Credit: Image by @bastique on Flickr. Some rights reserved
A couple of key information and data sets have been released in the past month. The 1,987-page Leveson report was published at the end of November, and last week the Office for National Statistics made the second of four releases of data from the 2011 census.

In both cases the pressure was on for journalists to read and digest the information and to get stories and analysis online as quickly as possible. Journalists at four news organisations discuss how they did it.

Reporting Leveson

The much anticipated Leveson report into the culture and ethics of the press was published on 29 November. So how did Torin Douglas, media correspondent for the BBC, prepare for a story based on the report?

"We'd had all the speculation, there had been no real leaks. All we could do was wait to see what he actually said," said Douglas.

"The issue for us was obviously just to get it out quickly. At 1.30pm we just had to get as good a report out and as good an analysis out as we could," he said.

"I was there to do analysis for the website initially and our home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, was there to write the basic report for the website.

"Some people just started at the beginning working their way through methodically, other people were skimming through to see the big picture. [BBC political correspondent] Ross Hawkins was the first one to see that statutory legislation was part [of the report]. That was paragraph 70 in the executive summary."

When the report was published at 1.30pm, John Burn-Murdoch from the Guardian's Datablog team was interested in how frequently certain keywords appeared in the document.

"As soon as the full text of the report was released, we downloaded each of the four volumes into Adobe Reader and were then able to simply do an advanced text search for words or phrases that we were looking for, which would tell us immediately the number of times they cropped up in each volume," he said.

"You can select whether you want to choose the complete words only or the start of words. You could just search for 'fail' and it would give you 'fail', 'failed', 'failures' and 'failings'.

"In terms of getting that as a proportion of everything all together it was a case of doing a complete word count of every word that appeared in the text, so we were able to express the number of specific terms that we found as a proportion of either the total number of words or as a rate per page," he added.

"It's one of those things where everybody just has their head down and absolutely has to concentrate," added Douglas.

Making sense of the census

The second release of census data was published last Tuesday (11 December) and posed a challenge for regional news organisations looking for regionally specific data.

Data journalist at WalesOnline Claire Miller went to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) briefing in Cardiff.

"What I was tweeting was being fed into a liveblog on the website. That was quite a good way of getting the story up immediately rather than waiting for after the briefing," she said.

Ben James, reporter at the Brighton Argus, found a story in the census figures that resulted in a splash on the front page of the print edition. He told that knowledge of the subject is key. "When you know the area you know the things to look out for. Religion has always been a hot topic in the city."

He explained that each local authority was given a ranking in each area. "I think there are about 340 local authorities so even if Brighton is ranked 50th in one of them it's still in the top 10 to 20 per cent. So anything 50 or under or 300 and above was worth a second look.

"Those methods are good for a starting point to find any stand-out figures then you have to start looking into it," he said.

"It's a case of ringing round after you found the figures and seeing what people make of them," he added.

Miller had set up Google Fusion Tables to compare and map the census data quickly.

"They were all set up beforehand, ready to go. When I came in the morning I sorted out the 2001 data, having it all ready in tables so I could come back and add the 2011 [data] to it," she said.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

The four examples show advanced preparation can be key when faced with a planned release of large data sets or lengthy information.

Whether tackling information in a 2,000-page document or a major data release, taking time to plan can help you find the story and get you ahead.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).