The Associated Press will use an application from Microsoft to give its members the ability to create localized stories using data prepared by its national team, the news cooperative announced Wednesday.

Troy Thibodeaux, who leads the AP's data team, said he hopes this will be a major step forward for data journalism in general.

Even though newsrooms are hungry for journalists with data skills, a lot of smaller outlets don't have the capacity to hire data reporters or produce graphics, he said.

"This lets them do data journalism in the midst of their normal workflows, which has been really positive," Thibodeaux said.

The software and training will allow reporters to take a slice of their own local data, visualize it in charts, graphs and maps and share it with their readers. The AP chose an application called Power BI, a rather new Microsoft program, because it allows for rendering complicated graphics very quickly, Thibodeaux said.

The project faced its first public test last night, as the AP offered an interactive map of the Virginia gubernatorial primary results — a visual, Thibodeaux said, that would have taken too long to create without Power BI.

Microsoft embarked on a non-financial collaboration with the AP as part of the software giant’s Data Journalism Program, which launched last year. So far, the program offers online tutorials by renowned data visualizer Alberto Cairo as well as more customized one-on-one training.

"By including interactive visualizations along with the data, the AP will make it easier for its members and customers to discover local stories and, with just a few clicks, create and publish localized interactive data visualizations to illustrate those stories with Power BI," wrote Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president for communications, in a blog post.

Thibodeaux hopes this program helps close the gap for newsrooms that want to incorporate data into their coverage but don't have the time, he said."We have seen a lot of interest in more data work," he said. "What I really hope to see is lowering the bar for entry to data journalism."