Be a Better Business Watchdog -- CAR for Business Journalists


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Jaimi Dowdell presents "Data Journalism for Business Reporting" at the free business journalism workshop, "Be a Better Business Watchdog -- CAR for Business Journalists," hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalists, The Seattle Times and the University of Washington.

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  • Quick hits - doesn ’t have to be a ‘project’ (We do this a lot). Robert Patrick asked if we could help him find the number of people killed in accidents involving police pursuits in MO and IL for a story he was doing about the pastor that was killed after a vehicle being pursued by the police crashed into his vehicle. We used the Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database to track down these stats quickly to give the story a bit of context.
  • There are a lot of stories out there that don ’t comes in a long series and didn’t take months to report – but they still have a great impact because they used data to tell the story. This is a recent story from the Kansas City Star about municipal court judges. The paper wanted to look at a long-standing rumor that the judges really didn’t work that much. They found a clever way to measure it --- the city’s parking garage kept a database of the comings and goings of all employees.
  • There are a wealth of things you can do with sports data, however some of the best and most unique will be cases where you ’ll have to build your own database. At the local level some ideas include: salaries of area high school football coaches; revenues to athletic programs from booster clubs. While I was at USA TODAY we collected data on state championship teams across the US – to make it manageable we took a “sample” -- then assigned each school to an income quartile based on several income factors. In the end we were able to say that schools in the top income quartile win state championships at more than twice the rate of those in the bottom quartile. This is something that could be replicated (and has been by other news organizations) at a state or regional level too.
  • Example for retention sked: disaster preparedness drills: 259 Disaster Preparedness Drill Records This record series consists of the results of disaster preparedness exercises and supporting documents including scenarios, location of safety related drills, timetables, response times, probable outcomes, areas of difficulty, descriptions of how difficulties were resolved, and areas for improvement. The types of drills include, but are not limited to, fire, tornado, safety, hurricane, and SARA (Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act) chemical spills. Section 252.365(3)(b), F.S., requires state agencies to include in their disaster preparedness plans “schedules and procedures for periodic tests, training, and exercises.” Section 252.38, F.S., authorizes counties and municipalities to “develop an emergency management plan and program that is coordinated and consistent with the state comprehensive emergency management plan and program.” See also “DISASTER PREPAREDNESS PLANS,” “DIRECTIVES/POLICIES/PROCEDURES,” and “INSPECTION RECORDS: FIRE/SECURITY/SAFETY.” 2 calendar years provided reviews have been conducted.
  • Be a Better Business Watchdog -- CAR for Business Journalists

    1. 1. Jaimi Dowdell IRE/NICAR
    2. 2. <ul><li>Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting. </li></ul><ul><li>IRE was formed in 1975 to create a forum in which journalists throughout the world could help each other by sharing story ideas, newsgathering techniques and news sources. </li></ul>
    3. 3. <ul><li>Training </li></ul><ul><li>Resources </li></ul><ul><li>Networking </li></ul><ul><li>Conferences </li></ul><ul><li>Data services </li></ul>
    4. 4. <ul><li>Assume it ’s public. </li></ul><ul><li>Assume it ’s free. </li></ul><ul><li>Documents = databases. </li></ul>
    5. 6. More and more, records are kept electronically. We can use them to…
    6. 7. <ul><li>Uncover basic information. (Simple lookups) </li></ul><ul><li>Test government procedures, regulations and officials ’ promises. </li></ul><ul><li>Enterprise reporting – do stories that no one else is doing. </li></ul>In addition: Journalism that has data elements translates incredibly well online.
    7. 8. <ul><li>Examples </li></ul><ul><li>The basics of spreadsheets </li></ul><ul><li>Searchable databases available online </li></ul><ul><li>Finding and downloading data online </li></ul><ul><li>Other databases that aren ’t so readily available </li></ul><ul><li>Quick online data visualization tools </li></ul>
    8. 9. <ul><li>The basic lookup </li></ul>
    9. 11. Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Pioneer Press (St. Paul, MN) Data: National Inventory of Bridges Findings: Following the collapse of an I-35 bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, journalists, including Dan Browning and MaryJo Webster, turned to the National Bridge Inventory database, available from IRE and NICAR, to check the bridge's inspection history. The Start Tribune and The Pioneer Press reported that inspection data from 2005 showed that the Minnesota Department of Transportation deemed the bridge “structurally deficient.” The Pioneer Press also noted a federal reporting finding that Minnesota had 3 percent of its bridges rated deficient in 2006.
