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CAR guides: Advice from a conference veteran

By Wendell Cochran

For me, the NICAR conference is one of the highlights of the year. I have attended nearly every one since the first in Raleigh in 1993. Over the years, my roles have changed, but NICAR remains helpful to me. These days I don’t go so much to learn new skills or even to polish my old ones, but mostly to stay abreast of the new directions CAR and its practitioners are headed.

At the past two conferences, among the most entertaining and informative sessions have been the lightning talks organized by Derek Willis and Aron Pilhofer of The New York Times. This year’s edition is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday. The crowd will likely overflow the room, so get there early. You are sure to hear some provocative ideas, as well as be introduced to some tricks and tools you haven’t seen before.

Car Guides
There's a lot to choose from at CAR. So we asked a variety of journalists -- students, beat reporters, veteran data crunchers and programmers -- to tell us what they're excited about this year. Tomorrow, hear from Dan Hill, a journalism and computer science student at Northwestern University.

Friday closes with the annual presentation of the Philip Meyer Awards program, which is a highlight for me. It is a chance to pay homage to the man whose ideas serve as the foundation for data-driven journalism (with any luck, he will be there himself), as well as to hear about some of the most exciting work being done in the field. If Phil is there, be sure to say hello.

If you are just beginning your CAR journey, by all means sign up for some of the hands-on classes to help you get started. Sometimes I sit in on one of these just to try to refresh my skills. I mean, who really understands pivot tables, other than Sarah Cohen?)

Be sure to also leave some time to talk in the hall. Buttonhole speakers. Look up the reporter who did a project you admire. These informal sessions will pay off big time down the road as you build your contacts and become part of the NICAR network. And if you see an old, gray-haired professor wandering around, buy him a beer.

Wendell Cochran is senior editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.

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