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Three Orlando Sentinel reporters spent six-months investigating Florida’s scholarship programs, which will send nearly $1 billion to private schools this year. The project meant reviewing thousands of pages of documents and making in-person visits to dozens of private schools. The reporters discovered soon-to-be evicted schools set up in rundown buildings, campuses where teachers lacked college degrees, and a principal under investigation for child molestation who was able to keep taking Florida vouchers by closing one school and then opening another under a new name. This behind-the-story session will go through how reporters handled the school visits (most were unannounced), how they requested and organized data (from enrollment numbers to parent complaints sent to the state) and searched for other needed information. They’ll also cover what worked, and what didn’t, as they tried to stay organized while still doing other stories on their beats.
How does a beginner with just a browser and a spreadsheet keep from drowning in oceans of census data? One way is American FactFinder, the Census Bureau’s data dissemination site. After a long, clumsy development stage, it has steadily improved. It offers so much -- and several ways of finding it -- that it takes a little work to learn the navigation. But it’s now pretty simple to drill down to a small area, extract just a little data and download or print it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting just one county worth of neighborhood-level data on one subject, a typical task for many newsrooms. The example uses Census 2000 public and private school enrollment for Bucks County, Pa., but you can adapt as needed:
"Managing Projects: The Records Challenge" details the records used on three large projects at U.S. News & World Report: an education story, a story on spying by America in the cold war and crime in Florida; records include Department of Education data, U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Archives records of classified State Department cables.