    10. 13. <ul><li>Data stories that analyze procedures, regulations, public safety and test government officials ’ promises. Many of these are also great enterprise stories. </li></ul>
    11. 18. “ ESPN's &quot;Outside the Lines&quot; reviewed health department inspection reports for food and beverage outlets at all 107 North American arenas and stadiums that were home to Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association teams in 2009. At 30 of the venues (28 percent), more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one &quot;critical&quot; or &quot;major&quot; health violation. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, become fatal.”
    12. 21. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Data: State hunting and corrections data Findings: Analyzing state data on hunting licenses, Ben Poston of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that dozens of convicted felons in Wisconsin were issued gun-deer hunting licenses last year despite a state law that bans them for life from possessing firearms. Felons with armed robbery, rape and weapons convictions all bought gun-deer licenses in Wisconsin in 2006. A state legislator proposed law to close the license loophole.
    13. 22. <ul><li>Online </li></ul>
    14. 24. Herald Tribune (Sarasota, FL) Data: The newspaper reviewed more than 19 million Florida real estate transactions to determine how much of the real-estate bust had its root in housing fraud. Findings: The year-long investigation found that more than 50,000 Florida properties flipped under suspicious circumstances from 2000 through 2008. Those flips artificially drove up housing prices and tax bills and contributed to the crush of foreclosures that has gutted the real estate market. All over the state, professional property flippers made billions in profits on the back of concocted land deals.
    15. 29. <ul><li>Our datasets are “cleaned.” </li></ul><ul><li>All have national data. Some are sliceable by state. </li></ul><ul><li>They are typically large – meant to be handled in a database manager and not a spreadsheet. (We can work with you on that, though.) </li></ul><ul><li>Some examples… </li></ul>
    16. 30. HMDA, enacted in 1975, requires all banks, savings and loans, savings banks and credit unions with assets of more than $33 million and offices in metropolitan areas to report mortgage applications. <ul><li>Track subprime loans </li></ul><ul><li>Look for discrimination </li></ul><ul><li>Find changes in your area since the housing crash </li></ul><ul><li>Look for trends </li></ul>
    17. 31. Data contain loans made to businesses and individuals as disaster assistance. The data identifies the borrower, the disaster, the amount and, for business borrowers, whether the loan was paid in full or deemed uncollectible. <ul><li>Which disasters have hit your community hardest </li></ul><ul><li>Are there any people/businesses who ’ve received multiple loans? </li></ul><ul><li>What ’s the biggest loan? </li></ul><ul><li>How much hasn ’t been collected? </li></ul><ul><li>How much won ’t be collected? </li></ul>
    18. 32. <ul><li>How frequently are bridges being inspected? </li></ul><ul><li>How old are they? </li></ul><ul><li>What is their government-assigned status: 1=Structurally Deficient; 2=Functionally Obsolete; 0=Not Deficient; N=Not Applicable </li></ul><ul><li>What are the sufficiency ratings of bridges in your area? </li></ul><ul><li>Doesn ’t seem like a business story? Think again. Look at areas that have grown quickly and have lots of development. Are dams/bridges that were previously thought harmless now in an area of dense development? How does that change things? </li></ul>
    19. 33. <ul><li>IRS Tax Exempt Orgs database </li></ul><ul><li>Get a list of all of the nonprofits in your community </li></ul><ul><li>Find the biggest ones </li></ul><ul><li>Find the ones the generate the most revenue </li></ul><ul><li>Find the ones that generate the least revenue </li></ul><ul><li>Use this information to investigate individual nonprofits </li></ul><ul><li>Example – Atlanta spreadsheet </li></ul><ul><li>Get individual 990s from Guidestar or Foundation Center </li></ul>
    20. 34. <ul><li>Federal Contracts </li></ul><ul><li>IRS Migration </li></ul><ul><li>NAFTA Trade Adjustment Assistance ( TAA ) </li></ul><ul><li>Local contracts </li></ul><ul><li>Toxics Release Inventory </li></ul><ul><li>Campaign contributions </li></ul>
    21. 35. <ul><li>Dozens of national data sets for local enterprise stories </li></ul><ul><li>Links to stories based on each data set </li></ul><ul><li>Links to tip sheets on using the data </li></ul><ul><li>Find more information at </li></ul>
    22. 40. <ul><li>In Excel format – example IRS Exempt Organizations here . </li></ul><ul><li>From the web – example California West Nile Virus here . </li></ul><ul><li>In text format – example from search on “inspection” here . </li></ul><ul><li>PDF to Excel – try </li></ul>
    23. 41. <ul><li>OSHA workplace safety inspections </li></ul><ul><li>Recalls (look at tabs for topics) </li></ul><ul><li>Economy at a Glance from the Bureau of Labor Statistics </li></ul><ul><li>Local Area Unemployment Statistics from the BLS </li></ul><ul><li>EPA environmental data searches </li></ul>
