‘Our journalists are looking for the human story behind the data’

We have never forgotten one regional story from BN DeStem. We published of the Centraal Bureau Rijvaardigheidsbewijzen and these were used to find the oldest Dutch person with a driver’s license. This was 104-year old Aart Overtveld from Steenbergen. Enough reasons to speak with Hille van der Kaa, editor in chief at this regional newspaper from West-Brabant, about data journalism and its future.

We love it how you create a human story on the basis of cold data. How do you do this?
‘We use the News service from LocalFocus. The editorial office receives new datasets almost every day. They interpret those and publish it with a complimentary story. We always zoom in on West-Brabant. We try to showcase the graphs and maps on a regional level allowing the people to easily find their municipal data. Our journalists try to look beyond just the data, they are always on the lookout for the human story behind it.’Like the 104-year old man with a driver’s license. 
‘Exactly. We received data from LocalFocus and realised that the oldest Dutch person in possession of a driver’s license lives in our region. Of course we visited him and this resulted in a real human-story.’

All on the basis of data. Do you also get data from other places than the news service?
‘Certainly, we use municipal year reports, but to be honest, you’ll find our journalists more often on the streets than in a dataset. Looking for news in a dataset works well when you are on the lookout for trends or if you want to give your story an extra layer, but if you want to know what is going on in daily life, you will have to go out and talk to people. A dataset comes in handy when you are trying to find the exceptional cases.’

What developments do you see in the future?
‘Personalised and location-based are trends, but not per se in data journalism. You do not see a lot of data-based journalism in editorial offices. Of course there were the Panama Papers, but on a smaller level it is not data that predominates. I do see a future in technology helping journalists with the production of news.’