On Our Desk — Feb. 24, 2017

On Our Desk is a round-up of national or North Carolina news outlets using data to tell stories in innovative ways. Here’s what inspired us this week:

Tampa Bay Times Transportation


Story: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.

By: Caitlin Johnston and Eli Zhang of the Tampa Bay Times

Data used: 

  • Studies from the Brookings Institute and the University of Minnesota on how many jobs commuters can reach via public transportation
  • Population data for the 30 largest metro areas
  • Spending on transportation among the 30 largest metro areas
  • Federal government measures of transit coverage and usage including ridership data
  • Transportation-related actions by elected officials over the past 30 years

What we love: In order to get a complete picture of Tampa Bay’s transportation system, the Times had to work with multiple datasets and deal with numerous ways to measure transportation efficacy. The heat maps that showed the number of jobs people could access via public transportation are particularly alarming. This story reminds us that multiple datasets are better than one, since they can provide a more complete picture of an issue.



Story: Gauging gun violence in Miami-Dade complicated by jumble of records

By: Kyra Gurney and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald

Data used:

  • Autopsies from Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office
  • Police reports of non-fatal shootings from more than 40 police departments (some declined to release the reports unless paid, others did not respond at all)
  • Florida Department of Health statistics on shooting victims admitted into hospitals
  • Crime statistics voluntarily reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement

What we love: Similar to the Tampa Bay Times article, the Miami Herald had to consult multiple data sets in order to develop a clear picture of the issue. In this case, no perfect dataset existed, and that became the story. It seems absurd that a metro region of this size would not have a uniform recording process for keeping track of shooting incidents. However, this type of story is a common one in the data reporter’s lexicon — the case of incomplete records.


Story: America’s aging dams are in need of repair

By: Troy Griggs, Gregor Aisch and Sarah Almukhtar of the New York Times

Data used:

  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers
  • The Nevada Division of Water Resources
  • The Association of State Dam Safety Officials
  • American Rivers
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Inventory of Dams

What we love: If you’re thinking of replicating this story at your news organization, our reporter Lindsay Carbonell has some words of caution. She walked through a similar dataset last week and found that sometimes this type of data can be misleading. In Lindsay’s study of dam inspections in North Carolina, she found that demolished or out-of-commission dams were not removed from the database. You can read about her quest to find a dam that hadn’t been inspected in 30 years here.



Story: How many structurally deficient bridges are in your county?

By: Denise Lu and Dan Keating  of the Washington Post

Data used:2015 National Bridge Inventory by the Federal Highway Administration

What we love: This is a usable, engaging, county-by-county breakdown of the nation’s infrastructure problem. Once again, if you’re thinking of localizing this story, be sure to ask questions of your data. Do the structural scores make sense? Could there be something skewing your data? It never hurts to pick up the phone and call the organization in charge of keeping records, or other people who just might know something you don’t.


Story: Here’s where jobs will be lost when robots drive trucks

By: David McCabe, Gerald Rich and Lazaro Gamio of Axios

Data used:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for Truck Transportation

What we love: This is another easy story to localize. The data used to find the number of trucking industry jobs per 1,000 jobs is readily available on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. You can also find historic employment data and wages for each county. 

To submit your data stories for future On Our Desk roundups, email us at help@carolinadatadesk.org.


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