Andy Dickinson Andy is a Senior lecturer in Journalism at Manchester Metropolitan University where he is the program lead for the MA Multimedia Journalism.

Sentence reviews & Intelligent pivots: Google sheets gets an update

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I like a good mailing list. Forget your social media, if you want quality information then a good email newsletter is where it's at. So, I have quite a few drop into my inbox every day. One that always gets a click is the daily statistics update from gov.uk I know, I live the highlife at Dickinson towers!

For the most part it's links to datasets or information that's been updated and there's invariably something interesting to look at. It's the kind of bubbling undercurrent of data and info that always worth a bimble round to experiment with data. It's what David Ottewell from Trinity Mirror's data unit called the 'low hanging fruit' of data journalism.

This mornings email was no exception. In amongst the usual updates to unclaimed estates and UK Trade data impact assessments were little nuggets to explore. One was the data for Non-association independent schools inspections and outcomes - lots of ratings and geographical data to explore. And, the one that I ended up playing with, data on the Outcome of unduly lenient sentence referrals

Unduly lenient sentence referrals

Any member of the public can "ask the Attorney General’s office to examine sentences handed down by Crown Courts in England and Wales within 28 days of sentencing" under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme. The AG's office publish the outcomes of those requests including "the sentences examined, the outcome and details of the cases.". Interesting stuff.

So I downloaded the data (csv, thanks) and threw it into Google Sheets to take a look and I'm glad I did.

Google Sheets gets new features

It's been a while since I dipped into Google sheets, I've been playing with Python too much. So I'd missed that it had an update at the end of April. But one new feature was immediately useful with my data- intelligent pivot tables.

The long and short is that this makes quizzing the data much quicker. For example, I might want to know how many of the cases for review are complete. All I do is open the Explore window and type in my question. The 'autocomplete' function picks out column headings or cell data to suggest content you might be looking for. Using the column headings makes things a bit easier but the 'plain English' query is pretty solid too.

Conclusions

I really like the new feature. I'm not sure I'd entirely trust it unless I thought the data was clean. But it's a nice user interface to pivot tables which can be a bit tricky to get your head around, especially in Google Sheets. It's one that could answer to basic journalistic questions of the data quite quickly using a platform that's accessible to most newsrooms. Try downloading some data and ask it some questions.

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