computer-assisted reporting is a significant part of daily
reporting and is not being reserved just for special projects sp.
COMPUTER-ASSISTED Reporting (CAR) has become the newsgathering tool of the 1990s.
Online news research, reporting using online commercial services and the Internet, and news stories based on original database analysis by reporters are no longer ideas of future newsgathering. They are here. They are in use.
There are a growing number of news organizations where CAR is a significant part of daily reporting and CAR is not being reserved just for special projects. For some news organizations, though, CAR is still perceived as a fancy topic for discussion at conferences or is a special projects tool used only by nerdy investigative reporters. This is gradually changing.
Reporters need not be award-winning investigators to use online research tools to check out who computerized public records. Similarly, there is no need to be a database genius to analyze a city's proposed budget with a spreadsheet.
But what tools are journalists using when they begin to integrate CAR into their project reporting or into their daily general assignment and beat reporting?
For beginners, CAR requires a moderately recent PC, a reporter, a modem, and some rather unsophisticated software. With such modest beginnings, CAR has grown rapidly as the new reporting tool for this decade and the beginning of the 21st Century.
A recent national study of computer-assisted reporting at the University of Miami uncovered the rapid adoption of CAR and other trends defining this growth. A mail survey was conducted focusing on 520 U.S. daily newspapers ? the nation's largest based on Sunday or weekend edition circulations of 20,000 or more ? in early 1994.
A total of 208 newspaper editors and reporters involved in CAR responded to the survey, a rate of 40%. Their answers revealed some current practices in both online and database CAR. The study focused on online services, database tools, remote reporting, and the types of projects in which CAR is used. In a broad sense, the study paints a portrait of the status of CAR in the U.S. in mid 1994.
CAR is moving slowly into American newspapers. Only 29% of the newspapers in the study had created CAR desks, but 30% reported plans to add a CAR desk or project team.
Training has been one barrier to beginning CAR. Since it requires computer literacy, some sort of on-the-job training has become an important issue. While entry-level journalists may be learning it in some colleges, most journalists must learn CAR while at work.
At this stage, most CAR training is occurring at out-of-the-newsroom training programs such as those offered by the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) at the University of Missouri. IRE and NICAR are going on the road, but opportunities are still rare for most journalists. The alternative, in-house training, is coming along slowly. Only 30% of newspapers responded reported in-house CAR training of any type.
Newspapers often move to online services as a first-step into CAR. This requires minimal tools and some level of budget for online expenses. In 1993, about 70% did not use online services.
Of those newspapers that go online, an average of $16,534 was spent. In 1994, 67% did not use or plan to use online resources. But of those using them, spending increased to $17,210. In either year, this amounts to monthly spending of about $1,400 a month. Some large newspapers, in fact, reported spending more than $50,000 annually on online services.
The online world is the newsroom librarian's domain. The searches are conducted by librarians. About 26% of newspapers reported librarians did the online work, 23% said reporters did it, 5% editors, and 7% said anyone could do searches. The rest, 38%, did not conduct searches.
Most newspapers (27%), if they search at all, search online daily.
The most popular services ? rated as "first choices" ? were CompuServe (19%), Lexis/Nexis (16%), local databases of all types (13%), DataTimes (12%), and Dialog (12%). In terms of "top three favorite" services, Lexis/ Nexis was ranked highest (16%), with Dialog, CompuServe, and local Databases also rated high.
In addition to use of commercial data services, some journalists have discovered the Internet.
Interest in the Internet is high, but use is growing slowly, the study found. In 1994, the Internet was not a leading online information source. Yet, indications are that this will change with time.
Another form of data access is CD-ROM. Use of CD-ROM readers is becoming more popular.
In this study, 40% of the newspapers reported using CD-ROM readers and 3% used more than one CD-ROM reader in the newsroom for work on stories.
Among editors and reporters involved in CAR, there is debate about the best software products. Since few journalists write their own software, the solution is to adapt off-the-shelf business software to newsroom needs. A major portion of the study focused on software. Some findings in the study:
? Procomm Plus is the run-away favorite (30%) communications package ? used for connecting a PC to another PC or an online service.
? XyWrite (20%) remains the most-used word processor, but WordPerfect and Word are becoming more common as newsrooms move to PC-based systems.
? Excel is the dominant spreadsheet (18%), but many reporters also use 1-2-3 (17%) and Quattro Pro (15%).
? Database management systems, or relational database software, is very popular for what is commonly called "database journalism." Paradox is the preferred (21%) DBMS/RDB software, but FoxPro (14%) is also widely used. It is worth noting that 57% of responding newspapers did not use DBMS/RDB products.
? Most newspapers (83%) are not yet using computer-mapping products. Of those using geographic information systems (GIS) software, Atlas GIS and MapInfo are the most widely used.
? Similarly, not many newspapers (just 15%) use statistical software. Among reporters using statistical packages, SPSS is the most popular. SAS and others are used by only a few newspapers.
? And few journalists (only 12%) use personal information managers ? the software day planners that organize appointments, addresses, and other information.
While this tool makes sense for reporters to use, it has not found its way into newsrooms yet.
Remote reporting has forced many journalists in the past decade to learn how to use laptop PCs. Two-thirds of the newspapers reported using portable PCs of some kind, with the same proportion reporting use of modems with those PCs.
Interestingly, an industry oriented to technology is not using as much of it in reporting as might be expected. Only 37% report using cellular telephones, 30% report using beepers, 7% report using two-way radios, and 8% report using fax cards in PCs.
The types of stories being produced from these computing tools are widely ranging. From Pulitzer Prize winners in Akron in 1994 and Miami in 1993 to daily lifestyle features nationwide, the topics cover just about all aspects of public life.
What is the most popular topic? Census data stories. PAC contributors. Election data. Crime statistics such as homicides and drunken driving. City budgets. Environmental pollution data. A popular feature idea is the analysis of pet license databases. But there are many, many more subjects.
It is likely, if the trends in this study point in the right direction, that newspapers (and, perhaps, broadcast news operations) will continue growth in the use of online services and the Internet.
While the Internet was not reported to be in wide use in early 1994, it seems inevitable as more news companies gain access for their employees.
As far as computing goes, more movement should be expected toward Windows, 0S/2, or other graphical user interface (GUI) products. These are usually easier to use and will be more inviting for beginners, especially.
There will be, original database development, in addition to use of existing public databases, that is already common.
Some newspapers participating in the study, notably the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer, leads the way in this area.
Training is likely to increase, as well, if activities by IRE, NICAR, and the Society of Professional Journalists in 1993, 1994 and 1995 are any indication.
There will be a very fast growth in portable computing also. This is probably the real future of computer-based journalism.
While journalists are at the mercy of the computer industry in many ways, they can take advantage of downsizing to make their work easier in the years ahead.
Because of the size and power of these systems in the mid-1990s, they will begin to replace desktop systems. This will free reporters and editors to take their work anywhere, any time, any story.
Reporters need not be award-winning investigators to use online research tools to check out who computerized public records. Similarly, there is no need to be a database genius to analyze a city's
proposed budget with a spreadsheet.
?(Garrison is a professor of journalism at the University of Miami.) [Caption]
By: Bruce Garrison There are a growing number of news organizations where