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



Florida Crime Trends

   You cover crime for the Palm Beach Post.

   It was a slow news day in mid-July, a hot, unbearably humid afternoon, and all you can think about is getting out of the office and heading home for a shower and tall, cold one.

   You've shut down your computer, packed up your brief case and are heading out when you hear a familiar voice bellow out your name. A second more and you'd have been out the door but now there's no place to hide.

   More than a little dejected, you slowly walk back to your editor's desk to get the bad news.

   She hands you a news release just in from Gov. Bush's office.

   Crime statistics are out for 2005 and the Gov. is delighted to announce that crime overall has hit a 35-year low and is down nearly 4 percent since 2004.

   There's no choice. You've got to write a story for tomorrow. The shower and the tall cold one -- the one you could almost taste a few minutes ago -- are just going to have to wait.

   Still, you figure it'll be pretty routine.

   "Statewide crime hit a 35-year low last year, Gov. Bush announced yesterday, down nearly 4 percent from 2004," yada, yada, yada, knock it out, send it to the desk and you're gone. An hour, maybe, not more.

   But then, as you trudge slowly back to your desk, your editor throws a curve ball.

   "How's South Florida doing?" she asks. "Is the pattern the same down here?"

   That's the trouble with a smart editor. She's quick enough to realize that there's no crime -- heck there's hardly any people -- in some counties in North Florida and that can push the statewide rate down.

   But you're prepared.

   You've got a spreadsheet with data on crime rates statewide and South Florida, going back five years, to 2001. It won't take much to plug in the new numbers and take a look.

   You figure you can look at the statewide trend and then compare that to Palm Beach County. You might even look at all of South Florida.

   Right around now, you're really glad that you took that class with -- who was that hippy looking professor, the one with the earrings, the beard, the ponytail and temper? -- oh, yeah, Prof. Reisner.

   You thought it was such a pain back then -- both all those numbers and Reisner, himself -- but at the moment, all you can think about is the crime exercise you did in class, the one where you figured crime rates and sorted them and like that. You're really glad you kept all that stuff, the exercises, the tip sheets and all.

   Come to think of it, maybe the Prof wasn't so bad, either. You remember all the stories he told about his kids, how sentimental he was. He even cried in class, once or twice. That something you don't often see.

   You snap out of your reverie and start thinking about the story.

   You figure you can look at the statewide violent and property crime rates for the last five years, calculate the same numbers for South Florida and see how they shape up. With some adroit copy/paste moves, you might even be able to put together another spreadsheet to lay it out clearly.

   (Now, how was it Reisner said you could take a number from one cell and copy it to another on the same or even on a different sheet? Oh, yeah, you select the cell, click on File/Copy, click in the cell where you want to put it, click on File/Paste Special and then on "Paste Link." Maybe he's still around so you can ask for help if you get into trouble.)

   You know that your editor is going to want to see your findings and a quick budget line and story memo before you start writing.

   You take another look at the news release, download the spreadsheet and get to work.




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