This is not an exit

Takeaways from a conversation with Pulitzer-Prize winning digital journalist Steve Doig

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2015 at 1:49 pm

 

Steve Doig

On Wednesday afternoon, we met with Steve Doig, a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s currently serving as the Knight Chair of Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University.

Doig’s a pioneer in data journalism. He was the first staffer at the Miami Herald to take advantage of digital records in his reporting. When Hurricane Andrew roared through Florida, he and a team of reporters analyzed damage estimates and weather patterns to assess the initial reports. Then, when they began looking at property records and compared them with the storm’s path, they found a curious statistic: The newest homes in the area were the most likely to sustain major damage.

As he said, many of the newer neighborhoods resembled a lumber yard rather than a housing development.

Doig and his team dug deeper. They hired two outside firms to collect and individually enter $8 million worth of campaign contributions into a database. What they gleaned from that was that 25 percent of campaign contributions were coming from the building industry.

Wow.

With that information, Doig began to inspect legislative records and discovered that, over time, the state of Florida had chipped away at its building code standards to the point that they hardly had teeth — the newest developments in town had the flimsiest standards.

“It wasn’t just a government failure,” he said, “it was a failure of Miami Herald coverage.”

It took four months for The Herald to compile and analyze the data. HIs team recovered damage reports as they were published. They dug into databases and requested more information as they needed it.

Doig ended the discussion by emphasizing the importance of obtaining a keen eye in the analysis of data. He underscored that by further emphasizing that although that’s a valuable skill for any reporter, the thing that will get you hired is learning to code.

What Doig did at The Herald is the exact kind of thing we’re studying in Power Journalism. The methods that take our work to the next level are also taught in Allen Hall, although I’m not sure there’s a CRN attached to such work.

UO Hack is a club designated to teaching anyone on campus how to code. The Emerald’s former vice president of technology, Ivar Vong, had a hand in creating the group. He was also a whiz behind a keyboard.

Ivar once built a tool that scraped the Lane County Jail inmate database and cross-referenced the data with the University of Oregon’s public student directory. The user interface highlighted the names that existed in both databases.

It was then possible for us to get a good idea of who, if anyone, at the UO was currently lodged in a jail cell on Fifth Avenue.

That’s the kind of stuff that Doig was talking about. Ivar’s method allowed us to access and cross-check data without going through any sort of formal request process. It was all public information, so it was easy to get ahold of and check.

That’s what’s going to get you hired. That’s what I’ve gotta learn.

But what do YOU think?

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