Big Local News has a small staff of three data journalists. That’s in addition to my time and that of co-director Serdar Tumgoren. On May 6th, the work of all three of those journalists was named as part of two Pulitzer Prize finalists. Congratulations to Irene Casado Sanchez, Justin Mayo and Eric Sagara! You three make Big Local News what it is.

We collaborated with Mississippi Today and The New York Times Investigative Reporting Fellowship on an investigation into abuse by sheriff’s deputies in Mississippi. Irene Casado Sanchez and Eric Sagara extracted and analyzed Taser data that revealed the extent of that abuse in this story: “How a ‘Goon Squad’ of Deputies Got Away With Years of Brutality.”

We also worked with the Associated Press, Stanford Education Professor Thomas Dee and EdSource on a school enrollment project, called Missing Kids. For an earlier Big Local News collaboration, Eric Sagara built a data pipeline to gather enrollment data from nearly every state. In this second iteration, data journalist Justin Mayo worked for months with the Associated Press to process and analyze data for the Missing Kids project. The AP held webinars for its members, going step-by-step how to use the data, and we released the data for anyone to use on the Big Local News platform.

The Missing Kids project was named as a Pulitzer Finalist today, but last week it also won the National Headliner Award for Education Writing. The judges of that prize wrote: “The database created by its team allowed a number of other media organizations to examine the numbers and write for their own audiences. High utility, very impactful, clearly focused and written.”

Big Local News in practice.

Not a bad day, especially because the concept of Big Local News was just that a decade ago, a concept – a crazy idea I pitched in my job talk in the spring of 2014 at Stanford University. What if we could build a collaborative system for sharing data to create bigger journalistic impact and empower local and national accountability stories? Because I couldn’t find a better name, I called this idea Big Local News. James T. Hamilton and others bit on the idea and hired me. It took six years to go from idea to a data-sharing platform, which we launched the first week of the pandemic.

Today, we run that platform, another one called Agenda Watch, which allows journalists to set up tips by topic, jurisdiction and date out of local government agendas and minutes, and we mentor and train journalists on a host of data-driven projects. Next up, we are part of a growing effort to build an infrastructure that supports our flagging local news organizations, helping them to publish accountability journalism that makes a difference in communities large and small. It’s another crazy idea – let’s make it real too.

About Big Local News

From its base at Stanford University, Big Local News gathers data, builds tools and collaborates with reporters to produce journalism that makes an impact. Its website at offers a free archiving service for journalists to store and share data.

Learn more by visiting our About page.