The data mindset

The Data Hut is produced by USA TODAY’s data team, with help from like-minded others at USA TODAY and Gannett newsrooms around the nation.

Since 1988, USA TODAY has paid a team of journalists to focus on finding news in data. That’s not a typo – we’ve been doing this since Ronald Reagan was president. This idea was a curiosity for years. Then it became a journalism staple. Now it’s a cottage industry. We’re not taking credit, but we do claim that we got onto a good idea early. We’ve put it to good use and learned a lot along the way. This blog will explain how.

In the hands of journalists, data is a very broad idea. It can be a phrases, social conditions or opinions. Yes, it can be numbers, too – totals, rates, proportions, indexes. That’s why we mentioned non-numerical examples first – to emphasize that data can bolster whatever journalists need to cover.

Journalists use data differently than business managers or researchers. We use some of the same tools and techniques. Sometimes we do that in ways that make can specialists shudder. That’s OK – we listen carefully and adapt as needed.

They do things with data that make us shudder, too. They sometimes write abominably, and often just for each other. They can be awfully slow. Since they may need to persuade, they sometimes have to sacrifice accuracy. In particular, their graphics may deceive or distort or confuse.

We try to be fast but careful, clear but thorough. We never try to persuade.

We use data from governments and businesses and think tanks but we also gather and build our own. Sometime we mix them all, too.

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