding Sellafield to account.”

The judges said:

Strong techniques brought about strong results.

Excellent use of data to hold those to account. 

Harriet Clugston, RADAR AI

Combining traditional journalism skills with a mastery of cutting-edge natural language processing, Harriet personally wrote more than 20,000 impactful stories for local and regional papers across the UK last year. They were universally well-written, rigorously researched, and sent out with the quotes and context needed to form fully-rounded, ready-to-print leads.

But while the breadth of her work is considered unmatched, it is the quality of it which means that the important issues she raises get the coverage they need. She covered all the most important news areas last year – social issues, health, education and crime among them – continually digging up significant and unreported issues.

Harriet focused her journalism on its basics – clear, concise copy. She knows what is relevant to local newspaper audiences, and how best to engage them. Writing stories which are tailored to each readers’ local area means she has been able to engage readers on issues which affect them; writing them at scale means she has been able to reach people across the country.

The nature of RADAR’s model means she writes these stories for all locations in the UK – so readers in the UK’s often data-journalism-deprived rural locations and small towns can still benefit from her investigations.

The extent of this impact can be seen in her clippings. Whether looking at court delays in Shropshire, the jail time handed to people who cause death by dangerous driving across the West Midlands, or modern slavery in South Yorkshire, her stories demand good space in some of the biggest local and regional papers’ print editions.

Online, too, her stories have made a real impact, and are on their way to making a real change. In Bradford, Harriet wrote of hundreds of reports of abuse in the city’s care homes, with councillors going on to speak out about the issue. Her online pieces also demonstrate the resources she uses to highlight issues facing society’s most vulnerable: digging into open data to find out how runaway children are being let down by councils in Hampshire, and FOIs to highlight prosecutions for child truancy in Merseyside.

Her ability to turn her hand to any subject on which she can find data, as well as working collaboratively with reporters in the PA, with whom RADAR work closely, means she uncovered important issues affecting communities throughout the UK. These are stories which local newsrooms sometimes lack the data skills, and often lack the time to dive in to, and she has provided a valuable service in highlighting many under-reported issues.

Judges Comments:

Detailed analytical work; outstanding investigative journalism.

Reports highlighting the vulnerability of the old and young.

Martyn McLaughlin, The Scotsman / Scotland on Sunday

“From detailing how Donald Trump’s private businesses have received tens of thousands of pounds from his own administration, to exposing the “sweetheart” deal his flagship Scottish firm struck with the UK Government, and the US president’s failed helicopter charter business, my investigations into the Trump Organisation throughout 2019 have been followed up by the likes of the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Newsweek,” writes Martyn,

“Cumulatively, they have attracted 286,268 page views to date, with 263,519 visitors spending 285,182 engaged minutes reading them, demonstrating how The Scotsman can lead the way in breaking internationally significant stories.

“Having built up a network of contacts at Trump’s Scottish and US businesses, I have been able to produce off-diary stories which are of international public interest. These included an exclusive into how Trump is paying just £100 a month to a UK Government public body to lease buildings at the iconic Turnberry lighthouse, while charging guests £1,400 a night to stay at the landmark’s marble and gold-encrusted suite.

“Through my contacts at Turnberry – Trump’s flagship international property – I learned that he did not actually own all of Turnberry. Using targeted Freedom of Information requests to the little known Northern Lighthouse Board, I obtained the lease signed by Trump’s son, Eric, which included details of the financial arrangements, described by one MSP as a “sweetheart deal” using a UK public asset to line Trump’s pockets. 

“My coverage included the latest article in an ongoing  investigative series into how SLC Turnberry Limited – the company behind Turnberry – has received more than £75,000 to date from the US State Department, prompting accusations Trump’s private firms are profiting from his public office. 

“Drawing on tip offs from contacts and data-driven analysis of US federal government spending databases. I was able to show the money was routed to Trump’s firm via the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the US Embassy in London, a trend transparency campaigners described as an example of how the US public is “effectively subsidising the president’s family business.” 

“Similarly, a senior contact alerted me to attempts to rezone swaths of land around Turnberry to make way for luxury housing and villas. Drawing again on targeted FoI requests, I obtained correspondence and plans submitted to a local authority by architects enlisted by the Trump Organisation, and revealed how the ambitious proposals were ultimately rejected, spelling a major blow for the US president’s lossmaking and heavily indebted golf resort. 

“These articles, and others, produced over the year form part of an ongoing, methodical investigative process into Trump’s Scottish entities I launched in 2017. In addition to my print investigations, I produced bespoke digital treatments, including the likes of a digital graphic to accompany by story on Trump’s failed housing development. Cumulatively, these three stories alone have attracted 72,243 page views to date, with 66,514 unique visitors spending a total of 79.965 engaged minutes – or 55.5 days – reading them.”

Judges Comments:

Superb use of data techniques to reveal an internationally-significant hidden story.

Three terrific pieces taking on the US President. Fascinating.