“We’re trying to come up with an alternate model of newsgathering and publication that brings in history and university scholarship, and were trying to see if there is an audience for this,” says McGhee. As part of the center’s research on the American rural west, they reported on the current state of rural newspapers, and the results were quite surprising. Small town newspapers are often doing better than their national counterparts. The center than offered this story for publication to a bunch of western media outlets, and it was picked up by High Country News, the New West, and the Daily Yonder.

McGhee says the next step in the project is to use data-mining techniques to speed-read newspaper archives and identify themes in the news through time. “Data visualization is for exploration as much as it is for explanation or storytelling,” he says.

 

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Alysia Santo is a former assistant editor at CJR.