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AUDIO: The data-driven story from start to finish

New to data reporting? Anthony Cormier, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Jaeah Lee, Mother Jones; Rob O’Dell, The Arizona Republic; and Shawn McIntosh, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution walked journalists through their tips at the 2014 IRE Conference.

Make it your job to develop good reporting habits. Keep track of data in relation to your reporting, like bankruptcy filings for business reporters or communication logs from cop cars if you cover crime. Cormier explains:

Instead of only being familiar with open-records laws, also check out the rules that regulate what you’re reporting on, Cormier said. With banks, that could be financial regulation laws. When requesting data, talk to IT people; they tend to be more knowledgeable about the types of formats you need.

When budgeting your time, O’Dell suggests overestimating the time it will take to finish your project by at least 30 percent. Then stick to the plan.

It’s also beneficial to run an initial analysis on your data to make sure it’s going to tell the story you expect. And when the story’s finally ready to go, keep blowback to a minimum by giving a conservative estimate of your data.

McIntosh recommends showing progress to your editors on a regular basis. However, be careful not to share outliers until they’ve been verified. It’s also important for reporters and editors to keep a timeline. Some news organizations will have advertisements and promotions scheduled around your plans.

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