How making it easier to give readers what they want won us two Regional Press Awards

At this year’s Regional Press Awards, Archant scooped two digital awards — one for its databank project, and the overall digital award for the Eastern Daily Press. Here, Pete Raven, Data and Invention manager at Archant, explains what the databank does, and why the overall digital prize for the EDP was the result of several years of hard work:

When we sat down to plan the Archant databank, we knew three things.

Number one, many of our best-read stories were based on food hygiene reports and crime statistics.

Number two, our readers also loved stories with maps, tables and infographics.

And number three, our journalists knew all this too but still struggled to keep up with demand for both because they were such a pain in the arse to put together.

Peter picks up the digital innovation award from Benedicte Autret from Google, with host Nick Ferrari on the right.

Making it easier for our writers to give our readers more of what they want was our mantra — and it won us Digital Initiative of the Year at May’s Regional Press Awards.

What we came up with is a tool which automatically scrapes data from national datasets and downloads a relevant report which can be pasted into a table, map or infographic. A process that used to take a hard-pressed reporter hours now takes seconds.

The platform launched with food hygiene ratings and crime, with datasets based on education, health, property, transport, business and government to follow. It was seized upon by journalists in our offices from Norfolk to Devon, who knew there was gold in open datasets at local level but often lacked the time or training to really unlock its potential.

Local crime is of huge interest to our readers and the databank easily turns monthly datasets into interactive maps, charts and tables at the click of button. The databank takes a spreadsheet and turns it into an engaging infographic that tells the story for our audience. Successful examples have included the 10 most crime-ridden streets in Weston-super-Mare and all burglaries in Norfolk in 2017.

The databank also alerts reporters to updates in the datasets. For example, when a restaurant receives a food hygiene rating of zero or cleans up its act and receives an improved rating, the databank will email our reporters as soon as it happens.

The response from the public has been massive. The first 10 food hygiene articles created through Databank generated an average of 25,000 page views apiece, and the first 10 crime stories averaged 10,000 PVS each — these are massive numbers for many of our smaller titles.

The Eastern Daily Press team with their Overall Digital Award. Photo: Society of Editors

Despite the efforts of a band of very dedicated and very talented staff, it’s fair to say that Archant was behind the curve digitally until a couple of years ago. Print was still very much our focus.

Now that has changed. We are catching up to our competitors and in some cases overtaking them. It’s taken a lot of hard work and a commitment to change from our bosses. And that’s why it’s so important for us to have won this award.

The Eastern Daily Press, one of our flagship dailies, took the Overall Digital Award home to East Anglia too.

Again, we think that was recognition not just for our great team and great stories but for our belief in telling stories in ways our readers like to consume them — and giving reporters the right tools to deliver them.

In any content room, there are only so many stories per day which are really going to fly, so we believe in adding value which keeps readers engaged on a single story for as long as possible.

We are doing some amazing things with video which we hope will make an impact at next year’s awards, but this time it was really about the third-party tools we have brought in to help reporters help readers.

In January 2017, we introduced Apester polls and quizzes which kept readers on our sites for an extra 15,000 hours — or 627 days — and generated a profit for the company.

Our live reporting platform has been rolled out to cover events including the General Election, local elections, GCSE and A-Level results. Our readers spent an average of 10 minutes on these live blogs.

Interactive graphics were also an integral part of our storytelling with reporters producing 1,300 graphics culminating in 11.5m views. Alongside tables, charts and graphs, thousands of readers have spent hours looking at our interactive maps of the 2017 General Election and seeing how well their child’s school has performed via a searchable table.

Introduced in March, our new comments system has seen reader posts increase to 7,000 a month, averaging 230 a day. For the first time our comments section is updated in real-time and, thanks to a machine learning system, allows us to easily ban troublesome users.

Interactive elements also helped us to bring readers new perspectives on two tragic stories from East Anglia.

Through Story Maps, we were able to show readers the final movements of Norwich mother Kerri McAuley before she was murdered by her abusive partner, a case which sparked a huge and generous response from EDP and Norwich Evening News readers.

Interactive timelines have been used to great effect, but most notably in the case of missing RAF airman Corrie McKeague, where we added images, videos and links to tell the whole story of his still unsolved disappearance.

It feels amazing to have won these awards, especially against such huge titles and such talented journalists.

We want to win more — and we’ve got a chance as long as we remember to think “what do the readers want, and how can we make it easy for reporters to deliver it?”

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