Jordan Houston, Elizabeth Sims, Rachel Konieczny, Ricardo Cano, Catherine Reagor, Maria Polletta, Emily L. Mahoney
I\'m a recent graduate of Arizona State University\'s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. During the past year, I have contributed to numerous data journalism stories and projects during a fellowship with News21, an internship with Bloomberg News and my current full-time job as a data reporter at The Arizona Republic. These stories required significant cleaning and analysis, almost all of which was done by me. In some cases, they helped inform readers about threats to their health and children\'s education. In others, they explained larger economic and social trends that could play key roles in the future of American life.My portfolio begins with the most ambitious project I worked on in the past year with News21. I led the team’s analysis of drinking water quality data for all 50 states and the country’s Native American reservations. This data provided the backbone for the entire project, generating story ideas and producing findings that were highlighted in the overview and other individual stories.Other projects include a comprehensive look at charter school finances and an analysis of mortgage application rates in the Phoenix area. These stories required the use of sophisticated tools and analysis methods.
What makes this project innovative?
These stories make full use of a variety of data journalism tools. In some, I used a full suite of tools in Microsoft Excel to analyze large data sets that others hadn’t analyzed before. For example, in the water quality project, I used string functions to determine the average time for quality violations to be resolved.For the charter school story, I used Google Sheet’s table scraping function to pull data that hadn’t been released anywhere else. I used OpenRefine and SQL to clean the dataset and get it into a form that we could analyzed. This allowed my paper to score a first-of-its-kind analysis that beat out academics who studied these issues for much longer.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
First and foremost, I measure impact by looking at the actual effect my stories have had on the community. The asset forfeiture investigation I helped lead was quickly followed by changes to state laws overseeing the practice. One of the schools mentioned in the charter school investigation had its charter revoked by the state board in part for financial reasons after our story pointed out that these revocations were quite rare. One community member reached out to my colleagues and I about her surprise at the findings of our analysis of mortgage application rates and her desire to help fix the problem.
Source and methodology
A common thread through each of my stories is the use of simple statistical principles to gain insights into data sets. For example, I used a comparison of application rates between races to determine disparities in mortgages in the Phoenix area both overall and within Census tracts. I repeated this approaching on other stories, using rates to compare data points instead of raw totals, which allowed for more accurate analyses.I used Google Sheets’ scraping tool to collect data that wasn’t readily accessible from Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. This allowed our paper to quickly publish an in-depth story on the topic that beat out other reporters and academics.For the asset forfeiture investigation, the collection effort was much simpler. My colleague and I hand entered five years’ worth of data for dozens of police agencies over the course of a year.My data sources included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Associated Press and the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.
I mainly used Microsoft Excel to conduct the analysis for these stories. However, I have also used SQL through Microsoft Access for a couple of them.Among the more obscure tools I’ve used is the table scraping function on Google Sheets. This allowed my paper to be the first to report on the state of charter school finances – far before academics who had been studying the issue for months.I built maps in Carto DB for two of the stories referenced above. For my story on mortgage application rates, I was able to convey a calculations we used as the backbone of our story’s analysis in an interactive map using the software.