Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Data Project: The license plates PennDOT won't let you have

Ask any experienced data reporter for advice on where to start when trying to learn the basics, and he or she will say some variation of the same thing: "Start small." Massive or complex datasets can be intimidating to any journalist, so picking something simple and fun is a good way to ease into it.

That's why one of the first projects of this site included no pie charts or bar graphs. No, it included photoshopped license plates like this one:

Inspired by WRAL's project, "100 rejected NC license plates," I reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation asking if they kept a list of rejected plates. Even better, I was told, they had a "Do Not Issue" list of 10,000 combinations of letters and numbers banned from the back bumper of Pennsylvania's vehicles. 

It took a great deal of time and several sets of eyes to scour through the list and pick out a few dozen plates that were entertaining but still safe to publish on a family website. From there, I created a quick template in Photoshop and produced a photo gallery of license plates you'll never see on the road

No intimidating data set or complex data navigation here; just a simple, fun first data project. 

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