How Data Helps Investigative Journalists “See the Forest” – Center for Public Integrity
The individual situation of a single mother laid off due to COVID-19 and facing eviction from her apartment may lead a reader to understand and connect with an acute societal need. But comparing the common ground of these circumstances – time, geography, occupation, race, ethnicity, gender – with hundreds of thousands of others can be used to investigate the systems that cause or perpetuate the problems and potential solutions. .
That’s the job of Amy DiPierro as a data journalist at the Center for Public Integrity.
Since joining the nonprofit news organization focused on investigating inequality last fall, she has worked in partnership with the Washington Informer to examine threats to black property in Washington, D.C. , and investigates various forces affecting housing security during the pandemic and beyond.
DiPierro previously worked for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, and BusinessDen in Denver, Colorado. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Stanford University, where she was a Knight-Hennessy Fellow and a Fellow of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation.
She contributed to the project “Nowhere to gowhich received the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
We asked her about her career path before Public Integrity and her recent work here:
Welcome to public integrity! What made you want to join a nonprofit investigative newsroom?
I started my journalism career as a reporter for local newspapers. These jobs were easy to love. You learn something new every day, challenge local leaders to justify their political choices and, when you’re lucky, help people better understand where they live or work.
Between daily timelines, however, I struggled to see very far beyond any given news cycle. I was afraid that my work was so focused on the trees that it didn’t explain what was happening in the forest. That’s what got me interested in investigative journalism, and data journalism in particular: I wanted context beyond what people and public documents could tell me, and I I found that sometimes the numbers elucidated questions I couldn’t answer otherwise.
Can you explain what a data journalist does? How is your work changing on a daily basis?
Data journalism is like a big tent. It is home to people who draw inspiration from disciplines as diverse as statistics, computer science, software development, design, and even some quantitative social sciences. Some data journalists are more reporting oriented; they could strike out data from a website, then analyze it using statistical methods and design a data visualization to present their results. Others spend more time developing software and to keep data base that other journalists, even if they don’t know how to code, can use to supercharge their reports.
In my own work, data journalism is much like the reporting I did before the word Data became part of my job title. I always start with a question and then look for sources that can help answer it. What I do every day depends on the story. Sometimes we need to obtain data that is not available in the public domain, for example by submitting public records requests to government agencies, seeking the expertise of researchers who have compiled their own datasets, or writing code that retrieves information that we cannot find elsewhere. In other cases, the challenge is to develop a methodology to clean, verify and normalize the data we have already acquired, combine it with other datasets or test a hypothesis. All of this usually involves computer programming – I work mostly in R, Python and SQL – but also requires interviewing people and reading primary and secondary sources like any other journalist would.
You worked in Palm Springs and Denver before joining Public Integrity, and work remotely from California. How have your experiences in these places influenced the type of work you do for us?
I am grateful to have spent the first years of my professional life in local newspapers. Many journalists have followed this path before me, and for good reason: it’s a wonderful way to learn the trade. I was fortunate to work with reporters and editors who were both deeply invested in the places they covered and in training the next generation of journalists. I was isolated from the echo chambers of national political news and given the mandate to come up with story ideas not on Twitter or cable news, but on local city council meetings, records of courts and our own readers. Jobs like these are becoming increasingly difficult to find as many local newsrooms shrink or close. This is a loss not only for journalists, but also for readers, who see less of themselves and their communities reflected in the news.
I think these experiences make me more sensitive to how local idiosyncrasies change the way people experience national trends – or shield them from those trends entirely. I think they make me more humble when I cover an unfamiliar place for the first time. And hopefully, having worked in local news, I’m better equipped to collaborate with local reporters at Public Integrity.
Public Integrity does not accept advertising, charge reader subscriptions, or place its work behind a paywall. Why should the person reading this support public integrity and keep our journalism accessible to everyone?
I have to admit: there is an elegant directness to the traditional subscription model in journalism. If readers enjoy the story – if it informs them, if it moves them, if it surprises them – then it seems reasonable to ask them to either pay to consume it as they would when buying any another product, or to choose not to pay for it. , and do without.
The problem is that investigative journalism is not a product like the others. Just as people have a right to clean water to drink and clean air to breathe, I tend to think that good public affairs reporting is a right that should not be denied to anyone, especially because they can’t afford it.
But investigative journalism is a long and often expensive job. Newsrooms like ours invest heavily in doing so. We hope that if our work has informed you, or moved you, or surprised you, you will help us to continue.
Help support this work
Public Integrity has no paywalls and does not accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the greatest impact possible in the fight against inequality in the United States. Our work is possible thanks to the support of people like you.