Computer-Assisted  Reporting (CAR)
Computer-Assisted  Reporting or “CAR”  Better title:  Data-Assisted Reporting. Or…  reporting using data instead of, or al...
Useful data for journalists •  Databases •  Spreadsheets •  Maps
Without CAR … <ul><li>Journalists come to governments and ask for  statistics : </li></ul><ul><li>Population of my city? <...
With CAR … <ul><li>Journalists come to governments and ask for  record-level data : </li></ul><ul><li>All homicides includ...
 
 
Why reporters use CAR? •  No more “according to…”  State as fact, don’t attribute. •  Uncovers stories even the subjects d...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Where we get data •  Ask for it. •  Download from the Web. •  Scrape from the Web. •  FOI or ATIP.
Commons CAR tools •  DATABASES: MS Access, MySQL •  SPREADSHEETS: MS Excel, OpenOffice •  MAPPING: ArcView, MapInfo
FOI/ATIP hurdles •  Privacy. •  Price. •  General silliness.
Worst for providing data •  Health Canada. •  Industry Canada. •  Foreign Affairs.
Best at providing data •  Statistics Canada. •  RCMP. •  er… • … that’s it. . .
Send me your ideas •  (613) 235-6685 •  [email_address] •  http://www.sushiboy.org/car.pdf -30-
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Computer-assisted reporting seminar for StatsCan

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A seminar about how journalists are using data to aide their reporting, presented to Canadian federal public servants with Statistics Canada. This is part evangelism as I try to convince government to open up their data.

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  • There’s a wonderful irony in my speaking to a room full of statisticians. The only class I ever failed at University of Ottawa was introductory stats. Might have been the complexities of standard deviations, or the fact the class was first thing in the morning after buck-a-beer night. I had some attendance issues.
  • CAR is a misnomer. Predates use of the Internet in newsrooms. Everyone who does a Google search is computer assisted. We are using electronic data to do reporting.
  • - Just about anything large organizations (and governments) do gets put into a database somewhere. Maps are graphic representations of data. Census stuff. The source you don’t have to buy lunch. THIS IS SOMETHING YOU GUYS DO EVERYDAY. BUT ITS NEW TO US.
  • We want YOU to tell us what the data show. We’re at your mercy. You might not have the number. “How many Muslim-Jewish common law couples live in Saskatchewan?” We might not know what we’re asking for.
  • We want your data. We want to crunch our own numbers. We want to play around with the numbers.
  • Guns registered with the late Canadian Firearms Centre. Each line corresponds with a single gun owned by somebody, somewhere at sometime.
  • A City of Ottawa log of complaints against taxi drivers.
  • “ Ottawa Police solve fewer murders of women than police forces in eight other major Canadian cities” Parking meter on Lisgar most ticketed in the city. Lots of firearms registered in Alberta but the most per capita are in (any guesses? The Yukon.
  • Low income people twice as likely to live near lotto dealers. Neighbourhood with most outlets per capita. How to do this story?
  • Black boys twice as likely to be suspended than white boys. More interesting lede? Probably not a statistic a school board could generate.
  • Data works great on web. Lets readers drill down themselves so you don’t have to.
  • Nevada rural ambulances worst in US. Reporter went after the WHY. Grocery clerks and miners.
  • Here’s where they got the data.
  • Looks like summary data, but produced by the paper. Ledes with one person’s story. A bit hackneyed but it works.
  • Everyone fills up with gas. Water-cooler value. The numbers behind the mundane things we do every day. Lots of papers have done this story. Don’t know if a govt. agency would voluntarily release this information unless asked for it.
  • Quantifying something most people have had happen to them. Obvious: thieves hit parking lots. Less obvious: South Iowa Street is the hot zone.
  • Google Mash-up. Can do with Platial or code it yourself. Country club vs public course.
  • List of tickets parking tickets issued in Ottawa. Play journalist for a bit. What stories would you do with these?
  • Guy who issued more tickets than anyone else. Crunch the numbers, then go find him and talk to him.
  • Whenever possible, we want to put data on the map. Confirms obvious: parking in the Market, Lynda Lane.
  • Play reporter. What stories from this data? “The Fat Belt” obesity charted by geography. Nobody in grey, less than &lt;10 per cent. What is the SECOND story? (Michigan).
  • Experts blame: long winters, no bike trails, suburban population boom in Detroit increases commuting time, elimination of phys ed in school.
  • Generally, data in text format or Excel spreadsheets We DON”T want PDFs, or proprietory d-bases Maps -- ESRI shape files are the standard.
  • Federal government is seized with a culture of privacy that always trumps accessabilty of information. Totally unlike the US. Big reason why CAR is done a lot more in the States. City of Ottawa gave me a cost estimate on data of $111,000. Including the cost of the CD they’d burn it onto. Newsrooms can’t spend money on data. Industry Canada wouldn’t give us data in the public registry of Lobbyists because they said it was already on their website.
  • Asked Health Canada for list of all applicants for medical marijuana program. They refused even to give out province of applicant let alone FSA. Citing something called “Mosaic effect”. In a court fight with CBC over this related to a drugs database. Industry Canada hostile to data requests. Offers to provide scanned versions of printed documents. Also says its ATIP unit can’t work with Excel files.
  • Stats media people really good about getting data that’s off the grid. Making ESRI maps available great too. Mounties gave us 7 million records from the federal gun registry I never expected to get with only a minimal dispute about severing part of the FSA. This is a new thing for ATIP people. A lot of them don’t even know what we’re talking about when we ask for it. So their first reaction is to say “No.”
  • Computer-assisted reporting seminar for StatsCan

    1. 1. Computer-Assisted Reporting (CAR)
    2. 2. Computer-Assisted Reporting or “CAR” Better title: Data-Assisted Reporting. Or… reporting using data instead of, or along with, documents. Or … social science on a deadline.
    3. 3. Useful data for journalists • Databases • Spreadsheets • Maps
    4. 4. Without CAR … <ul><li>Journalists come to governments and ask for statistics : </li></ul><ul><li>Population of my city? </li></ul><ul><li>CPI in February? </li></ul><ul><li>Housing starts in June? </li></ul><ul><li>Percentage of Francophones living in Manitoba? </li></ul>
    5. 5. With CAR … <ul><li>Journalists come to governments and ask for record-level data : </li></ul><ul><li>All homicides including FSA. </li></ul><ul><li>All reports of spills in the transport of dangerous goods. </li></ul><ul><li>Long/lat coordinates of all cell phone towers. </li></ul>
    6. 8. Why reporters use CAR? • No more “according to…” State as fact, don’t attribute. • Uncovers stories even the subjects don’t know. • Confirms the obvious; reveals the unexpected.
    7. 24. Where we get data • Ask for it. • Download from the Web. • Scrape from the Web. • FOI or ATIP.
    8. 25. Commons CAR tools • DATABASES: MS Access, MySQL • SPREADSHEETS: MS Excel, OpenOffice • MAPPING: ArcView, MapInfo
    9. 26. FOI/ATIP hurdles • Privacy. • Price. • General silliness.
    10. 27. Worst for providing data • Health Canada. • Industry Canada. • Foreign Affairs.
    11. 28. Best at providing data • Statistics Canada. • RCMP. • er… • … that’s it. . .
    12. 29. Send me your ideas • (613) 235-6685 • [email_address] • http://www.sushiboy.org/car.pdf -30-

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