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June 20 2013

18:24

A warning from Matt Waite about data journalism and race

“If you’re expecting talk-radio and television shout fests to talk about how awesome your statistical validity is, you’re an idiot.”

Matt Waite has an excellent post on Source today that tells the story of early data journalism in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. He delves into issues of race and identity, and explains how easily journalists with good sense can mix things up — and miss big stories — because of how quickly numbers can obfuscate reality.

Race and ethnicity are tricky topics with loads of nuance and definitional difficulties. But they aren’t the only places these issues come up. Anytime you’re comparing data across agencies and across geographies, be on high alert for mismatches. Crime is a huge issue—jurisdictions have different definitions of what constitutes a big theft versus a little one, for instance. Driving laws are another—what constitutes reckless driving changes state to state. Budgets are another nightmare—what dollar figure requires a bid or not changes from city to city.

Getting the metadata, getting someone one the phone and basic descriptive statistics will help you avoid traps and hopefully let you avoid getting your butt kicked like I did.

May 17 2013

18:07

Using the Raspberry Pi to get around newsroom IT

Matt Waite — ex-Tampa Bay Times and Politifact, currently professing at the University of Nebraska — promotes the Raspberry Pi as a Trojan horse for newsroom IT. (Trojan horse in the sneaky-way-to-get-around-obstacles sense, not in the malware sense.)

Unfamiliar with the Pi? The Model B Pi is a $35 computer that’s about the size of a deck of cards. It’s got an ethernet port, and you supply the hard drive in the form of an SD card, the keyboard, mouse and monitor. Now, for $35, you’re not getting a ton of horsepower, but for simple repetitive tasks it works great.

What kind of simple, repetitive tasks? Let’s pretend for a second that you wanted to set up a scraper that dumped data into a database every hour. Ideally, you’d have a server somewhere and you’d set up a task on it — I like using ‘nix’s cron for things like this — and off it would go, mindlessly gathering data for you and putting it into a database. You could then go about your life, stopping by from time to time to get that data and do whatever you’re going to do with it. So you ask newsroom IT for this and, of course, the answer is no. And no we won’t give you the money to run this in the cloud for a few bucks a month either.

Enter the Pi.

April 24 2012

14:40

News algorithms do exist – and that’s good

Matt Waite says it's possible to do more with less in newsrooms -- and one solution is robots. But far from stealing jobs, bots and the "news algorithms" that power them could change how journalists do what they do for the better. Read More »
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