On Our Desk — March 3, 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:



Story: Sexual Misconduct  and ‘It’s rampant’: Documents reveal 124 cases of UC employees’ sex misconduct

By: The news staff at the Daily Californian of UC Berkeley

Data used:

What we love: The Daily Californian reacted quickly to the records dump, producing a searchable database and a well-reported story to go with it, within the constraints of breaking news. Plus, this project is open source! All of the code and data used by these student reporters is available here on Github.


Story: What you need to know about the right-wing movement consuming Europe

By: Shane Savitsky, Alex Duner and Rebecca Zisser of Axios

Data used:

  • Party information (name, founding year, key figures).
  • Polling data gauging party popularity (from various sources for each country).

What we love: From a usability perspective, this card deck is easy to sort through and gives a birds-eye view of upcoming European elections. From a data analysis perspective, Axios was able to find comparable datasets in order to measure party popularity across 12 different countries.


Story: Bomb Threats to Jewish Community Centers and Organizations

By: Ken Schwencke and Al Shaw of ProPublica

Data used:

  • Reports from the JCC Association of North America, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

What we love: As a part of ProPublica’s Documenting Hate project, a team of reporters is tracking threats against Jewish centers by date and location. The report breaks down the data by day, allowing readers to see how the threats spread across the country. While we wish this tool had more information on the specific threats, it’s a good way to show how these threats have become more prevalent since January.


Story: L.A. keeps building near freeways, even though living there makes people sick

By: Tony Barboza and Jon Schleuss of the L.A. Times

Data used:

  • Building permits since 2005 allowed reporters to measure housing growth within 1,000 feet of a freeway, the measure the city uses to flag developments.
  • U.S. Census data to count the number of people living within 1,000 feet of a freeway.
  • Air quality measurements were done by the reporters using equipment and methodology borrowed from USC.

What we love: We love the transparency going on over at the L.A. Times Data Desk! You can read how Schleuss and Barboza reported the story and download their data here. Reporters had to not only clean datasets and construct their own parameters for this story, but they had to do on-the-ground reporting to construct an entirely new dataset. This is a good reminder that when the perfect dataset doesn’t exist you should see if you can feasibly create your own.


Story: The Three Types of Meryl Streep Movies

By: Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight

Data used:

  • Streep’s Oscar nominations.
  • Inflation-adjusted box office performance for each of her films.
  • Rotten Tomatoes scores for each of her films.

What we love: This fun culture piece was the topic of much Twitter debate before the Oscars last week. This article struck the perfect tone — take a look at that emoji graph halfway down — for a discussion of one of the most (undeservedly?) revered actresses of our time. The data-driven foundation of this article provides a sense of objectivity on which the reporter can build a solid cultural critique.

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

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