AP wins Knight grant to build data journalism tool

March 7, 2013
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Troy Thibodeaux, AP's editor for news innovation, will lead the "Geomancer" project.
The Associated Press’ pioneering work in data journalism is being awarded a grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for the second time.

AP’s “Geomancer” project will receive $28,000 from the Knight Prototype Fund to build an open-source tool to help journalists make sense of data by mashing it up with other data sets about the same geographical locations.

The fund helps journalists, developers and tinkerers alike test their ideas. AP is among eight organizations receiving awards, which were announced today ahead of the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas.

In 2011, AP also won a $475,000 two-year grant from the Knight News Challenge for “Overview,” a tool for journalists to sort and visualize large data sets.

“AP is committed to finding creative ways to make data journalism easier to do,” said Shazna Nessa, AP’s deputy managing editor for Interactive. “Our team is pushing the envelope in important ways for the benefit of journalists around the world.” 

When reporters do data analysis it’s essential to provide context.

“One of the most important ways to do that is by looking at other data about the places we’re investigating, but the current process is often laborious, and can require a degree of technical savvy,” said Troy Thibodeaux, AP’s editor for news innovation who will be leading the project. 

Reporters have to find related data -- such as crime statistics by county or new jobs by state -- download it, match identifiers, join the sets in a database or spreadsheet, and finally, start the analysis, he explained. “Geomancer” aims to make the process simpler by providing one-stop access to a range of data sets in a point-and-click operation that any journalist can use.

“If we remove the drudgery, a reporter on deadline can focus on finding the story in the data rather than finding the data for the story,” Thibodeaux said.

Chris Barr, who leads the Knight Prototype Fund added: “We are excited when organizations like the Associated Press push the future of news and information, and we’re looking for more ideas to accelerate the field of media innovation.”

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