Bryce Harper’s two home runs and Stephen Strasburg’s seven scoreless innings rightly earned the headlines in Monday’s opening-day win for the Washington Nationals. But the data journalist in me couldn’t help but want to apply a little percent change action to the proceedings.
So, I did, especially after I noticed in the boxscore that Nationals Park, on a Monday, was jammed to 108% capacity. A few minutes of research and Excel later, I had some findings:
- The Nats’ opening day attendance of 45,274 was 11% higher than the team drew at last year’s home opener, when they beat the Reds 3-2 in 10 innings.
- The attendance wasn’t a record for Nationals Park, but it was close — about 700 below the record set on the last, heartbreaking (if you’re a Nats fan) game of the 2012 NL division series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
- The day was, however, a regular-season record for the park, which opened in 2008.
After I figured this out, I went a-Googling to see if anyone else had the same scoop. Didn’t find the percent change, but I did see a mention of the attendance record in a post on We Love DC and a mention on a MASN Sports blog that didn’t qualify it against the post-season record. Nothing from major sports media (please comment below if I missed some).
I’m not about to play a baseball writer — it’s one of the few jobs I haven’t had in journalism — but the basics of ballpark attendance gets too little attention, I think. And yet the money flowing through the turnstiles means a lot for a team and a city, as does the mental boost for the players who hear the cheers.
Can the Nats keep it up? I’ll be watching this chart at baseball-reference.com.
The USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list has a new look and added interactivity, part of a relaunch of books coverage. It’s been a fun project that has been on my front burner for about three months.
I get to work with all kinds of data at USA TODAY, but the book list has been a constant. When I arrived at USAT in 1997, one of the first projects I took on was to build and analyze an archive of the list to mark its fifth anniversary. Since then, as that archive grew to hold nearly 18 years of data, we’ve used it to anchor stories about authors and trends in publishing. We’re awfully proud of the list, and people in the publishing industry tell us it’s one of the most accurate accounts of Americans’ weekly reading habits.
Last year, we opened the archives up to developers via a Best-Selling Books API. This year, giving the list itself a facelift was the next logical step.
We were fortunate to assemble a crack team of designers, developers and product managers who, in a short time, conceptualized, designed, redesigned, and coded an entirely new collection of book-related pages for our site. What’s new:
After I started playing with Internet Explorer 9 tonight — and knowing that most developers, including Microsoft, want to wean the world from IE6 as soon as possible — I grew curious about the browsers favored by my site’s visitors. A quick dig into Google Analytics gave me the data for the last few months, and the Google Charts API let me build a quick pie:
I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that most people who read my site are journalists or developers. Most traffic comes from links I post on Twitter or via search keywords that tend toward journalism, data, math and, lately, the Census.
Generally, you’re not an IE-centric crowd — just 12%. That’s lower than overall metrics, which tend to place Internet Explorer at anywhere from 40% or more of the overall market.
Oh, and the percent using IE6? Less than 0.4%.
Update Jan. 17, 2012: The top selling books of 2011 are listed here, and in that table you can view lists back to 2007. The post below refers to the 2010 top-selling titles.
Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy grabbed the top three spots in USA TODAY’s annual list of top-selling books, reflecting a broader move by readers toward fiction this year. The list of 2010′s best-sellers was part of a package published today wrapping up the year’s trends as reflected in USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list.
Shepherding the books list is one of those tasks I spend considerable time on and, over the years, it has become one of my favorite opportunities for data journalism. The well never seems to run dry on ideas, and with 17 years of data in our archives, there are plenty of opportunities to see how annual moves on the list stack up against long-term trends. Along with Larsson’s success, our book team’s report on trends highlighted titles and authors reaching No. 1, from Nicholas Sparks to George W. Bush.
Much of our book list data is open for developers. Check out the API for details.
The U.S. government’s annual count of births and deaths is among the most basic of demographics, but tracking it is one of my little obsessions. I keep annual totals in a spreadsheet and get all gooey inside when I can add another year to the pile.
That happened last month, when the National Center for Health Statistics released data showing the number of births in the U.S. has dropped for two years in a row. One possible reason, the experts said, was the recession.
When it’s newsworthy, a yearly update to a longitudinal data set certainly is worth covering. But sometimes these basic demographics — including Census data — reveal even more when we take a long-term view.
For example, below are the annual number of births and deaths from 1933 to 2009 plotted in Many Eyes. Click the graphic to interact:
It’s simple — just two fever lines. But it’s chock full of generational milestones that bear watching:
- The first baby boomers — those born in 1946 — turn 65 starting in January.
- The Gen Xers that follow have closed in on middle age. They range from the early 30s to mid-40s (in fact, Gen X poster boy Kurt Cobain would have turned 43 this year).
- Meanwhile, the first of the Millennials — the “echo boomers” whose numbers peaked in 1990 — are nearing 30.
Each generation brings a new sensibility to the stages of life, and the relative size and makeup of each one — not to mention its cultural context — gives journalists plenty of opportunity for storytelling. Two examples:
- Much has been written about the big bump of post-World War II babies marching closer to retirement (maybe), Social Security, and the years where health care becomes a major concern. But what about the inevitable? Notice that the number of deaths in the U.S. has plateaued at about 2.4 million a year. That won’t last long with Boomers heading into the years where death rates rise dramatically. How will 4 million deaths annually affect the funeral home business, the ability to buy a cemetary plot, and the overall industry around end-of-life care?
