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Data Delver: Matt Wynn, Arizona Republic

Posted by on Mar 8, 2010 in Blog, CAR, data delvers | No Comments

CAR brings added benefit to stories throughout the paper, and it’s essential in urban areas that have many facets to be explored through data. But before you can bring the CAR to a city like Phoenix, you’ve got to be confident in your abilities. That’s why Matt Wynn, now Senior Data Reporter at the Arizona Republic, said he’s still thankful for the opportunities he had working with data in Springfield, Mo. He told me each aspect of his career has enabled him to do what he does today.

This profile of Wynn is a part of my continuing series I’m calling “Data Delvers,” where I pass on summaries, quotes and audio clips from conversations with journalists using technology to find, analyze and convey data-driven stories and/or projects to the modern audience.

Power of a small paper

Wynn said he values his experience working with data at the Springfield News-Leader.  He got the job, serving as an editor, dirctly after graduating undergrad at the University of Missouri, where he had worked with NICAR.  At Missouri, he worked with fellow NICARians Chase Davis, now of California Watch, and Ben Welsh, now of the Los Angeles Times.  Mike Pell, now at the Center for Public Integrity, was also in that group.  He said smaller papers are essential for learning all the nuances you can’t be taught in school, and learning lessons on a smaller scale.

“It was really fun, and I’m so blessed I got the chance to go there and work with as much data as possible.  I could push the boundaries without having to worry too much about failing.”

Bringing interactive data to Phoenix

After a year in Springfield, Wynn moved to the Arizona Republic.  He described his job as “taking public info and making it as easy to use as possible.”  When he posts data, he tries to make it accessible to the “lowest common denominator.”

“You want people to get as much or as little information as they want or need,” he said.

Posting data allows the story to live- -and Wynn sees this as an extension of more traditional CAR.  “More and more CAR is becoming more about development.  The traditional CAR output is a story, and the goal is to get people talking about something.  When you post data online, you create an application, the information lives and breathes and is more long-term, it feels like it has more of an impact.

According to Wynn, interactive data pieces are popular, and produce pretty constant traffic.  He thinks one of the main factors that helps is that data applications are continuously and automatically updated, so many data features constantly have fresh content.

Bringing data to reporters

Finding story ideas and instilling data culture in the newsroom is another key component of Wynn’s job, he said.

“One success is that we’ve really made people a lot more receptive to data, they see the possibilities. We can pitch ideas, but now, sometimes, reporters come to us with ideas,” he said.

Coding needed for journalists?

To get the tools to post data online, Wynn has dabbled in both Django and PHP.

Wynn said that he advocates journalists learn at least some coding, and if you don’t know something about it, it remains a mystery.  “If you’ve never dealt with it, it can be scary.  But it’s a tool, and you need to understand what it can do.”

« « Data Delver: Anthony DeBarros, USA Today

My next move: LA Times! » »