On Our Desk — March 31

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: Coal is losing an Appalachian stronghold as Trump fights back

By: Naureen Malik and Tim Loh of Bloomberg Markets

Data used:

  • 2015 Energy Information Administration data on state-by-state energy production
  • Energy Information Administration data on coal plant closures and gas-fired plant openings in Ohio

What we love: This story uses data to go beyond the rhetoric used on the campaign trail and in the White House. Coal isn’t coming back. Those mining jobs aren’t coming back. It’s not policy or regulation that’s killing coal, as Trump and lobbyists have said. It’s innovation in the natural gas industry. The communities most affected by the transition to natural gas see it as a double-edged sword. In the short-term, jobs will be lost and people in these communities wish the administration would focus on alleviating the growing pains rather than promising to revitalize an industry that is dying out.


Disabled, or just desperate? 

By: Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post

Data used:

  • Social Security Administration SSDI and SSI Annual Reports (2004 and 2015)
  • County-level demographic information from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Counties were classified as urban or rural using the six-step scale from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics
  • Spending on social security comes from the 2017 federal budget and SSA’s projected payments for 2017

What we love: I’m a sucker for narrative storytelling that rests on a foundation of careful research and data analysis. Here, McCoy follows one individual’s decision to sign up for disability, and the guilt, questioning and confusion he faces during the process. The data shows this is a decision many Americans are facing. To replicate this story on a local level, use data from the Social Security Administration’s Annual Reports to see how many people have signed up for disability in your area.


Story: Will Democrats filibuster to try to block Gorsuch from the Supreme Court?  

By: Wilson Andrews, Audrey Carlsen, Alicia Parlapiano and Jugal K. Patel of the New York Times

Data used:

  •  Every news article, tweet or public statement that hints at how Democrat senators plan to vote

What we love: This is a format I’ve seen the New York Times using a lot recently. They used it with Republicans for the health care bill vote and used it to track votes on Trump’s cabinet nominees. This style is clean, and the data updates regularly. I’d love to know what system the NYT is using to find these articles and tweets.


Story: Map: Find the lead-tainted water fountains in NYC schools

By: Mary Harris and the WNYC Data News Team

Data used:

  • Letters sent to parents about contaminated water fountains from 430 schools in the NYC area

What we love: These letters were prompted by a second round of water testing in city schools following stricter protocols for examining lead pipes. WNYC is sourcing these letters directly from parents, which means the audience is a key part of this story. The map not only allows readers to see trends in lead contamination, but it makes clear the scope of the problem.


Story: Good schools, affordable homes: Finding suburban sweet spots 

By: Quoctrung Bui and Conor Dougherty of the New York Times

Data used:

What we love: This piece connects two data points that have a complicated relationship — home prices and school test scores. The article cites that a 5 percent improvement in test scores can raise home values by 2.5 percent. Families purchasing a new home find themselves having to balance their mortgage with the quality of their children’s education. This article tracks the relationship between home prices and school quality in five metro areas to see if the suburbs or city offer the best deal.

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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