Computer-Assisted Reporting: Tools for Journalists Steve Doig Cronkite School of Journalism Arizona State University My background Majored in political science 23 years as a newspaper reporter in Florida Covered government, justice, politics, science, etc. My first computer (Atari 800) in 1982 Did many CAR projects and stories I’m NOT a computer expert What is CAR? CAR is the use of computers and social science methods to acquire and analyze information to do stories that otherwise would be difficult or impossible. But remember… The most important word in “computer-assisted reporting” is… REPORTING Reporting about problems Three methods: Wait for authority to study the problem, then report their findings Gather anecdotes for a story about the problem Study the problem yourself, then report your findings History of CAR Scattered examples starting with news polling in the 1950s “Precision Journalism” written by Phil Meyer in 1972 Handful of U.S. reporters start using personal computers in early 1980s NICAR started in 1989 First CAR Pulitzer in 1989 CAR spreads outside the U.S (Jose Roberto de Toledo in Brazil!) Today: Thousands of reporters use it around the world A few CAR topics Crime and justice Elections Campaign finance Property values Racial segregation Environment Education Transportation Weather and disasters Agriculture Public opinion Health care Sports Business Demographics Taxes and spending Some “Big CAR” examples Hurricane Andrew – Miami Herald Backdated stock options – WS Journal Dangerous train crossings – NY Times Police shootings – Washington Post Black drivers – Boston Globe Children’s deaths – Washington Post Election fraud – Miami Herald Prisoners released – O Globo Some “Daily CAR” examples Dog licenses Crime reports Parking tickets “Personal” ads School test scores Bicycle accidents Oscar winners Sports injuries Two branches of CAR 1. 2. Online research: Looking for information Data analysis: Looking for patterns Some good journalism sites www.abraji.org.br www.ibge.gov.br www.ire.org PowerReporting.com www.poynter.org www.reporter.org/desktop/ Search Google for “cybertimesnavigator” www.LexisNexis.com ($$) Two branches of CAR 1. 2. Online research: Looking for information Data analysis: Looking for patterns What is “data”? Organized information Table form: Rows: Individual records Columns: Variables CAR Tools Word processor Spreadsheet (Excel) Database (Access, Filemaker) Statistics (SAS, SPSS) Mapping (ArcMap, Google Maps) Exotic stuff (GPS, intranets, web publishing, interactive maps, et al.) Word processor/text editor Use Word’s search function to find text Use a heavy-duty programmer’s text editor (like Vedit or UltraEdit) to explore big data files Spreadsheet Smart paper 65.000 rows and 255 columns Use to: Sort Filter Transform Summarize Murders in Brazil Database manager (Access) Can work with large tables (>65.000) Use to join tables to create new information Examples: Criminals and teachers Drunk drivers and school bus drivers Statistical programs SAS and SPSS (and Excel) Good for basic statistical tests Mean, median, ranking, etc. Chi-square Linear regression Mapping GIS: Geographical Information Systems Good for data with location Examples: Census, crime, traffic, environment, elections Mapping Mapping with data Free CAR software? Docs.Google.Com – free online spreadsheet! OpenOffice.org – “Calc” is a free opensource spreadsheet Google Maps new free “My Maps” docs.google.com OpenOffice.org Google’s “My Maps” Other precision tools Public opinion polling Field experiments Newsroom intranets Online maps Satellite imagery Data mining The newsroom CAR pyramid All reporters should know that CAR tools exist Many reporters should be able to use a spreadsheet Some reporters should know how to use a database program At least one reporter should know how to do mapping, statistics Getting Data Are government records public? Search Google – filetype:xls and domain:.br (83.000 pages!) See a report: Ask for it on CD or flash drive, not paper If there is a web lookup, there is a database behind it Type it in yourself? Dangers of CAR Data analysis dangers Old days: Go to a press conference Today: Do your own study Problem: You become “the expert” CAR = Social science on deadline Mistakes caused by: Carelessness: School scores Misunderstanding: Infant mortality Bad data: Drunk driving in Miami Warnings! CAR is not faster Bad data looks like good data Computers do what you tell them to do, not what you want them to do Ask yourself: Does this make sense? CAR can make a good reporter better, but can’t make a bad reporter good Questions??