CAR Conference Blog : February 2012

Going beyond the campus for coverage

By Mayra Cruz
@MayraC27

Campus coverage can be daunting, but looking beyond the campus is a way to get the story, Jennifer Wheeler of The Register-Mail said at “DataU: the databases you need to cover higher ed.”

From grants to graduation rates, one of the major databases to mine for information is the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, which is compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics. The IPEDS information contains a general overview of institutions, including enrollment, retention rates and budgets, among other items.

“It’s a robust source of information,” said Alex Richards of the ...

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Finding out what public figures don't want you to know

By Jon McClure
@JonRMcClure

Sex sells. But it sometimes buys, too. Online. 

As described in the panel “Hidden databases: Mining the private parts of public officials," the trick is learning how to uncover the online footprint of public figures and track the nefarious deeds they might do under the cover of online alter-egos.

Russ Ptacek of KSHB-TV presented a three-part series he reported in Kansas City which exposed the indiscretions of former Clay County auditor William Norris. The linchpin to the entire investigation was the discovery of an alternate email address Norris used online. With it, he registered a gallery ...

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Double-check environmental data

Many investigative reporters are recreational data users, but data alone cannot be trusted.

"You can’t take what is in those databases for granted," said Kate Golden, a reporter and multimedia producer for WisconsinWatch.org. At the panel "Environmental analyses for any newsroom," she emphasized the importance of speaking with the lead agency to find out what the data actually means.

During the panel, Elizabeth Lucas a data reporter for The Center for Public Integrity and Golden highlighted a variety of investigative environmental stories such as "Despite lone inspector’s efforts, persistent haze envelops Iowa town" and "Under legal pressure ...

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Hack the Census

By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
@AnnaBoikoW

"Hacking the Census" was a collection of lightning talks on tools, tricks and codes to hack the Census and American Community Survey, ranging from introductory to advanced.

Steve Doig, professor at Arizona State University, said the Census has information about people and households, of course, but there’s also info on business, education, foreign trade, and more. The McCormick SRI project gathered speakers and taped 17 lectures of 45 minutes where each expert addressed these different facets of the data.

Ron Campbell of The Orange County Register demonstrated how to use the New American FactFinder, the ...

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Getting around PIOs with Web Inspector

By Mayra Cruz
@MayraC27

One way to get around bureaucratic hassles is to get the to the data directly by scraping it off the Web.

The fight for public records can sometimes be avoided by taking the data directly from websites, Dan Nguyen of ProPublica said.

On Saturday, Nguyen led a hands-on class of “Web Inspector,” which refers to a Google Chrome add-on that allows non-programmers to obtain information posted online. Using it can help familiarize journalists with HTML by recognizing patterns in Web coding.

Getting familiar with HTML markup language may be daunting, but Web inspector can help reporters ...

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Rendering real-time

By Jon McClure
@JonRMcClure

What is real-time anyway?

The Guardian’s Alastair Dant discussed the concept in terms of a continuous feed of information and provided a few tips on how journalists should approach it during "Dealing with real-time data."

Chaos is raw real-time data, Dant said. To render it journalists must first conceptualize the continuous feed in measured discrete segments.

It’s useful to think of real-time feeds in terms of sequences, cycles, and streams, Dant said.

  • Sequences represent discrete measures of real-time data streams, like those that bound any common news event.
  • Cycles are discrete and repeatable feeds ...
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Year in CAR

By Jessica Pupovac
@jessicapupovac

IRE Executive Director Mark Horvit and training director Megan Luther led a whirlwind tour of 25 data-driven stories during their “Year in CAR 2011” presentation, paying special attention to those projects that reporters can and should attempt to “do at home.”

Highlights in the “do-it-yourself” category included:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s piece on outlaw cops. Sentinel reporter Gina Barton compared a list of police officer’s names and birthdates against crime records and found 93 matches “ranging from sexual assault to shoplifting.” She kindly posted a “How we Did It” component on the site, along ...

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Improving news coverage with data

By Mayra Cruz
@MayraC27

News stories can be deepened through data, said speakers in the "Using data journalism to investigate the news" panel. 

“News happens fast,” Arizona Daily Star Rob O’Dell reporter said.

From tracking crime to finance, incorporating data in journalism goes beyond daily reporting and anecdotal information. 

Adding visualizations, numbers and maps allow the public to understand a story better.

Mortgage meltdowns in Arizona led O’Dell to look through data and map the areas where most of the foreclosed homes were being auctioned.

O’Dell also mentioned the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, in ...

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From where? Validating data in the real world

By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
@AnnaBoikoW

To understand your data, let’s go back to grade-school science class. Remember when you learned about the forest, and all the animals that call it home? The forest is a dynamic ecosystem. Your data is like a chimpanzee; it plays a role in the forest ecosystem.  Over time, the changes in the environment will affect your data/chimp.

In the session, “OK, but where did that data come from? Data validation in the digital age,” Managing Director at the Institute for Analytic Journalism J.T. Johnson said journalists need to remember that their data had ...

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Getting data from public agencies

By Sarah Morris
@smorris198888 

In The Art of Requesting and Negotiating Data, David Hunn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Jennifer LaFleur of ProPublica talked through some strategies for getting data.

LaFleur began by saying that data can come from inspections, licenses, things that are enforced or purchased. If there was a form, then there would be data. But don’t count on what you need being a high-value data set on data.gov.

She also said that FOIA covers paper, electronic, tape recordings, but does not get you answers to questions.

Tips:

  1. Ask for the data before filing an ...
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