Resources for Computer-Assisted Journalism

Article excerpt

Resources for computer-assisted journalism

Journalists looking for help in getting started or executing a computer-assisted project can find it from private firms, four universities with formal programs or other community resources such as economic development agencies.

Books, newsletters and seminars also offer more general help in learning about this reporting tool.

Three graduates of the University of Missouri, who worked with the Missouri Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (MICAR), are selling their computer skills through a Seattle-based company.

Tom Braden, Adam Berliant and David Washington formed Electronic Public Information Consultants (EPIC) to market what they learned at Missouri.

"We're looking for people who can't afford the equipment or hire the people to do this full time or people who don't know what to do," said Berliant, who has worked extensively with the Environmental Protection Agency's database on toxic releases by companies.

Although the firm expects most of its work will come from media outlets, the owners also expect to work for public interest groups, lawyers and others who need public information to better do their jobs. For instance, a lawyer could hire the firm to study court records and determine the conviction rate of a judge, Berliant said.

The firm is building its own database library, including the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory and federal aviation records. That library will grow as it acquires records and databases for clients.

The firm's services include tracking, obtaining and analyzing records and producing reports. A client could contract for all or some of those services at $65 an hour, Berliant said.

University services

The firm might provide some competition for four universities that offer similar services.

Those universities offer programs designed to assist journalists with using electronic records. They are: MICAR, where the three businessmen learned the most about computer-assisted journalism; The National Institute for Advanced Reporting (NIAR), based at Indiana University in Indianapolis, and sponsor of two conferences on computer-assisted journalism; The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Program in Precision Journalism; Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

The four can help news organizations gain access to the power of a mainframe computer and teach journalists how to use personal computers to interpret data. (See seminars below.)

At MICAR, the Datacore program allows news organizations to use their own nine-track tapes or tapes acquired by the institute. Subscribers, who need a PC and modem, must buy a $200 software program and pay an annual fee based on circulation or market price. There also are flat per-minute fees for using the mainframe.

NIAR also offers assistance, including some on site. Although much of the institute's work focuses on research such as a study of the value of on-line information for visual journalists, the school also offers help in reporting projects. Help also is available with polling, surveying and statistical analysis as the institute strives to meet its goal of encouraging the use of computers and other advanced methods to expand the range, quality and speed of reporting.

The Center for Computer Analysis and the Center for Public Opinion Polling are affiliated with the institute.

At UNC-CH, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications works with the Institute for Research in Social Science to offer help to news media.

For an annual fee, subscribers get staff help in finding the right data for a project and assistance in analyzing the data.

At Syracuse University, TRAC uses information from nine-track tapes from a variety of sources to provide reports on subjects such as the performance of U.S. district attorneys and tax enforcement practices by the IRS. …