Tags : First Ventures

Detecting lobbying in White House visitor data

A few weeks after I returned from an IRE and NICAR boot camp earlier this year, I got a copy of proposed changes to a rule for fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – for oil and gas on public land that was being developed by federal regulators.

Just about every change to the Bureau of Land Management fracking rule had gone the way the oil and gas industry had wanted.

After I wrote a story about that, I still had a question – what led to all the proposed changes? To figure that out, I turned to the White House Visitor Access Records ...

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FIRST VENTURE: Pothole complaints

My palms become sweaty just thinking about math. Taking on a dataset of 25,000 records? Turn on the armpits.

I’m a fellow with an investigative news organization in Pittsburgh called PublicSource. At 30, I’m a pup reporter on nearly every level. My first crack at a data story was terrifying. And incredibly empowering.

After a three-day IRE and NICAR Computer-Assisted Reporting Bootcamp, I was hooked.

Back in the newsroom, we used records from Pittsburgh’s 311 non-emergency call center to analyze how the city was handling pothole complaints. We found that between 2006 and 2012, the amount ...

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First venture: Probing pipeline leak detection

I became interested in pipeline data after reporting on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. There was (and still is) a lot of debate about the pipeline's projected spill rate and safety. TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the project, already has one U.S. pipeline, which leaked 14 times within its first year of operation. I didn't know if that was unusual, so I wanted to compare TransCanada's record to the leak rates from other companies.

That story eventually proved too much to tackle, but it led me to another story about leak detection. As it turns out ...

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Finishing the CAR story, overcoming initial hurdles

By Laura Krantz
Gatehouse Media

This summer I attended my first IRE conference, in Boston. I really wanted to learn Microsoft Excel skills and I did, thanks to patient IRE staff. But more importantly, I was inspired by all the ruthless journalists using creative ways to mine for data and writing compelling stories.

I left itching to try it myself. Since June, I have been poking for data in the towns I cover but hit several roadblocks. Thanks to IRE colleagues, I've overcome all of them.

First, I wanted to get payroll data, but the town treasurer said it ...

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Web tools help visualize roadkill

On the way back to the airport after a grueling week at the the IRE and NICAR Computer-Assisted Reporting boot camp last year, I spotted a dead deer. Anyone who has been to the boot camp or even a NICAR or IRE conference knows that your head is swimming with ideas and possibilities. After a week of boot camp I was seeing spreadsheets and SQL code in my sleep. I wondered who, if anyone, tracked roadkill.

When I returned home, I did a pointed web search for information about roadkill records in Washington state. One of my first hits was ...

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Taking boot camp skills home

During the weeklong IRE and NICAR Computer-Assisted Reporting Boot Camp you wake up thinking about spreadsheet pivot tables and practice so many database queries that you never want to ask another question that requires a “WHERE” statement. But the most important lesson that gets drilled into your head is a simple one: practice, practice, practice.

After I left the January 2011 boot camp, I tested out my skills on some smaller stories.  I took a look at the public and private colleges that received Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which was primarily an exercise in cleaning up a Microsoft Excel ...

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First Venture: Local eateries with serious health violations

Every day, thousands of Muskegon County residents pour into their favorite restaurants to dine with friends and family. Yet until now, little was known about whether those restaurants followed practices aimed at preventing people from getting sick.

While looking through more than 22,000 electronic health-inspection records spanning four years, I found numerous instances where restaurants repeatedly violated rules that help prevent foodborne illness. Schools, hospitals and food stands were cited for breaking the rules, too.

Raw chicken and crabmeat sitting out at room temperature. Food kept past its expiration date. Cockroaches, mice and fruit flies living in kitchens. Employees ...

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First Venture: Pivot tables help show aiport loss claims

Somewhere in the tilting tower of boxes that passes for my personal archive are the files from my first attempt at data journalism—an investigative piece about the Minneapolis Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit. You’ll find no CDs with database files in there. No printed spreadsheets either; just a small stack of hand-drawn grids with case counts, closure stats, and other vitals. I don’t even know if I had Microsoft Excel installed on my work computer at the time. It never occurred to me that there might be a better way to store and process the information ...

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Award winner: Missing gas-escrow payments uncovered with data matches

For 20 years, an obscure Virginia regulatory board has forced thousands of landowners to lease their mineral rights to private energy corporations.

The corporations who drain natural gas belonging to landowners are required to pay them royalties. But whenever conflicts arise over gas ownership, the Virginia Gas and Oil Board places royalties into escrow accounts. Landowners receive no accounting of these royalties and cannot collect them without clearing enormous legal hurdles. Only two state employees monitor payments into the escrow, which now contains $25 million and has never undergone a compliance audit.

When I started my reporting, I wanted to ...

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Flood aid under scrutiny

Readme: Free text articleI was warned prior to IRE and NICAR’s CAR Boot Camp that many attendees leave feeling overwhelmed. And at the end of the five-day class in Minneapolis in early October, I felt … overwhelmed. But with my employer, The Gazette newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, having spent a decent amount of money sending me to the camp, I was not in a position to return home and not produce. So I got right to work on my first day back. By that Friday I had an 1A story filed, and in the days in between was surprised by how much ...

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