The Local News Data Hub, launched at Toronto Metropolitan University in winter 2020, is a collaborative data journalism project that involves students and faculty from the School of Journalism in partnership with the Canadian Press wire service. It is a response to the erosion of local journalism at a time when many local newsrooms lack the capacity to produce data-informed stories.
The Data Hub attempts to shore up local journalism across Canada by i) supplying newsrooms with data-driven stories at no cost ii) training student data journalists and iii) providing support for/collaborating with individual journalists and news organizations on data journalism projects.
The reporting team, consisting of student data journalists and student data analysts supervised by Toronto Metropolitan University faculty, identifies government and other data with the potential to generate local stories. Once a dataset is identified and the basic reporting is completed, Data Hub reporters write a story template and then use a document/data merge tool to populate the template with data and produce customized stories for specific communities. The local stories produced using this basic application of automated journalism are then posted on the LNDH website and shared with the Canadian Press wire service for distribution to CP clients across the country.
The Data Hub initiative was inspired by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit, which has been generating community coverage since 2017. It produces data-based national stories accompanied by “story packages” that provide partner newsrooms with clean data and guidance on how to produce local versions of the story. We also drew upon the approach adopted by RADAR News (Reporters and Data and Robots) out of the U.K., which bills itself as the world’s only automated local news agency. RADAR says its five journalists have filed more than 400,000 stories since it launched in 2018 with a supporting grant from Google’s Digital News Innovation Fund. Its process is to “analyse data, discover its stories and develop a tailored algorithm to generate copy in hours, not days or weeks.”
The Local News Data Hub differs from these models in that it produces stories at no charge for local newsrooms, uses only a very basic form of automated journalism, and is a collaboration that brings together working journalists, students and faculty from post-secondary institutions.
Financial support for the Local News Data Hub has been provided by CTV News; the Journalism Research Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University; the Toronto Metropolitan University School of Journalism; and CWA Canada, The Media Union.