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Making the most out of the 2012 CAR Conference

More than 100 panels, demos and hands-on training sessions will be offered at the 2012 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference. From the basics of data analysis using Excel and Access to editing a news app and mining unstructured text for stories, this year’s conference has panels for all skill levels of data journalists, as well as general panels for working with data on a variety of beats.

Early registration has ended, but on-site registration will be available Wednesday evening through Saturday. If this is your first conference, don’t be overwhelmed by the number of panels. The sessions are geared toward practical knowledge, so it’s hard to go wrong if you think the panel might interest you.

Here are few some tips to make the most of this year’s event.

  • Attend the Welcome session, where IRE staff will outline key events during the conference. It’s early on the first day, but it will help you navigate the schedule and make the most of this year's conference.
  • Plan on leaving with a new skill.  Figure out what you want to add to your arsenal and learn it this weekend. Stats, advanced functions in Excel, mapping — there are plenty to choose from. What do you want to learn? We offer free and open source versions of many programs as well, so don’t be timid if your newsroom doesn’t have the program. Want to learn mapping but your newsroom can’t afford ArcView? Sit in on the Arc classes being offered as a basis and make it to the two QGIS sessions.
  • Listen to the people who inspire you. Impressed with someone’s work? Find the panels at which they’re speaking on the speakers page.
  • Just ask. IRE members love to share. If you’re having a difficulty with something, chances are more than one of the attendees has had similar problems. Make a new ally. The conference is a great way to network and make friends with people who will help you learn more.

Check out the full schedule for all of the panels and hands-on classes being offered.

If you want some more ideas, IRE members offered up some panels that have caught their attention:


Doug Haddix, Director of Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism - Ohio State University
(On Twitter)

  • I'll be teaching data visualization tools during our April Kiplinger Fellowship program, so I'm eager to see what the speakers have up their sleeves on this one.

    Free tools for data visualization and analysis

  • Because the digital world keeps changing so rapidly, I'm looking forward to learning more about tablet and phone apps. This is the type of practical session that will help me keep the Kiplinger Program current.

    Turning your stories into a tablet/phone app

  • As we expand our multimedia offerings in the Kiplinger Program, this session is of particular interest because it involves video and mapping, two powerful online tools.

    Map graphics for video

Ryann Grochowski, Data Reporter Investigative Newsource
(On Twitter)


Tom Meagher, CAR Editor, The Star-Ledger
(On Twitter)


Jill Riepenhoff, Projects Reporter, The Columbus Dispatch
(On Twitter)

  • No. 1, I always try to make the session on the "Year in CAR." It’s always a great mix of big and small projects that often spark ideas and reinforces why investigative journalism matters. NICAR for me this year will be all about making the project I’m working on stronger.
  • I’m particularly excited about the Reynolds’ training on Wednesday and "Tableau for Beginners" on Thursday.
  • Another must-see session for me is the "Latest trends in open records battles" because it’s at the core of what we do. And, of course, it’s always fun to hang at the bar!


Michael Corey,  Digital Innovations Editor, Center for Investigative Reporting
(On Twitter)

  • You won't become a Python programmer in an hour, but sometimes an hour with some guided introduction is what you really need to jumpstart yourself from "I'm totally going to learn that someday" to "Yeah, I'm learning that."

    Fundamentals of programming in Python

  • It's critical to know what story you're trying to tell with your data before you write a line of final code. Also, Aron and Scott are rock stars. (But approachable rock stars.) Show up early if you want a seat.

    How to edit a story made of software

  • I'm not above pimping my own stuff, and if you want to do anything with mapping, you should get your feet wet with QGIS. It's a free gateway drug to hard-core mapping.

    Intro to QGIS

  • This is what the cool kids are switching to, and the cool kids are teaching it, too. But if you steal my seat I will hunt you down.


  • Two pros with a great rundown on how to get the keys to the kingdom. FOIA laws aren't much good if you don't know how to fight for yourself and your readers.

    Getting to yes: Battling data pricetag inflation and other roadblocks

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