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Database & Public Records Reporting/JOU3121 | News Workshop/JOU 3113



Finding Clips

Learning to recognize stories that make adroit use of public records or data analysis is one way to jump-start your own thinking. That's why each Database Reporting student is required to turn in four examples of such stories.

Clips found on the Internet can be printed out on letter-sized papershould be pasted on letter-sized paper. Tear sheets taken directly from newspapers should be cut down and pasted on letter-sized paper.

All clips must be accompanied by a brief summary of how public records or data-analysis contributed to making the story special.

Here are some hints on finding suitable clips, along with some examples of what we're looking for:

Just because a story has a percentage in it does not mean the reporter did any analysis. Government agencies, scientists and special interest organizations provide journalists with all kinds of studies on which to base stories. Don't use them.


Likewise, Stay away from stories about business earnings, real estate trends, housing prices, hotel occupancy rates and anything else that appears to come from a press release provided by some sort of special interest.


Look at anything by the Associated Press with suspicion. The AP often writes about the work of other newspapers. If you see an AP story about work published in a newspaper, go find the story in that newspaper. On the other hand, AP reporters also do great work, as evidenced by the piece on 9/11 aid on this page.


So, what to look for?


Most papers publish the work they're most proud of on Sundays or Mondays. So, look in those editions.


Don't feel like you've got to look only in South Florida papers. The Web gives you access to papers throughout the country; look at them.


Look for phrases like "according to an analysis by [INSERT NAME OF PAPER HERE]" or "according to records obtained by [INSERT NAME OF PAPER HERE]" or "[in response to a public records request by [INSERT NAME OF PAPER HERE]."


Look for stories that make you say "Wow, how'd they do that? Where'd they get that information?"


Here are links to some stories, both big and small, that would be suitable clips:



Missteps, fraud have plagued FEMA

The Sun-Sentinel continues its investigation into FEMA. "The handling of aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina is only the latest in a series of missteps and fraud that has plagued this tax-funded government agency." The Sun-Sentinel took a look at 20 recent disasters and found mismanagement and misallocation abound. Among the findings: thousands of claims in Cleveland for damaged washers and dryers after a thunderstorm when the city received only 73 complaints; claims of smoke damage in Los Angeles from wildfires that were 30 miles or farther away; and $9 million paid to people up to 37 miles away from a tornado that touched down in South Florida. The package includes more information about how reporters researched the agency.


Tax break backfires for some Fla. residents

Maurice Tamman of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune examines the effects of Florida's 10-year-old Save Our Homes amendment, which limits the annual increase of a homesteader's taxable property value. He finds that "over the years, the program that was supposed to save little old ladies from being forced from their homes has turned into a cash cow largely for the rich."


Sept. 11 loans go to many unaffected by terror

The Associated Press examined nearly $5 billion in loans granted by the Small Business Administration as Sept. 11 recovery aid, and found that many went to businesses "that didn't need terror relief — or even know they were getting it." The SBA said it first learned of the problems from AP. "The records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act also show that many other loan recipients who made cases they were injured by Sept. 11 were far removed from the direct devastation of New York City and Washington, like a South Dakota country radio station, a Virgin Islands perfume shop and a Utah dog boutique."


Police Disregard Rape Complaints

Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis police have failed to file official reports on many sex crimes over the past 20 years, instead writing informal memos on cases that would not be counted in the city's crime statistics. "The Post-Dispatch analyzed many of these cases and found police often discounted claims by women who were reluctant to testify, easy to discredit or difficult to locate." Many records were obtained only after a lengthy FOI battle.


E-mails reveal early hiring concerns
Mark Pitsch of The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal used Kentucky's Open Records Act to obtain emails showing that "less than three months before the state hiring investigation began,
Gov. Ernie Fletcher's deputy chief of staff and the transportation personnel director confided to each other in e-mails that laws may have been broken." The state's Attorney General, who is investigating hiring practices under Fletcher, was unaware of the emails until the paper published them. 




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