Credit: Image by kenteegardin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Progressive Media, the parent company of the New Statesman, has launched two data-centric digital publications over the last couple of months to explore data around issues relevant to their readership.

CityMetric, looking at urban statistics, and election portal May2015 are both projects under New Statesman Media, and Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, told they were a "natural extension".

"We've got staff that are very interested in data... and it's something that we've always looked at particularly in terms of polling data," she said, but the intention was to create a voice distinct form the left-leaning brand of the New Statesman.

Both publications are built around data. Lewis said data journalism is something "people have been quite shy about doing", and sometimes still seen as separate from general reporting.

"This is one more paintbrush in our set that we can use to help you understand things that you need to understand," she said, "because there's so much information and noise around... We are finding the signal amidst the noise."

CityMetric launched in partnership with Timetric, a company belonging to the owner of Progressive Media, as a way to look at the data already gathered by Timetric from a journalistic perspective, and tell stories around it.

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According to Lewis, CityMetric was not looking at cities with any political agenda, but simply looking at what works in a pragmatic way.

Translating data for the audience

Jonn Elledge, editor of CityMetric, said the website's audience ranges from professionals with an interest in city planning, architecture, and investment, to "city geeks".

"There's a lot of people who like looking at pictures of metro maps and finding out what the tallest sky scraper in the world is," he said, "so we're trying to build something that appeals to both those audiences."

The aim of the site is to make technical subjects interesting and easy to read, and Elledge said he was "trying to translate quite wonk-ish stuff into consumer journalism".

May2015 was designed as a "non-aligned site", looking at polling data and aimed at "a particularly hardcore politics audience", Lewis said.

While the New Statesman has a rolling politics blog and political content in the magazine, it also publishes arts coverage and comment, so "we aim to create a really a good mix on the New Statesman site," Lewis said, "but what we wanted to do was do something that was pure politics".

"We expect [May2015] will attract a smaller audience than the much more general one that we try to attract with the New Statesman, but a much more committed one," she said. "We hope people will be coming back several times a week, maybe several times a day."

The interactive element

CityMetric and May2015 have different approaches to working with data. At May2015, editor Harry Lambert worked together with developer Tom Monk to create an interactive element where people are given the tools to play with polling data and make their own predictions.

"May2015 is about functioning data," said Lewis, "It's about using data. We've programmed in all poll results going back to 1970 from all the different pollsters, and you can use the information that we have very interestingly there."

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"You can, for example, pull stories out about what the polls said at a particular time, so what they looked like for example during the Blair years."

And she said it was important to have developers working alongside journalists, as the walls between what is considered the work of a journalist, of a developer, a graphic designer, are breaking down.

"Journalists now need a much broader range of skills than they've ever had," she said. The collaboration between an editor and developer allowed May2015 to include interactives, "and be responsive, and have ideas and work them up very quickly by working in partnership together".

At CityMetric, Elledge said working with Timetric gives them a regular stream of graphs and stories each week.

"As that database grows and the site builds up," he said, "we'll be increasingly using the data from that source and elsewhere to feed into other more mainstream features that aren't... necessarily data-led in the same way, but using data to illustrate a feature on either demographics, or economics."

According to Elledge, CityMetric is playing "with the basics" at this point, but there is interest in making a move towards more animated graphics.

But as the team has now set up two separate digital publications, what are the plans for the core website of the New Statesman? Lewis said it was time to "refocus" on the website, and redesign it in a way that allows people to read their blog, comment, and longform pieces in a "cleaner format".

She said one of the advantages of having two "spin-off projects" off-site was the chance to be more experimental. Working on May2015 was also a learning opportunity, she said, and data journalism around politics could become a bigger part of the New Statesman site in the future.

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