The rise of “Computational Journalism?”

Computer Assisted Reporting, or CAR, has long been considered the standard term for big project journalism based on data analysis. But with a greater need to provide context around numbers in the media, that term is changing.

Jonathan Stray, a reporter/computer scientist, wrote on his blog last month that computational journalism could be defined as: “…the application of computer science to the problems of public information, knowledge, and belief, by practitioners who see their mission as outside of both commerce and government.”

But while the ever changing media world develops a working definition of the term, the basic facets of information gathering — reporting — are still there. Stray goes further, breaking down key aspects of computational journalism, including:

Data journalism, which Stray defines as the traditional model of computer assisted reporting most commonly applied to databasing information through spreadsheets.

Visualization, in addition to the reporting side of things, there is the visualization aspect that accompanies most stories today, and is key to drawing in an audience.

Technology, with an ever increasing amount of new ways to get out information, Stray emphasized the importance of networks, cryptography, and information theory. To track and filter the spread of all the information, we rely on a variety of online tools, including social media, Google News and Interceder, which you can check out here: http://interceder.net/

In addition to the vast array of tools available to measure the spread of information on the Internet, Stray also touches on the effects that journalism has on the public. This kind of post-production analysis is largely lacking today, and could be expanded upon with the rise of computational journalism.

To check out the full post go here: http://jonathanstray.com/a-computational-journalism-reading-list

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Welcome to the Campus Center for Investigations, launched on WordPress for the first time today. Check back next week for new updates, and tips on how to get your own investigation started.

Investigate your school

That’s the advice from investigative reporters who cover higher education.

Here’s some tips on what to ask and look for:

  • All emails sent to your college president or athletic director. That will tell you about all the problems people complain about.
  • All public records of academic misconduct — ask for every case for the last five years.
  • A list of all public records requests. If lawyers are snooping for information because someone is thinking about suing, you will be able to get the same information.
  • Sponsored research contracts: If you are at a public university and the professors do research using any outside funding, you can get a copy of the funding agreement — what the money is to be used for, who is doing the funding and what, if anything, the funder gets in return.
  • The Form 990: That’s a form all non-profit private colleges must file with the IRS each year. They must also release it to the public upon request. On it they disclose how much they raise and spend, the people who are paid the most money, and all kinds of other nifty information. You can download a blank one for the year 2008 here. You can also get old Form 990s that your school filed atGuidestar. The service is free but you need to register.
  • The athletics budget: Athletics at your school is probably subsidized. You can find out where the money is coming from (student fees?) and how it is spent.
  • Retention rates: How many freshmen made it to sophomore year?
  • Six-year graduation rates: Compare it against other schools in your system or state.
  • Data from entrance and exit interviews: Many colleges interview students when they enter or graduate. You can find out what the school learns from these interviews.

And see if you can find phantom classes. Those are classes with high enrollment but no attendance that are designed to boost GPAs of athletes. When you try to visit you just get an empty class and there is no field trip of record.