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How to use inspection data to drive your stories

By Brittany Collins

Michael Pell, a reporter on the Reuters data team in New York, and Joce Sterman, an investigative reporter for WMAR-Baltimore, showed journalists at the 2014 CAR Conference how to mine inspection reports for data.

Several departments hold inspection documents, Sterman said.

  • Local health departments keep inspection files on restaurants, schools, airport facilities, school cafeterias and convenience stores.
  • State departments of labor, license and regulation keep documents on elevators, amusement park rides, bounce houses and railroad companies.
  • State departments of education keep records on daycare facilities and childcare.

Pell suggested reporters look for data in several places:

  • Inspector General reports
  • State and auditing agency reports
  • Government Accountability Office reports
  • National Transportation Safety Board reports
  • Tier II data, which requires industries to report on the storage, use and releases of hazardous chemicals to federal, state, and local governments

It’s good for a team to go through the data, breaking it up by county and compiling it into a database. The next step is to understand how the inspection system. Find state regulations for how often facilities need to be inspected.

Sterman shared her experience getting data on daycare inspections. She wanted to know how many centers had cases of child abuse and how many were unsanitary. She learned that the state didn't have to shut down a daycare after a report of abuse. Sterman went on to report about a woman who was convicted of murder for the death of a child in her care. The state never revoked the provider’s license.

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