Sorry EveryBlock, you never learned how to write a headline

There’s been a fair amount of handwringing about NBCNews’ decision to shut down Everyblock.com. Everyblock was touted as a pioneering information Web site that posted local data on such topics as garbage collection, snow removal and graffiti eradication.

But to me, Everyblock never made much sense and for the fundamental reason a lot of data journalism faces — readers don’t care about the raw data. They want the story within the data.

That thought came up a couple of weeks ago as I watched the presentations during our  hack-a-thon here at Montclaieveryblockr State. The winning project analyzed traffic accident data on the Garden State Parkway and concluded that the most dangerous stretch of road was between exits 130 and 140, and the most deadly time to be on the roadway was during a snowstorm.

Yes, the raw data was interesting, as a regular parkway driver, but it was the conclusion drawn from the data that was the real headline.

Everyblock never figured out a way to write those headlines. I remember checking their site in the early days to see what data they had on lower Manhattan. There were reports on what graffiti the city said it had erased each month, by neighborhoods. But what was missing was context, and photos. If I’m a reporter doing a story on graffiti, I want to show before and after photos, AND, more importantly, I want to know whether the city is successfully fighting the graffiti artists, i.e., who is winning. The raw data didn’t provide that.

Here’s hoping someone else picks up the everyblock staff and coding and finds a way to better integrate them. The original decision to buy them was driven by the folks at msnbc.com, as some poorly-thought-out way to gain traction in the hyperlocal market (The NewsVine was another example). A much better partner would be AOL’s Patch, which already has 850 reporters and editors writing about local communities who could pull headlines from the data, or the Journal-Register folks (digitalfirstmedia.com) who seem to be in the forefront of figuring out how to do local.

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