By Shane Sanderson
When the Palm Beach Post obtained a spreadsheet made by a clerical worker at the local medical examiner’s office, reporters had to verify it.
The office worker had noticed an escalation in the number of overdose deaths and she began a project recording the details. The resulting spreadsheet had something like 100 columns, full of dirty and perhaps inaccurate data.
Journalists ended up requesting and receiving cover pages from the medical examiner’s original reports, police reports, and reports from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Then Joel Engelhardt’s team called family members of the 216 people that died from heroin overdoses in Palm Beach County.
Engelhardt shared his verification story as part of a panel with Jennifer Forsyth of the Wall Street Journal on bulletproofing data stories.
Forsyth talked about her “nightmare,” in which she imagined she would have to take the stand in a lawsuit against her news organization for a story she had not properly verified. To avoid that scenario, she asks a series of questions of her data reporters:
Forsyth also spelled out best practices for editors: