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Year in CAR

By Jessica Pupovac

IRE Executive Director Mark Horvit and training director Megan Luther led a whirlwind tour of 25 data-driven stories during their “Year in CAR 2011” presentation, paying special attention to those projects that reporters can and should attempt to “do at home.”

Highlights in the “do-it-yourself” category included:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s piece on outlaw cops. Sentinel reporter Gina Barton compared a list of police officer’s names and birthdates against crime records and found 93 matches “ranging from sexual assault to shoplifting.” She kindly posted a “How we Did It” component on the site, along with several great interactive features.

A New York Times series that exposed a defective hip implant being used in hospitals around the world, despite repeated warnings that it was causing severe pain and other medical problems. Reporter Barry Meier reported the story through trolling the patterns and problems in the FDA’s MAUDE (or Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience Database, which Horvit says is also useful for bigger projects like this or even quick hit stories.

A local version of national stories done by AP Impact, which layered the locations of nuclear reactor sites on top of population data to find places where the population had outgrown the emergency response plan.

Focusing on big banks that received bailout funds, the Arizona Daily Star got data on their tax lien purchases and compared that against the homes they foreclosed, creating a map of the two and what Luther called “a nice visualization of what can be an eye-glazer for readers.” They also put together this handy-dandy primer on how they got the story.

The Detroit Free Press reporters Robin Erb and Kristi Tanner did a great series on the lack of follow-through in nursing home inspections. “They go out and do the inspection, write the report, slap the wrist, and then the next year they go out and do the inspection, write the report and slap the wrist,” said Horvit. “This type of is really easy to get in most states and unfortunately there are many tales of woe in this data.”

There are just some of the myriad stories that made NICAR’s 2011 showcase. In these and other cases, says Luther, don’t be shy about calling up reporters who have done work that you admire or want to try to duplicate their process in your neck of the woods.

“Even though we are in a competitive market, people are really generous with their time,” she said. “So feel free to contact these journalists. They really want to share with you how they did it. You’ll get different results in different places.”

For the other 20 stories, and much more inspiration, see Horvit and Luther’s Power Point presentation or check out the dozens of tip sheets submitted at this year’s conference.

Jessica Pupovac is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is currently interning at NPR StateImpact

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