Making Federal Data More Useful and Accessible to Fuel Media and Democracy: A Report for the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology

9 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2015  

John Wihbey

Northeastern University

Date Written: December 12, 2014


As part of our participation in the December 2014 meeting of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, Journalist’s Resource at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy authored recommendations to help the principal federal statistical agencies communicate better with media and, by extension, interested citizens. A variety of ideas were generated through website analysis, testing and conversations with journalists and experts. Agencies could substantially increase their potential audience by designing more for the “broad middle” of Web users, who may not be familiar with the federal statistics landscape. Proposed ideas are as follows:

1) Media-communications recommendations: Hold regular workshops with journalists of all kinds, particularly non-specialists; when journalists need help with data, provide access to expert government officials; and regularly offer media organizations the chance to articulate their needs for original data collection. 2) Data content- and presentation-related recommendations: Rethink what agencies collect with a more “citizen-centric” approach; find data that speak to the technology revolution and related changes; stay relevant and current on the Web, repurposing materials as news trends emerge and emphasizing shorter “quick hits” from large datasets and reports; and feature salient data points in large reports and design visualizations for news sites. 3) Technical and website recommendations: Consider a more standardized Web user interface (UI) across agencies — and responsive design; build an intuitive, app-like version of each site for more general users; design for better site search and search engine optimization; be clear about the quality of data; strengthen user information and metadata; offer many data formats and consider use cases and accessibility; and create more Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that are tailored to the needs of news and information companies.

Keywords: data, journalism, federal government, statistics, news, access, open data, open government, user interface, UI, UX

Suggested Citation

Wihbey, John, Making Federal Data More Useful and Accessible to Fuel Media and Democracy: A Report for the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (December 12, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

John Wihbey (Contact Author)

Northeastern University ( email )

School of Journalism
360 Huntington Ave
Cambridge, MA Massachusetts 02115
United States

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