Tags : spreadsheets

In a big freelance project, a little organization up front goes a long way

By the time I sat down to write the 6,000 word article I’d been reporting for the past several months, I was ready to quit. I had over 50 interviews, thousands of pages of documents and reports, contact information and source names all stored across my phone, random word documents, email drafts, and actual paper notebooks. Even without the hundreds of bookmarked news stories, starred Google Alert emails, and clippings (yes, actual clippings) I was drowning.

This was supposed to be long-form investigative journalism, but in order to turn folders into hellraising prose I was going to have ...

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Discovering data at the IRE Conference

Jewel Loree, of Tableau Software, uses her hands to illustrate how the software reformats data into columns during the Tabluea Public for beginners session. Photo by Travis Hartman.

By Kathryn Sharkey

It’s a word mentioned over and over at the IRE Conference, whether you’re at a specific panel on the subject or not: data.

This is my first time attending an IRE conference and I already knew that data can add real power to a story, which is why I made sure to attend the Tableau software hands-on training for better ideas and skills on what to with ...

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Analysis shows cost of teacher absences

It didn't take too many records for us to realize that teacher absenteeism was a problem in western Pennsylvania public school districts. Districts were paying millions of dollars every year to place (sometimes under-qualified) substitute teachers inside classrooms, while paying teachers for taking time off for reasons that ranged from field trips to maternity leave, professional training to family sickness.

To gather the data needed for this project, we submitted state Right-to-Know Act requests to 73 school districts in seven counties.

One of the first challenges we faced was simply obtaining the requested public records.

In Pennsylvania, public agencies ...

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Voter-fraud database helps investigation

Claims of rampant election fraud are the stated reasons that 37 state legislatures have passed or considered voter identification laws since 2010. But opponents counter that such laws would keep far more poor, minority, elderly and student voters away from the polls than they would stop illegal voters.

The News21 team decided that hard data was needed to report on this highly partisan national debate regarding whether voter fraud is affecting elections, and whether fraud could be prevented by these new laws.

As part of the News21 national investigation into voting rights in America, we took on the unprecedented task ...

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Using prescriptions data for stories

In the past few years, pharmaceutical companies have been required under federal law to publicly disclose their payments to physician consultants and speakers, opening up a whole new avenue for journalists, including the writers of the Connecticut Health I-Team.

Each time another pharmaceutical company begins posting its payment disclosure data online -- often in a hard-to-find link on its website -- I've taken a look through, to check on Connecticut doctors. As in most other states, hundreds of doctors here earn thousands of dollars to promote drugs marketed by pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Cephalon, Eli Lilly, Janssen.

In the spring, I ...

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Disciplined cops stay on duty, data shows

   I’ve always considered the response to a big data request a fair indicator of how good the story might be:
“Why do you want this? Nobody’s ever asked for that before.” Nice.


“It’s impossible to get this to you and even if we could, you wouldn’t understand it.” Even better.


“Screw the public records law. You’ll need a court order.” I’m drooling into my keyboard.


But I’ve had to rethink that philosophy following publication of “Unfit for Duty,” our nine-day series on how state and local officials handle serious incidents of misconduct by ...

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KHOU: Drinking water test results lowered by Texas water regulators

Many Texans had no idea that carcinogenic radiation was in their tap water.

For decades, the environmental agency that was supposed to protect the public from pollution had been deliberately changing radiation test data for water systems.

Not only had false data been reported to consumers, but the "lowballing" also allowed water providers to avoid breaking federal safe drinking water rules.

This all began when KHOU I-team member Keith Tomshe noticed a disclaimer on his water bill stating that small amounts of arsenic, also a carcinogen, had been found in his neighborhood’s drinking water. The disclosure is called a ...

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