To highlight the wide diversity of journalism innovation projects proposed by our 

#Journo100 Finalist: Dana Chinn of USC/Buy South L.A.

To highlight the wide diversity of journalism innovation projects proposed by our 100% Journalism finalists, we’re running short Q & As with our ten finalists.

Dana ChinnDana Chinn is a lecturer at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism who is working on Buy South L.A., a data journalism project that aims to survey and analyze 100 percent of the businesses in selected corridors in South Los Angeles. Chinn wrote in her application that “mining the Los Angeles business license database together with data gathered through surveys about businesses in the underground economy is expected to yield rich insights about the dynamics of the South L.A. economy.  We would use the Ebyline freelancers to help USC data journalism students do brief profiles of each of the businesses in a designated South L.A. business corridor.” Findings will be displayed in a searchable online database of businesses that will also be mobile-optimized. The project is already funded by the Knight Foundation as part of the Mobile News Incubator Fellowship Program.

Chinn recently discussed plans for Buy South L.A. with Ebyline. Excerpts of that conversation follow.

What do you hope readers will get out of the content produced by Buy South L.A.?

A much better understanding of what is a healthy community in South L.A. If we look at what makes a community, it includes effective land use, good transportation options as well as community development. And within that big broad category of community development we’re talking also about economic development. By having a better understanding of the types of businesses, and probably more importantly, the types of people who own or who work in them, we’re hoping to combine other insights that will help drive community economic development or highlight what’s hampering community economic development.

What do you hope the students and freelancers participating in the project will get out of it?

For the students, this is a data journalism class, and so it will be their first exposure to really understanding about how to go beyond the anecdotal interviews. I’m really hoping that by bringing in professional journalists to work with them, and supplement stories, that they’ll also be able to learn from each other as far as how to interview people who are very different from them, and what are the factors involved in business reporting.

But the main component of the class is really understanding how to use large data sets and combine them and clean up data. We’re trying to get the city of Los Angeles business data and combining all the data sets together, and seeing what insights pop out of them. The philosophy is no stories without data, and no data without stories.

Your proposal mentions a need for bilingual reporters, which makes a lot of sense. Do you see language as one of the bigger challenges with this project or do you predict other challenges? 

I don’t think this has been done much at all, so I’m not quite sure what the challenges are, frankly. We had a few students in the summer when we started this program go out and do trial runs with interviewing some businesses, and definitely bilingual was important.

But I think the question is how open are business owners, and people who work at businesses going to be talking to reporters whether a student or not? We want to avoid a lot of the anecdotal and stereotypical views of South L.A. Usually when there needs to be a story about South L.A., a woman goes to the barber shop, because there’s a movie about barber shops and how that’s the voice of the community. It’s much more complex and layered and varied than that. And so I think that’s going to be a challenge, really breaking past those stereotypes. Also, some people may not be able to talk to us because they might not be licensed or things like that.

I think we have to define what a business is, too. Before we even send anybody out to do interviews, we have to define a lot of things. What is a business, what is its corridor, and what are the questions that we need to ask both of the data and when we’re doing interviews. So it’s not going to be just sort of a ‘let’s go on an interview,’ there’s going to be interviews for a reason. I just don’t know what that reason is yet.

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.