September 17, 2019

How 5 Data Dynamos Do Their Jobs

We analyzed changes in the city’s immigration patterns to better understand why some immigrant groups were overrepresented at the schools and others were underrepresented. We mapped out where the city’s accelerated academic programs are, and found that mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods have lost them. And we tracked the rise of the local test preparation industry, which has exploded in part to meet the demand of parents eager to prepare their children for the specialized schools’ entrance exam.

To put a human face to the data points we gathered, I collected yearbooks from black and Hispanic alumni and spent hours on the phone with them, listening to their recollections of the schools in the 1970s through the 1990s. The final result was a data-driven article that combined Rebecca’s remarkable graphics, yearbook photos, and alumni reflections.

In covering health care, I’ve discovered that many of the most compelling stories take powerful anecdotes about patients and pair them with eye-opening data. Over the last 15 years, data has come to play an increasingly important role in my articles because there is so much more information available about hospitals, health insurers and doctors to analyze — from the rampant increases in insurance premiums to the comparative burdens of rising health care costs for employers and individuals to the various ways in which mergers have transformed the industry.

In a recent article, I used data from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, to show how hospital mergers had helped lead to higher prices in various communities. And I created my own spreadsheet to look closely at the experience in a single state.

Being comfortable with data and spreadsheets allows me to ask better questions about researchers’ studies.

Spreadsheets also provide a way of organizing sources, articles and research, as well as creating a timeline of events. By putting information in a spreadsheet, you can quickly access it, and share it with other reporters.

As a political reporter dealing with more than 20 presidential candidates, I use spreadsheets to track polling, fund-raising, policy positions and so much more. Without them, there’s just no way I could stay on top of such a huge field.

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