There’s a joke in reporting that one person’s an anecdote and three’s a trend. It’s not really funny, though, because too many stories rely on this metric to prove something’s happening or happened. There’s a better way, it just takes some digging, maybe a FOIA request, and some minimum database skills (which is another topic, but if you’re really serious look into IRE’s training or if you’re still in school, take a computer-assisted reporting course, which your school ought to require).

By analyzing databases on topics on your beat you can find the real trends and back it up with statistics. Your job as a journalist is to make those numbers and statistics meaningful. (But don’t force the story, sometimes the data doesn’t support your hypothesis. It hurts, but it happens.)

Here are a few places you can find data that will help you support your stories with facts instead of trends.

Data.gov —This site will probably just overwhelm you with the sheer quantity of information. The hard part will be picking through what’s there for what’s relevant. But you can find some interesting federal government data, including everything from military marriage trends to consumer spending to climate change, if you dig. You can sort by the type of data, the department that collected it, the category, location, topic, and more. At least try a few searches to see what’s what — and whether it leads to or fits in any of your stories.

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