The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism

New Nonprofit Revenues

While revenue models for data-driven hyperlocal news or algorithmic reporting will continue to evolve, flourishing or withering on the vine, nonprofits like ProPublica or the Texas Tribune operate under different metrics than profit. The Tribune, which has emerged as a bright spot in the firmament of online media for state government, focuses on covering the Texas statehouse. It’s now one of the most important examples of data journalism in the United States, given the success of its data visualizations and interactives.“We turned three-years-old in November 2012, and we were profitable last year,” said Rodney Gibbs, the Texas Tribune’s chief innovation officer. “A key to our sustainability is our diverse revenue stream: membership, events, earned income, corporate underwriting, and grants. In other words, we’re not dependent on any one source of income. Plus, we’ve done a good job of keeping our expenses under budget while growing our reach and impact.”91Tribune now has over 200 different data tools and visualizations, including a Public Education Explorer and the Higher Education Explorer, which collect and publish financial, demographic, and performance data for every Texas public school and college.92scope and granularity of the data that the Texas Tribune has amassed is impressive, it’s the online traffic and interest that its work has received that make the case study important to the future of news. Notably, all of that data has proven to be a hugely popular part of what the media organization publishes: Together, the Texas Tribune’s data library93officials94data library is still a rarity in the media world.In January of 2013, the Texas Tribune launched95result of nine months of research by 20 different journalists. The news app draws from data on the Texas governor, lieutenant governor, and all members of the Texas House and Senate.They have resources to apply to growing that success, as the Knight Foundation awarded the Texas Tribune a grant of nearly half a million dollars in 2011. Examples of the Texas Tribune’s data journalism include interactives on Texas prisons,^96^ government employee salaries,97and gubernatorial election results.98ourselves as a tech startup that works in the news business, rather than a news organization that uses technology,” said Gibbs. He elaborated:I believe that’s helped us stay nimble. While our tech group is small”four full-time developers plus one contractor”it’s sufficient to not just support our primary site but also the data apps and visualizations we release each month. Moreover, our two data journalists work across the newsroom on a range of beats, so even reporters who aren’t data nerds can leverage data and visualizations for their stories. In other words, no one here has to be sold on the value of data”the proof in the traffic and audience feedback has made believers of us all.ProPublica launched its own Data Store in February of 2014,99data for free and selling premium data to those who would pay for the additional value that it’s added.100the Data Store you’ll find a growing collection of the data we’ve used in our reporting. For raw, as-is data sets we receive from government sources, you’ll find a free download link that simply requires you agree to a simplified version of our Terms of Use. For data sets that are available as downloads from government websites, we’ve simply linked to the sites to ensure you can quickly get the most up-to-date data.“It’s a setup similar to NICAR’s Database Library, which offers journalists clean and formatted government data on things like plane accidents, federal contracts, and workplace safety records,” wrote Justin Ellis for the Nieman Lab:For users wanting to get their hands on a state’s worth of data from ProPublica’s “Dollars for Docs”101for instance, the cost varies: $200 for journalists, $2,000for commercial purposes have to negotiate a (presumably higher) price with ProPublica. Like any good business, ProPublica offers potential customers free samples of the data before they make a purchase.ProPublica has always encouraged a level of openness with its work, often making investigations available to others by Creative Commons,102play with data. The data store is an extension of that, but also a potential solution to a question many newsrooms face: how to extract additional value out of an investigation.But don’t expect the store to be a significant source of revenue, at least right away, according to Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s president. “It will take a while for us to see if that’s a serious revenue source or not,” Tofel told me.In April of 2014, ProPublica announced plans to grow its Data Store to include almost every data set used in its reporting, citing strong interest. “If you look at newsrooms like the AP, Bloomberg, and Reuters, you’ll see that at their core are data products, some of which are very profitable indeed,” Scott Klein told the Columbia Journalism Review. “There’s no question that selling data is a rich opportunity for many newsrooms.”103