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Improving news coverage with data

By Mayra Cruz

News stories can be deepened through data, said speakers in the "Using data journalism to investigate the news" panel. 

“News happens fast,” Arizona Daily Star Rob O’Dell reporter said.

From tracking crime to finance, incorporating data in journalism goes beyond daily reporting and anecdotal information. 

Adding visualizations, numbers and maps allow the public to understand a story better.

Mortgage meltdowns in Arizona led O’Dell to look through data and map the areas where most of the foreclosed homes were being auctioned.

O’Dell also mentioned the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, in which the Arizona Daily Star produced maps and graphics when publishing the story.

“Even if it’s breaking news, it can be advanced with data,” he said.

Thomas Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service conducted a series by looking through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports through unsolved homicides and found victims of serial killers.

Hargrove, along with then-University of Missouri graduate student Liz Lucas, designed an algorithm through SPSS to sift and cluster data to find patterns of victims that were possibly tied and led law enforcement to investigate cold case files.

Kevin Bersett of the Belleville News-Democrat said that digging beyond the anecdotal story to ask questions and find patterns in overdose deaths. Most of the overdose deaths were not caused by illegal drugs but by the abuse of prescription medication, the BND found.

“It drove home the point: this is in your community,” Bersett said.

Mayra Cruz is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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