10 Questions: Margot Williams: A 24-Hour News Cycle and Competition from Other News Outlets Keep Margot Williams Busy Helping Reporters at the New York Times Meet the Paper's High Standards for Accuracy and Thoroughness

By Spencer, Forrest Glenn | Information Outlook, September 2009 | Go to article overview

10 Questions: Margot Williams: A 24-Hour News Cycle and Competition from Other News Outlets Keep Margot Williams Busy Helping Reporters at the New York Times Meet the Paper's High Standards for Accuracy and Thoroughness


Spencer, Forrest Glenn, Information Outlook


Margot Williams has been part of the changing media landscape pitting newspapers against the Internet and other online influences. She is a database research editor with The New York Times and for the last five years has been part of a computer-assisted reporting team at the Times' city desk.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Ten years ago she won the Pulitzer Prize for public service at The Washington Post for an investigative team project on the deadly force shooting of civilians in Washington, D.C. Her work in helping the Post report on the war on terrorism led to another Pulitzer for national reporting

Margot graduated from the City College of New York and received a master's degree in library and information science from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She is the co-author of two books: Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web (1999) and Cuba from Columbus to Castro (1981). She is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE).

Q: Tell me about your Pulitzer Prizes.

The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize board's Gold Medal for public service for a November 1998 five-part series examining the unusually high rate of police shootings in the District of Columbia. According to the Post, "The series, the result of nearly a year's work by a team of 15 reporters, computer analysts, graphic artists and editors, produced a swift and intense reaction. The Justice Department was called in to investigate the handling of the local shootings, and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey ordered new firearms training for all 3,500 members of the force."

I was one of two researchers involved in the story, the other being Alice Crites. My major task on this project was creating a database of D.C. Superior Court cases involving the civilian victims of police shootings. The data were collected through a joint team effort at the courthouse that required pulling and reading hundreds of cases. The information from the cases was entered, compiled and ultimately used for research and analysis. I was also involved in a variety of research assignments relating to this project for almost a year. It was a great privilege to work with these superb journalists.

I was also on a team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting of the war on terrorism. In this effort, I was a member of a team that included Bob Woodward. I have to say that every prize that I have ever been involved with has been a team project, so it's not like the Pulitzer Prize is in my name. In order to get recognized, you have to have your name on the story somehow when it appears in print. In all my years in news librarianship, we'd have to fight to get credit on a story. That's the first step, and that's how it came about that researchers became part of Pulitzer Prize-winning teams.

Q: Now you're at The New York Times. What's a day in your life like?

I sit in the metro section, known as New York. I sit with the reporters, near the editors of the city desk, and I work on projects around the newsroom. I'm not in the research library--I'm a member of the computer-assisted reporting team. In every other job I was in the news library, but in a lot of newsrooms, people are extending their skills to fit into various news-gathering practices. I made an effort to extend my skills to incorporate the tools of computer-assisted reporting, using software tools like spreadsheets and database management. I can organize news information so that it can be used in storytelling and news reporting.

Q: Could you give me an example?

The computer-assisted reporting team has eight reporters, and most of them are highly skilled, but the kind of thing we do is obtain databases directly from government agencies and analyze them ourselves rather than take reports the government provides and accept their statistics and conclusions. We take the raw data and analyze the information ourselves. …

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