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Lancashire care homes investigated via live data project

11 June 2014

Chris Theobald

UCLan students work collaboratively with local newspaper

Image: Mike Hill of the LEP makes a point to students Ibrahim Motala, Sophie Beaumont and Jacob Hooson at the launch of the LEP and UCLan DataPilot

The outcome of an innovative collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Lancashire Evening Post (LEP) will be released today.

The Lancashire Care Homes Data Project began in February 2014 and saw students from UCLan’s School of Journalism and Media work alongside journalists at the LEP to investigate care home provision in the county. Over the next three days the LEP will run the stories that this unique partnership uncovered.

Francois Nel, who developed and led the project, explained: “We are told that we are surrounded by data and that it’s growing exponentially. All of this data is generated and stored, by businesses, governments and individuals, and unlocking it is the key to understanding modern society, and grappling with the problems we face.

“This aim of this project was to understand data, and how it can inform our daily lives, and influence our decisions. It’s not enough to have the data, it’s about making sense of it, and knowing what it can tell you that matters. It was also important for us to consider the resource implications and opportunities for the media company. ”

“This aim of this project was to understand data, and how it can inform our daily lives, and influence our decisions.”

The University was represented by five students from the BA (Hons) International Journalism and MA International Journalism courses and 15 programmers from BSc (Hons) Web Design and Development. They were supported by Megan Knight, senior lecturer in International Journalism and Mark Porter, lecturer in Web Design and Development. Alongside them, journalism business lecturer Kevin Duffy and students were puzzling over what it might take to make these efforts sustainable.

Over the course of three months, students interviewed people, worked through data sets, wrote freedom of information requests and analysed financial reports. This resulted in a number of news articles and also the creation of a software application.

Megan Knight added: “This project has been a pilot scheme, and it shows the value of collaboration, for the students, the teaching staff and for the newspaper. Most importantly, though, we hope that they show value for the readers, and the community of Preston and Lancashire.”

“This project gave me perspective on how versatile data really is and how it can help shape multiple products for various platforms – print and online.”

Although they all started with data, not all the articles are data-driven. For the students, the chance to work on stories with the newspaper was invaluable, and the experience of digging through data for the final piece of information was, although frustrating, ultimately rewarding.

Reflecting on the project, Jacob Hooson said: “Working with data has been a difficult journey and my appreciation for data journalists has grown tenfold throughout the process.

“I have learnt the importance of not discounting the strength of a human source to support data. While data journalism is primarily concerned with numbers and figures, having a human source to contextualise and add information can be invaluable.”

The student programmers faced a number of challenges, including difficult data, uncooperative institutions as well as adjusting to the different working style of journalists. In light of these issues, their work was greatly valued by their colleagues.

Student journalist Eva Gray commented: “This project gave me perspective on how versatile data really is and how it can help shape multiple products for various platforms – print and online.

“Also, observing the way in which programmers work, which is more technical, precise and calculated inspired me to take a similar approach in my work – a step by step, logical work methodology which I clearly needed.”

Mike Hill, Associated Editor of the Lancashire Evening Post, commented: "This has been a great opportunity to work with students across disciplines in a 'real world' environment and it has been really interesting to see how the project progressed.  The standard of work was very high and the students approach was very professional throughout from conception to final delivery.

"The end result provided an illuminating insight into the world of care homes in what has been a topical subject in the national news. I think we can mark this as a success and it would be great to look at similar link ups in the future."