First comes the school shooting. Then they update their data.

May 21, 2018
Category: Newsletters

“The job I hate most, once again adding another grim update to our mass shootings database.”

When Mark Follman tweeted this out Friday, he was expressing the frustration of a national scandal that hasn’t been resolved. Follman, the national affairs editor of Mother Jones, and other teams at places such as The Washington Post have been tracking mass shootings regularly.

Each time major shootings occur, they must update their databases and visualizations to remain accurate. Each time, they encounter the enormity of the toll, the ubiquity of the attacks, the inability of people who serve the public to stop it. The Santa Fe, Texas, attack was the 100th mass shooting since 1982, Follman said.

The Post, focusing on school shootings, reported that at least 214,000 American kids had experienced a gun attack at school since Columbine. For context, that’s more than the number of people who live in Rochester, Salt Lake City, Hartford, Little Rock, Fort Lauderdale or Providence.

How does the Post get that 214,000 figure? By subtracting average daily absences from the enrollment figure, or only counting half the students if the attack takes place just before or just after school, said Steven Rich, the Post’s database editor for investigations.

The Post’s database took nearly a year of data collection and analysis and hundreds of hours to build before it was published last month, said Lynda Robinson, who has edited the outlet’s award-winning project on children of violence. It's been updated four times in about as many weeks. 

“When one of us spots a school shooting, we update the database as soon as possible,” Robinson said. “Steven [Rich] updates the spreadsheet that powers the database with the relevant numbers, including the school’s enrollment, while John [Woodrow Cox] writes a one-sentence summary of the shooting.”

The number of American kids exposed to gunfire during school has been rising steadily, Robinson said, “from more than 135,000 students in June 2017 to more than 187,000 in March 2018 to 200,000 on April 20 to 214,000” on Friday. That’s not counting shootings at after-school events, accidental discharges that caused no harm to anyone but the shooter and suicides that occurred privately or posed no threat to other children.

Follman, who will be co-teaching a Poynter webinar on reporting on mass shootings on May 31, estimates he has spent many hundreds of hours analyzing and updating the Mother Jones database since 2012, when it launched with 62 cases over three decades. “The work is worthwhile for shedding further light on the issue, though it’s not particularly pleasant material to be steeped in,” he said.

After the Parkland mass shooting in February, support has grown for stricter gun laws.

“No matter where you stand on gun policy, the status quo just shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone,’’ Follman said. “It’s a complex problem, but America put a man on the moon and we ought to be able to figure this out. We are capable of doing better, and particularly when it’s school kids who are dying, we must demand better.”

A Tuesday deadline; a ‘deeply problematic’ decision from Facebook

A trade organization representing news publishers has told Facebook its new ideas to label and lump in news stories with politically charged opinion in ads will hurt them and diminish a democracy’s ability to determine the truth.

Facebook said it would group quality publishers alongside political advocacy beginning on Tuesday. Under the new rule, "all Facebook ads featuring political content will get a 'Paid for by' label and would carry a disclaimer." That includes "boosted posts," a common tactic news publishers use to reach larger audiences.

That’s a “fundamental mischaracterization of journalism,” said David Chavern, the president and CEO of the News Media Alliance. His letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was copied to the editors of The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, all members of the alliance.

“This treatment of quality news as political, even in the context of marketing, is deeply problematic,” Chavern wrote. “This will have the effect of elevating less credible news sources on Facebook, the exact opposite of your stated intent.”

Campbell Brown, Facebook's head of news partnerships, later clarified that Facebook recognizes that "news content about politics is different and we are working with publishers to develop the right approach.”

View the letter here. What does Facebook count as political? Here's guidance via CNN.

Quick hits

A SECOND LOOK: He was a hero for a day, saving three kids from gunfire in Philadelphia. "That’s where the story usually ends for us, just as the reality is setting in for gunshot victims who are mostly left to fend for themselves," Helen Ubiñas wrote. Ubiñas did check in on onetime hero Jalil Frazier. Here’s what she found. (h/t Daniel Rubin).

HEAVY-HANDED: President Trump personally pushed his postmaster general to double the fees for packages delivered for Jeff Bezos’s Amazon. The postal chief repeatedly has tried to explain to Trump that he is bound by contracts, USPS is realizing a healthy profit off Amazon and such a move would cost other companies billions. Of note, of course, is that Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post, which has shed a light on multiple irregularities in the Trump administration and the 23 indictments so far in the Mueller probe.

USING ‘CYBERCRIMES LAW’ TO WEAKEN DEMOCRACY: Kenya is the latest country to go after “fake news” and “cybercrimes” in a way that human rights groups fear will hurt civil liberties, VOA reports.

FIRST, HE PLAYED A REPORTER ON TV: Then he got a job at the New York Times. As supervisor of the news operations team, Paul Moon has a day job to support his acting ambitions. The one-time ”reporter” on “All My Children” also has been able to keep his TV career alive, as the evil henchman Khufu on the Amazon series “The Tick.”

SPEAKING OF JOBS: Mandy Jenkins, president of the Online News Association’s board of directors, is headed to the Stanford JSK fellowship this fall, so her day job — editor-in-chief of Storyful — will be opening up. Apply here. One thing to check on: a recent controversy over a Storyful plugin to verify news sources that monitors what journalists watch.

What we’re reading

ELECTION MISCHIEF: Some parts of the United States are required to provide election material in Spanish, but there’s not much oversight, whowhatwhy.org reports. Florida’s Election Department, apparently unable to find someone who speaks Spanish in that state, uses Google Translate on its Spanish site, yielding nonsensical phrases. Texas does not inform Spanish speakers, unlike English speakers, that they have the right to vote early and where they can report election violations. (h/t Klaus Marre)

ICE ABANDONS ‘PRE-CRIME’ CHECK OF MIGRANTS: Acknowledging that no artificial intelligence system exists now to predict whether someone coming to the United States will be a good or bad person, Immigration and Customs Enforcement nonetheless will spend $100 million on a contractor to do as much of that with humans as possible, by Drew Harwell and Nick Miroff for The Washington Post.

PRICED OUT: Good luck finding types of builders, roofers, lawn specialists and cable installers in super-hot cities, writes Richard Florida for CityLab. Whole categories of jobs are missing as housing prices jump and people in some of the trades move to less-expensive places.

WHO’S YOUR DADDY?: An entire generation of kids conceived by sperm donors grew up never thinking they’d get to meet their biological father. Now, writes The Atlantic’s Ashley Fetters, they just might.

GHOST TOWN: Snapchat used to be popular. The Verge's Helena Fitzgerald says that now, most of her friends are gone. But that's all right, she says, it's kind of nice there.

NOT ONLY A LIBRARIAN: "He's my teacher," one Philadelphia patron says. Omelio Alexander, in a section of a leaky, 103-year-old neighborhood library in Philadelphia, is a teacher, all right. He's teaching these library patrons how to get jobs. By Mike Newall for Philly.com.

A FINAL NOTE: Fox News messaged after Friday’s newsletter, complaining that I had called it a “conservative” network and suggesting “conservative-leaning” might be better. A spokesperson noted the presence of Shep Smith, Martha MacCallum, Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, etc., in the news division and the news division’s stated non-partisan mission. Conservative-leaning it is, if you separate the news division from the “commentator” part of Fox News, which includes Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. For this particular article, I agree, but want to ask readers if that was the right call. What do you say? Is Fox News "conservative" or "conservative-leaning?" I’m truly interested in a discussion, without bile. Let me know via email at dbeard@poynter.org.

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