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Data and the Media: US News Media Group Stephanie Salmon, Director of Information Services Doug Lay, Director of Web Technology. What is U.S. News Media Group?. A consumer-based digital publishing company Focused on publishing verticals: Education Health Money Politics & Policy Cars
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Data and the Media: US News Media Group Stephanie Salmon, Director of Information Services Doug Lay, Director of Web Technology
What is U.S. News Media Group? • A consumer-based digital publishing company Focused on publishing verticals: • Education • Health • Money • Politics & Policy • Cars • Travel Products include: • data-driven rankings projects • online news and articles • monthly print magazine • print newsstand publications • weekly digital magazine
Data-driven rankings projects at U.S. News • Established projects with online and print components: • Best Colleges • Best Graduate Schools • Best Hospitals • Best Children’s Hospitals Newer projects developed at USNews.com over the past five years: • Mutual Fund rankings • Car and Truck rankings • Best High Schools • Best Nursing Homes • Best Places to Retire Upcoming projects: • Best Law Firms • Travel rankings (now in beta)
Obtaining data, option 1: Collecting it in-house • We collect most data for our college and graduate school rankings ourselves. • Our MIS department and data team maintain an online survey which institutions fill out.
Obtaining data, option 2: Partnering • For our Best Hospitals and Best Children’s Hospitals rankings we partner with another company (RTI) • Partner company gathers some data; other data comes from 3rd-party sources (e.g. AHA).
Obtaining data, option 3: Aggregation • For our Mutual Funds and Car and Truck rankings we obtain ratings from multiple sources and generate an aggregate score. • We partner with companies providing individual rankings instead of just scraping their sites. Companies have generally been eager to work with us.
Obtaining data, option 4: Government data • Government data is public domain. • We directly ingest government data for some projects, and partner with companies to pre-process government data for us for some other projects.
Mechanics of transferring data • Most providers still deliver data to us in simple tabular formats (spreadsheet, csv). • XML offers some compelling advantages: • Self-describing • Can handle more complex data structures (hierarchical, relational) • U.S. News prefers to provide data to partners in XML format when possible. • However, without clear standards for transferring data in XML format (standard schemas or DTDs), importing data in XML format is often more cumbersome than importing it in tabular format. • Obtaining data via Web services APIs is appealing in theory but our preference is generally not to make the availability of our site dependent on 3rd parties.
Issues in presenting data • Creating online search tools that are easy to use and perform well is an ongoing challenge. • Choice of technology to use for displaying data graphically is fraught with risk. • Unique handles for different types of entities present challenges. Numeric identifiers are guaranteed to be unique, but textual names are far more user friendly (and search engines like them better as well).
Issues with data migration and curation • Working with data is expensive, whether you gather it yourself or license it. Even free data has costs. • The meaning of data elements can change over time, making historical comparisons difficult and potentially misleading. • Having built data projects for over 25 years we have found that our readers appreciate the effort in putting data into a more understandable and friendly form.
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