In the summer of last year ProPublica published a major investigation into air pollution in Florida, and its connection to the sugar industry. The story itself, Black Snow, is an inspiring example of scrollytelling — but equally instructive is the methodology article which accompanies it, responding to criticisms from the sugar industry.
Not only does it demonstrate how to respond when large organisations attack a piece of journalism — it also provides a great lesson on the tactics that are adopted by organisations when attacking data-driven stories.
In this post I want to break down the three most common attack tactics, how ProPublica deal with two of those, and how to use the same tactics during planning to ensure your project design isn’t flawed.
MA Data Journalism student Tony Jarne spent eight months investigating exempt accommodation, collecting hundreds of documents, audio and video recordings along the way. To manage all this information, he turned to Google’s free tool Pinpoint. In a special guest post for OJB, he explains how it should be an essential part of any journalist’s toolkit.
The use of exempt accommodation — a type of housing for vulnerable people — has rocketed in recent years.
At the end of December, a select committee was set up in Parliament to look into the issue. The select committee opened a deadline, and anyone who wished to do so could submit written evidence.
Organisations, local authorities and citizens submitted more than 125 pieces of written evidence to be taken into account by the committee. Some are only one page — others are 25 pages long.
In addition to the written evidence, I had various reports, news articles, Land Registry titles an company accounts downloaded from Companies House.
I needed a tool to organise all the documentation. I needed Pinpoint.
By starting from one person you can start to identify the different parts of the systems that affect your topic — and useful story leads and ideas
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been helping students on my MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism and MA in Data Journalism come up with story ideas for specialist reporting and investigations. Part of the process involves an exercise around scoping out a particular subject or system you are interested in — for example, the housing system, or ‘dark kitchens’, the Oscars, or air pollution — and identifying the gaps in your knowledge that can lead to stories.
It’s an exercise where empathy plays a central role.