Data-driven journalism


How journalists can learn statistics through real life, not abstractions

If you were never good at math as a kid, you can still be a successful, award-winning data journalist. Matt Waite is a prime example. Waite, journalism professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told Poynter that the way he wrapped his head around statistics in college was to apply them to real life, such as test scores, rather than learning abstract terms.

NewsU training: Matt Waite teaches Drones for Reporting and Newsgathering: The Promise and the Peril. Use code 13POYNTER100WAITE for a free webinar replay.

Related: Nate Silver: Eight cool things journalists should know about statistics Read more

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Barack Obama

Government shutdown closes websites, affecting data journalists

Tourists, leaf-peepers and rambunctious World War II veterans weren’t the only people inconvenienced by the partial government shutdown that began Tuesday: Journalists who deal with government data found themselves in a tough spot when they couldn’t download files or pull the most up-to-date data for their projects.

On Investigative Reporters and Editors’ NICAR Listserv, where data journalists often seek help from their peers, many scratched their heads about why the government shut down its websites and tried to come up with ways to circumvent the blocks.

Matt Stiles, a data journalist at NPR, wrote in an email to Poynter that he needed diversity index scores for each Census tract in the country when he discovered the Census Bureau closed up shop for the day: Read more

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IRE’s Horvit: To be an effective reporter, get more comfortable with data

Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), recently shared his thoughts on how data has changed investigative reporting and how IRE fits into the future of journalism.

IRE partnered with Poynter to run a week-long program on investigating local government on a shoestring budget last week. A large portion of the training revolved around using data, including teaching journalists how to source documents and use spreadsheets.

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Data Word Number Sphere Research Results Information Evidence

Online course shows impact, importance of data-driven journalism

People don’t call it big data for nothing. Data are “big” because we’re dealing with millions (billions in the near future) of observations. It’s also big among journalists because data are a powerful storytelling tool.

Think Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, The New York Times’ Snow Fall, Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times’ Politifact and Mugshots, and other data projects that pushed the boundaries of traditional journalism.

Data journalism isn’t really new. In fact, it sprouted from computer-assisted reporting (CAR), which began in the 1950s. What’s different is today’s computers combined with the Internet allow journalists to tell stories that were impossible in the past. “A great data visualization tells a story better than words,” Amanda Hickman, adjunct faculty of interactive data journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, told ReportHer. Read more

Air America Documents

Declassification Engine provides solution to processing declassified documents

At a time when “big data” is in vogue and computational journalism is taking off, reporters need efficient ways to process millions of documents. The Declassification Engine is one way to solve this problem. The project uses the latest methods in computer science to demystify declassified texts and increase transparency in government documents.

The project’s mission is to “create a critical mass of declassified documents by aggregating all the archives that are now just scattered online,” said Matthew Connelly, professor of international and global history at Columbia University and one of the professors directing the project, in a phone interview with Poynter.

Matthew Connelly
Matthew Connelly

The team working on the project, which began in September 2012, is made up of historians, statisticians, legal scholars, journalists and computer scientists. Read more


Government acts on health care costs, in part because of Time story

Time | The Washington Post | TechCrunch

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will release a data file showing prices for inpatient services in 2011 at U.S. hospitals, Steven Brill reports. Brian Cook at the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Brill the move “comes in part” because of Brill’s article from March about health-care costs.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also “offering $87 million to the states to create what she calls ‘health-care-data-pricing centers,’” Brill writes.

The centers will make pricing transparency more local and user friendly than the giant data file she is releasing this morning.

Brill says the report “should become a tip sheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing.” Read more

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10 digital tools journalists can use to improve their reporting, storytelling

Digital tools help produce quality content online, but it can be tough figuring out where to start. Here are 10 online tools that can help improve journalists’ reporting and storytelling, and engage readers in multimedia.

Reporting resources: These tools can help with research and sourcing.

FOIA Machine | (@FOIAMachine)

Requesting government documents can be a lengthy process. FOIA Machine, a free service now in testing and run with help from a Knight Foundation grant and the Center on Investigative Reporting, is a website journalists can use to file FOIA requests and other global transparency requests. The organization makes sure requests are filed properly and tracks requests filed through the website.

Public Insight Network | (@publicinsight)

Searching for sources can be easy — or it can bring reporting to a full stop. Read more

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How sensor journalism can help us create data, improve our storytelling

Data journalism, meet sensor journalism. You two should talk.

What’s sensor journalism? I’ll get to that. But first, let me tell you a story about bugs — and a pair of gadgets that sat for months in a box under John Keefe’s bed.

Keefe, senior editor for data news and journalism technology at WNYC in New York, said by phone that he had bought the Arduino microcontroller and Raspberry Pi with great excitement, played with them for a weekend, and then boxed them up. But he kept kicking around ideas about what you could do with a small computer paired with sensors or other devices. And when asked what WNYC was doing about the 17-year cicadas that will emerge from the earth like insect zombies this summer, Keefe wondered if the answer might be under his bed. Read more


Programmers explain how to turn data into journalism & why that matters

By now you’ve heard about how The Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., published the names and addresses of thousands of local gun permit holders.

And you’ve heard that many gun owners felt The Journal News was either insulting their character (by associating law-abiding gun owners with coverage of a mass school shooting) or invading their privacy (by publishing their names and home addresses). Some outraged critics retaliated by publishing personal information of journalists at the paper, threatening staff members and mailing envelopes of white powder to the newsroom.

We can all agree that sort of violent retaliation went too far. But there’s less agreement about whether the paper erred when it published the information in the first place.

Some of my Poynter colleagues have said yes, it was handled poorly. Read more


Knight News Challenge winner will make historical election data easily accessible

The winners of the latest Knight News Challenge announced today include a collaboration between developers at The New York Times and The Washington Post to create a free, comprehensive database of past U.S. election results.

New York Times interactive news developer Derek Willis and Washington Post news apps developer Serdar Tumgoren are working together on the project, named Open Elections. Their employers are not officially involved, but are supportive of the idea.

How could journalists use this data once it’s available?

In an interview, Willis suggested merging the elections data with demographic data to examine how changing population patterns have affected voting trends. A journalist could show one candidate’s base of support shifting across multiple elections. The data could even provide simple context for a daily news story, such as quickly looking up the last time a Republican won a certain office. Read more

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