SDR Deposit of the Month: Making news the “Big Local” way

December 21, 2018
Regina Lee Roberts
Sample of data

When Bethney Bonilla deposited the U.S. Rape Clearance Data (2014-2016) , in the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR), she was putting into place a key piece of a larger, coordinated effort to break a troubling national news story: some police departments use a loophole to clear rape cases despite not having made related arrests, resulting in inflated clearance rates that are often cited as a measure of police effectiveness.

According to Bonilla, a Stanford alum who has returned to the Farm to put her data journalism skills to work in service of the Big Local News (BLN) project, "We are already seeing the impact of this remarkable reporting and data gathering by our partners. The FBI announced earlier this month that they will fast-track a fix for flaws in their crime reporting system and require local police to disclose cases they classify as unfounded. Beyond that we believe this data will help journalists across the country to discover and write stories about policies affecting their communities."

The investigative journalists, Mark Fahey, Mark Greenblatt, Kenny Jacoby, Eric Sagara, and Bernice Yeung collaborated with the Stanford Big Local News team to collect, clean and archive the data. This deposit was collected as part of the investigations that lead to articles published by Newsy, Reveal, and ProPublica into how police process rape cases.

The Big Local News team is led by Cheryl Phillips, professor of journalism in the Stanford Department of Communication and Journalism. Big Local News is a project within the Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative (JDI).  An important aspect of Big Local News it that it seeks to empower smaller local news organizations to be able to use these aggregated data sets to tell their own local stories based on evidence in the data. Smaller newsrooms typically don’t have the staff or funding to launch investigative data journalism projects on this scale. Part of what Big Local News does, in addition to data wrangling and archiving, is to provide journalists with data analysis tools for their own investigations. 

Collaboration is key.

To that end, Big Local News is working with the creators of Workbench, a programming-free data processing and analysis platform based at Columbia University, this tool is one of the ways in which Big Local normalizes and cleans the data, getting it ready to be archived in the SDR. 

Using the SDR is of crucial importance for the preservation and as a long-term access solution for the data collected by/for Big Local News. The SDR safely and redundantly stores data now and into the future, regardless of inevitable changes in storage systems, file formats and versioning. It provides reliable access to digital content from persistent, unchanging web links (PURLs), so that citations and references to deposited content do not break. 

Stanford PURLs and digital stacks links will be leveraged for access to processed data like the pilot project of Big Local known as the Stanford Open Policing Project. Within the SDR, datasets may be versioned, and other documents like the data code books and documentation relating to methodologies may be submitted to SDR during the course of the project. These supporting documents will help guide future researchers on how to understand and work with the data. Big Local News Data Sets are also indexed in Searchworks

-- By Regina Lee Roberts and Hannah Frost. The Stanford Library Project Team working with Big Local News also includes: Ben Albritton, Arcadia Falcone, and Christina Harlow. 



Regina Lee Roberts

Regina Lee Roberts

Head of Social Sciences Resource Group
Bibliographer for Anthropology & Archaeology
Communication & Journalism
Feminist Studies
and Lusophone Africa Collections
Covering for Sociology Librarian (Interim)
Interim coverage with James R. Jacobs of State, Local and International Government Documents