    24. 42. <ul><li>Fatality Analysis Reporting System data ( FARS ) </li></ul><ul><li>National sex offender registry ( Department of Justice ) </li></ul><ul><li>Transportation data from BTS </li></ul><ul><li>Aircraft data (service difficulty reports, on-time data, aircraft registry, etc.) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>NTSB Aviation Accidents (and more) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>FAA accidents/incidents and service difficulty reports ( SDRs ) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Flight tracker from flightaware </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>On-time statistics </li></ul></ul>
    25. 43. <ul><li>Nursing home, hospital and home health data from Medicare </li></ul><ul><li>Firearms data from the ATF </li></ul><ul><li>Migration data from the IRS </li></ul><ul><li>Tax data from IRS (tax exempt orgs ) </li></ul><ul><li>Mine Safety and Health Administration ( MSHA ) </li></ul><ul><li>National Agricultural Statistics Service </li></ul>
    26. 44. <ul><li>Consumer Reports </li></ul><ul><li>(pdf report) </li></ul><ul><li>On-time by airport (pg 7) </li></ul><ul><li>Departure by time (pg 13) </li></ul><ul><li>Chronically delayed flights (pg 15) </li></ul><ul><li>Tarmac delays (pg 25) </li></ul><ul><li>Mishandled baggage (pg 29) </li></ul><ul><li>Injuries and deaths involving pets (49) </li></ul><ul><li>From Bureau of Transportation statistics </li></ul><ul><li>(Downloadable to Excel) </li></ul><ul><li>Flight delays </li></ul><ul><li>Bag fees by airline </li></ul><ul><li>Chronically delayed flights </li></ul><ul><li>Cancelled flights </li></ul>
    27. 45. <ul><li>American FactFinder for quick data profiles. </li></ul><ul><li>Datasets from IRE– download profiles, comparisons and more. </li></ul><ul><li>Get information on the Census from ASU ’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and IRE . </li></ul>
    28. 46. <ul><li>Fedstats – A to Z list of statistical data from the government. </li></ul><ul><li> – Searchable catalogs of government data. (search for business, contracts, inspections, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li> or – Federal spending data including grants, loans, contracts, etc. (Ex. Coca Cola) </li></ul>
    29. 47. <ul><li>State Government Databases wiki from the American Library Association </li></ul><ul><li>BRB Publications links to public records sites </li></ul>
    30. 48. <ul><li>Remember – any time a biz interacts with the government, information becomes public. </li></ul><ul><li>Ask for the document and/or data retention schedule . </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Missouri , Washington </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Get a tour. </li></ul><ul><li>Grab every blank form – both internal and external – in all agencies you cover. </li></ul><ul><li>Meet the document and data clerks and the IT folks . </li></ul>
    31. 49. <ul><li>FOIA – Open records logs </li></ul><ul><li>State and federal statutes </li></ul><ul><li>Appendix and footnotes to audits and reports </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Inspectors General </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>State auditors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>GAO reports (Government Accountability Office) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Canada – Auditor general </li></ul></ul>
    32. 50. <ul><li>There is no magic site. </li></ul><ul><li>Half the battle is knowing what exists then figuring out how to search. </li></ul><ul><li>Never hesitate to request information you find in a more up-to-date format. </li></ul><ul><li>Some searchable databases do not include the entire dataset. </li></ul><ul><li>Clues for finding data are everywhere. </li></ul>
    33. 51. <ul><li>Search by domain : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>.gov – government sites (other types: .edu, .org, .com, .net, etc.) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Example – search for “Oil spill” “2010” and limit to </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Search by file type : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>.xls for spreadsheets; .txt, .csv for text files; .mdb, .dbf for databas files </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Example – Same search as above but limit to filetype:xls </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Search for words within a URL : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Examples: ftp, download, data, inspection, enforcement, 2010, etc. </li></ul></ul>
    34. 52. <ul><li>Major Information Systems – request a list from government agency: example US Marshall ’s list here . </li></ul><ul><li>Request retention schedules: example from Missouri here . </li></ul><ul><li>Something in a “chart” format may mean that a database exists: example California West Nile Virus here . </li></ul>
    35. 53. <ul><li>Online forms to submit information: example Wisconsin Insurance Complaint form here . </li></ul><ul><li>Actually read a web site – don ’t let it force you into predefined roles: example North Carolina Department of Revenue here . (site map, search) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Search for keywords related to data: download, database, information system, submit, searchable, inspection, enforcement, Excel, etc. </li></ul></ul>
    36. 54. Some simple online tools
    37. 55. Example: Michigan CAFOs
    38. 57. <ul><li>Jaimi Dowdell </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>@JaimiDowdell </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>