- Along with Gen X came the “baby bust,” the years of rapidly declining birth rates that led to all kinds of prognostications about the shrinking of America. That means our workforce now has a relative shortage of thirtysomethings. Does that mean more opportunity for Millennials to advance in the business world and less pressure for boomers to retire?
These sorts of trends are slow-burning, but they reflect data trends that exert hidden but massive force on our culture, much like the tides. The savvy data journalist keeps an eye on them not just for what they say this year but what they reveal over time.
Sorting a data set helps answer a basic question journalists like to ask: “Which ____ has the highest (or lowest) ______?”
Excel (and other spreadsheets such as the open source Calc) make sorting data easy. In fact, I often make sorting my first step when “interviewing” data because it quickly reveals high and low values and often highlights some that may seem questionable.
Let’s work through a simple sort in Excel. I’ll be using Excel 2007, but older versions have similar functions. Start by downloading the file “sorting.xls” and saving it to your computer. Open it and follow along:
1. We have a table of Census data from the 2006-2008 American Community Survey. It shows the median age of the population for each of 79 school districts in Virginia plus the state itself.
We want to know which district has the oldest and youngest populations. Let’s sort it!
2. Click once on one cell anywhere in the table. This will help Excel auto-discover your table in the next step.
Good news for our USA TODAY team that researched, reported and wrote the “Trouble on the Tray” series on school lunch safety: The Education Writers Association yesterday named it a winner in the 2009 National Awards for Education Reporting. The series — reported by Blake Morrison, Peter Eisler and Elizabeth Weise with data analysis by yours truly — received first prize in the “Large Media — Investigative Reporting” category.
I’m giving a talk this week at the IRE Computer Assisted Reporting conference on how we acquired and analyzed the federal data that helped fuel the story.
Major stories in the series include:
– Schools in the dark about tainted lunches
– Why a recall of tainted beef didn’t include school lunches
– Fast-food standards for meat top those for school lunches
– 26,500 school cafeterias lack required inspections
Our series spurred congressional calls for reforms to USDA policies, and in February the agency announced tighter requirements on companies that supply food to the National School Lunch Program, including stricter testing of meat.
A reporter called recently for tips on setting up “a CAR desk” in the newsroom of a decent-sized community newspaper. The editor had watched the reporter’s success at gathering and analyzing data and, as typically happens, now wanted the reporter to train the rest of the newsroom.
Here was my advice:
Focus on a few: Instead of holding building-wide Excel classes or database journalism seminars, start with just one or two reporters who show a combination of interest and decent technical smarts. That lets you go deep on a couple of beats rather than spread yourself thin. Also, success breeds success. Watching a few reporters land great stories will possibly spur interest from others.
Have the right goals: Goals like “publish one CAR story a week” miss the point. Better objectives are to have data-thinking ever present in the reporter’s mind, have the reporter well-versed in her beat’s data sources, and have the reporter develop basic data skills. From that, stories will flow.
Inventory data: Speaking of data sources, have each reporter you work with find out the sets of data local governments keep. File FOIA requests for table layouts and database schemas. Get the data, then study it. That will spur story ideas.
Crawl first, run later: All the hot talk in data journalism these days is on Web frameworks and visualizations, but there’s plenty of work for the beginner in the land of Excel and Access. Build those skills as a starting point.
Your thoughts? Add a comment below …
USA TODAY’s series on school lunch quality, “Trouble on the Tray,” is included in a roundup of noteworthy investigative projects from 2009 by the non-profit investigative reporting team at California Watch. The stories were reported and written by Blake Morrison, Peter Eisler and Elizabeth Weise with data analysis by yours truly.
Also mentioned: The Washington Post’s investigation of the Metro Red Line crash and The New York Times’ series on toxic water.
From the item, by Mark Katches:
Just to be clear, this is by no means a comprehensive list. It represents only a small, informal survey about stories that some highly respected investigative journalists are buzzing about.
Indeed, every year I am amazed at the quality and depth of investigative reporting that American newsrooms continue to produce even as the industry fights hard times. It’s an honor to be mentioned in that company.
A common way to summarize a group of numbers — one most of us learned in grade school — is to find its mean, commonly called the average. But it’s not always the best measure.
Let’s say six kids go on a field trip, ages 10, 11, 10, 9, 13 and 12. It’s easy to add the ages and divide by six to get the group’s average age:
(10 + 11 + 10 + 9 + 13 + 12) / 6 = 10.8
Because all the ages are close, the average of 10.8 gives us a good picture of the group as a whole. But averages are less helpful when the values are skewed toward one end or if they include outliers.
For example, what if we add a much older chaperone to our field trip? With ages of 10, 11, 10, 9, 13, 12 and 46, the average age of the group rises considerably:
(10 + 11 + 10 + 9 + 13 + 12 + 46) / 7 = 15.9
Now the mean is not an accurate representation. The outlier skews the average, and no journalist should feel comfortable reporting it.
This is where calculating a median is handy. The median is the midpoint in an ordered list of values — the point at which half the values are higher and half lower. If the median household income in East Middletownburg is $50,000, then half the households earn more and half less.