Computer-assisted reporting downloads Pulitzer success pg. 27

By: David Noack While this year's crop of Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists were awarded and lauded for great reporting and provocative stories, there is another player increasingly involved in these journalistic efforts - computer-assisted reporting (CAR).
The Washington Post and The Miami Herald made extensive use of CAR in their stories on police shootings and voter fraud in garnering journalism's top prize. The Philadelphia Inquirer, a finalist in the public service category, examined how the police manipulated crime data.
"The beauty of our use of CAR in this project was that the reporters had spent time with us learning about database programs for other projects. For this project, they could pretty much do their own database analysis. This is a sign that CAR doesn't have to be the domain of only a few specialists. It is a tool for all reporters to use," says Neill A. Borowski, director of Computer-Assisted Reporting/Analysis at the Inquirer.
Brant Houston, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), says that while they're in the process of looking at the role of CAR in the Pulitzers, the anecdotal evidence points to a growing trend of CAR assistance in putting these stories together.
"It's clear that it's playing a more and more significant role. What we are seeing is that computer-assisted reporting not only has spread throughout the profession, but is becoming a common and essential element in investigative, explanatory, and civic journalism pieces," says Houston.
Judy Miller, president of IRE and project editor at the Miami Herald, which won the 1998 Pulitzer for investigative reporting, says she sees an increasing number of CAR-driven stories winning journalism prizes.
"You're starting to see a buildup of CAR at most newspapers now. I think it's just a recognition among editors and reporting that it's a way to better inform their stories," she says. "I don't think it's all prize-driven."
Jo Craven, an IRE alumnus who worked on the Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the Washington Post, says such citations can only help database reporting.
"A number of the winners in recent years have involved CAR," she says. "I think it is making a difference."
Miami Herald reporter Neil Reisner said the Herald and the Post series could not have occurred without "the powerful combination of computers and shoe leather."
"CAR has become another tool in the toolbox we bring to bear on the news. It makes large projects like these possible; it adds value and context to stories produced every day on deadline," says Reisner, who was a database editor and former statehouse reporter at The Record of Hackensack, N.J.
CAR proponents stressed that database reporting is no replacement for old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, however.
Post executive editor Leonard Downie says reporters on the Pulitzer series, which unveiled a high homicide rate by the Washington, D.C., police, talked to local sources, rode along with police officers, even went to the firing range to shoot for themselves the officers' guns, which were found to be faulty.
Dan Keating, research and technology editor at the Miami Herald, says Pulitzer-caliber stories offer readers something they haven't seen before.
"The Pulitzers recognize stories that go to another level, that take stories to places where they haven't been before. Obviously being able to see trends and patterns in massive data can help take a story to a higher level, and it is a lot easier to do with sophisticated computer analysis," says Keating.
He says the growing use of CAR to support, bolster, or reveal buried data that could become the focus of a story raises questions about recognizing the people who did the computer analysis.
"It also raises some challenging new issues in the industry about how things should be credited. When someone does computer analysis that provides primary, ground-breaking facts for the story, how should it be credited? Right now, in some cases, the critical computer analysis is treated in a second-rate fashion when credit comes around," he says.

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