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Ben Welsh to lead new data journalism partnership with Stanford

Ben Welsh
Ben Welsh will team up with Stanford’s Big Local News program to assist newsrooms with investigative reporting by creating software to better refine public records. He will help grow the project as a visiting senior data journalist at Stanford, where he’ll also spend time mentoring staff, fellows and students.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Times is investing in an ambitious new partnership with Stanford University to gather and analyze vital public data. The Times’ contributions will be led by longtime computational journalist Ben Welsh.

The collaboration will build off the success of a combined coronavirus tracking effort. Last year, The Times joined with journalists across California, including students and professors at Stanford, in a data collection drive. The coalition built the most comprehensive resource on the spread of COVID-19 in the state, supplied data to numerous local outlets, informed millions of readers and fueled scientific research.

In his new role, Welsh will team up with Stanford’s Big Local News program to assist newsrooms with investigative reporting by creating software to better refine such public records.

“When developed in the public interest, technology empowers us to create journalism that is more ambitious, more empirical, more impactful and more sustainable.” Welsh said. “I’m honored to play a small part in these essential institutions coming together to advance the data journalism movement.”

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As part of the Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative, Big Local News compiles, processes and shares difficult-to-obtain government data. Its products have empowered newsrooms to produce accountability work on a wide range of topics, including criminal justice, public health, housing and education.

The Times is joining as an inaugural affiliate of Big Local News’ Data Plus program, funding the creation of a new membership system to help sustain the effort. Other supporters include Reuters and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. Welsh’s work will be supported by those funders and the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships.

Over the next year, Welsh will help grow the project as a visiting senior data journalist at Stanford, where he’ll spend time mentoring staff, fellows and students.

He will also contribute to Agenda Watch, a drive to mine the mountain of documents generated by local government meetings. Partners in the project include the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Bay City News, the Associated Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Big Local News is thrilled to have Ben Welsh work with us,” said Cheryl Phillips, the program’s director and Hearst professional in residence at Stanford. “We believe his work will directly lead to a sustainable effort to support local data-driven journalism.”

Originally from Swisher, Iowa, Welsh arrived at latimes.com in 2007, where he co-founded The Times’ first digital projects team. He now serves as the editor of the Data and Graphics Department.

Projects he’s contributed to have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Library of Congress’ Innovation Award, a Knight News Challenge grant and numerous other prizes for investigative reporting, digital design and online journalism.

His data-driven reporting, frequently in partnership with others, has led to reforms in the Los Angeles Fire Department’s 911 system, overhauls to how the city recruits and hires firefighters, a revamp of a broken building inspection program, the replacement of the Los Angeles Police Department’s public crime map, as well as increased fines against exploitative landlords. As a result, two municipal fire chiefs and the Los Angeles fire marshal have left office.

He is a contributor to dozens of open-source software projects, leading the development of tools that ease access to data from numerous California agencies, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Geological Survey and an array of wildfire tracking systems.

Welsh will continue to partner with Times staffers and the next Data and Graphics editor to produce ambitious journalism, building off the resources assembled with this program’s partners.


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