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Chicago Tribune News Apps Team Launches ‘Crime in Chicago’ Data Project

It’s responsive, it’s overflowing with data and it’s beautiful. The most recent project from The Chicago Tribune news apps team, Crime in Chicago, is a glowing example of the power of data in telling stories — and helping readers find their own stories in context of the big picture.

The standalone app lets easily learn about “crime on your block, in your community, along your commute, and more.” You can type your address or select from a map your community of interest to see an extensive breakdown of crime reports for the most recent 30 days, crime type breakdowns, historic crime trends for the community and granular locations for crime (e.g. garages, alleys, grocery stores). In South Chicago, for example, most violent crimes happen on the sidewalk whereas most property crimes and quality of life crimes happen in apartments.  But you don’t just get a dump of data from a table — there are colorful, interactive charts that visually convey the information in an easily-digestible way.

The app also pulls in recent headlines about the community in a “coverage” section on the community’s detail page, providing extra context or details about crimes that have happened there. Read more

Improve Watchdog Journalism Skills With Sunlight Foundation Free Training

Feeling nostalgic for back-to-school lately as your Twitter feed and Facebook wall fill up with posts about first days and weeks of classes?

Journalists already on the job, both recent grads and lifers, don’t have to feel left out. Here’s a chance to bone up on your data analysis skills, learn more about tracking congress, and learn other skills to make you a better reporter and investigator. Best of all: The training is tailored specifically to journalists, including to their budget — which is to say, it’s free.

The Sunlight Foundation launched a series of online training courses, known collectively as Sunlight Academy, this month to help reporters better master their craft, with a heavy focus on watchdog tools and tips. They also have several politics related modules that can help track the presidential and other election campaigns as we head into the last few months before November.
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10 Tools, Apps, Interactives And Other Projects Around 2012 U.S. Elections

Election season is just around the corner, and the summer has been a prime time for news organizations to start releasing new tools, projects, APIs and other awesome apps around the election. Here’s a collection of a few of my favorites, ranging from a polling API to a Canadians in America project.

1. USA Today’s Candidate Match Game II

This fun tool asks you about whether you agree or disagree with certain statements, then asks you to adjust your “importance” gauge. As you answer questions, the graphic on the right changes to display whether you align more closely with Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. It’s functional, fun, shareable and well-designed. See the full project

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3 Things Journalists Should Ask About Their Data

Have you ever read a news article that cited confusing statistics or some fuzzy math that didn’t seem to make logical sense or add up? Chances are, the math and stats didn’t make sense to the reporter who wrote it either.

Whether it’s quarterly earning statements, census figures or standardized testing results, journalists on all beats can’t avoid data. It’s ubiquitous and, thanks to the Internet, readily available. Unfortunately, “data literacy” isn’t quite as common.

It’s one thing to know technical skills like how to format, filter and sort, and run basic pivot tables or access queries, and it’s another to really understand the data and math itself, let alone why the numbers matter and what they mean.

That’s why I was excited to see this post at Media Helping Media: “Journalists – become data literate in three steps.” The post outlines three questions every journalist should ask before diving into their data:

  1. How was the data collected?
  2. What’s in there to learn?
  3. How reliable is the information?

Go read the post to learn more about why these questions matter most, and specific instances where they can make a very big difference. It’s a piece taken from the Data Journalism Handbook, which is worth checking out in and of itself, though more of a time committment.

Data literacy really boils down to good journalism, and the more you understand the numbers and their source, the more confidently (and correctly) you can report them.

NICAR roundup of data journalism ideas

For those who don’t know, or haven’t seen the flurry of #NICAR12 tweets this past week/end, the best minds in data journalism met in St. Louis for the annual CAR conference put on by IRE and its National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Between the hashtag and the official blog, you’ll get a good overview of initial impressions and topics covered — from avoiding data dumps in stories to harvesting trends from social media. Chrys Wu, again this year, has done a fabulous job rounding up the multitude of presentations at NICAR.

Here are five of my favorite topics, but I encourage you to bookmark Wu’s page and peruse them all, because there are some awesome ideas and tips there:

  • Human Assisted Reporting — This slideshow presents an “aha idea” that I can’t believe I never thought of: automating tasks beat reporters do regularly with data, and then programming your computer to do simple data analysis automatically. My favorite easy example of this was mining the daily police blotter for trends or keywords (who has the highest bail and what is the bail/the crime? any nurses, teachers, ministers, etc. arrested?)
  • Weathering the Storm: Using data to bolster the traditional weather story — Maybe it’s the nearly four years I spent working as a news reporter at a mid-sized paper and the dozens of weather stories I was forced to work on, but I believe there’s a special place in journo-heaven for anyone who can turn the most over-used story topic into something new and interesting for readers/watchers/listeners. Here’s your ticket to attempting just that.
  • Advanced Excel Tips — Excel is pretty much the program I use the most, and most heavily, on my work computer, after Firefox of course. So this tipsheet from the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s MaryJo Webster is not only a good refresher on bits I know well, but it also includes some great tips on doing things I haven’t quite mastered. From date functions to string functions, this is a solid list that I’ll be saving for future reference, and you should too.
  • How to use election data (and other good stuff to know) — This is actually a round-up from John Keefe of his four presentations, including one on election night and maps and election data without databases. He also covers other interesting topics, including everything you need to know about APIs, using Google Spreadsheets as your backend CMS, and hacking the Census data.
  • Build your first news app with Django — Their first step-by-step tutorial is how to build an interactive poll, with some other getting started resources.

There are many other topics covered, including on some of these same topics, as well as new tools to use and some examples of investigative data journalism at work. What was your favorite element of NICAR this year?

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