Databases and polls: When numbers are the news

Many news organizations have for years culled news stories from analog databases such as police records or census information and most online news media have set up quick polls that are attached to their news stories. Because of the internet and the multimedia tools available to us, we can do more with the facts and figures we might otherwise overlook. The following sites and news sections have taken ordinary numbers and have turned them into extraordinary resources.


SickCity harnesses a simple, but impressive idea: use Twitter to gauge how sick people are in a particular area. Using Twitter to find out if the flu is spreading within 10 miles of New York City, for example, is as easy searching for “flu near:NYC within:10mi.” Putting it all together is what SC has done well, compiling information on various diseases as they spread in cities around the world.

Risky Roads Traffic Map

Does it feel like there are more traffic accidents than normal happening in your area? Find out for sure with this interactive map that uses colored dots to display the frequency of fatal accidents across the U.S. The genius of this project is that traffic fatality numbers are often readily available to news organizations, but it is when they are displayed in this sort of interactive environment that the gravity of the numbers sinks in.

ZipWho has taken readily available census information and converted it into a database, searchable by zip code or by demographic information. A zip code search of a particular Kansas City neighborhood reveals that of its more than 14,000 residents, the median age is about 30 and 6.5 percent have a college degree. The latter statistic is low compared to the national average, as evidenced in the percentile column on the right.

Tampa Bay Mug Shots

Police mugshots as a group can be an unintentionally humorous collection which leaves the criminals exposed, which is perhaps why some reacted negatively to the St. Petersburg Times’ news project on its debut. The site culls what is already publicly available and brings to light common trends amongst area criminals, something a simple rehash of the police docket could not do. People may be tsk tsking now, but look for similar sites to pop up in the future.

More after the jump

Most mainstream media news sites have incorporated polls either on their front page or on individual stories. Usually they are built with the site’s CMS and thus aren’t visually interesting. OwnyourC flips the notion of what a poll can be by offering a stunning, Flash-based poll that incorporates animation but still makes the question the focal point. Lest you think the site is all razzle dazzle, the submitted answers can be broken down by age, gender and location.


GoodvBad isn’t exactly breaking new ground with its collection of polls, but it is worth noting here. Site visitors are presented with a subject and are asked if something is either good or bad. What’s remarkable is the collection of polls in one place and the simplistic manner of eliciting responses.

Toronto Star’s sexually transmitted disease maps

Knowing whether your neighborhood has a high rate a chlamydia is a little more alarming than knowing if the flu is going around, but if you need such information the Star has made it available. Neighborhoods are broken down into blocks and assigned a color on the heat map: the darker the color, the higher the chance your neighbor is harboring an unwelcome visitor. The map is even searchable by address. Disturbing? Yes. Useful? Absolutely.

Publish date: April 14, 2009 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT