Computer Assisted Investigative Reporting: Development and Methodology

By Gribbin, August | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

Computer Assisted Investigative Reporting: Development and Methodology


Gribbin, August, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


DeFleur, Margaret H. (1997). ComputerAssisted Investigative Reporting: Development and Methodology. Mahwah, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Paperback, $24.50. Hardback, $59.95.

"CAIR." The word sounds Scottish-like the Scotts' name for a kind of dog, or a heap of stones. But no.

"CAIR," the leading acronym in Margaret DeFleur's ambitious text on the topic, stands for "computer-assisted investigative reporting." It's a facet of investigative journalism that well might be Scottish, or Greek, to many journalists and journalism teachers.

That's because CAIR involves analysis of giant government data bases, which requires using database management programs or writing special computer programs. Comparatively few can do that, although, as DeFleur rightly states, "Reporting on government ... now requires an ability to use computers ... [and] the need for such proficiency will increase." If so, the appropriateness of her book will increase too."

The book is ambitious because ultimately it offers a formal "systematic methodology" for large database analysis. The methodology reflects considerable thought. Likewise it reflects lessons learned from a revealing project DeFleur directed that analyzed 5.5 million federal court cases. And then there's the implication that the author wishes journalists to follow the "series of steps, strategies, and responsibilities" she describes. Thus journalism would gain added credibility.

DeFleur presents her methodology in the book's ninth, and final, chapter, making it a kind of how-to-do-it guide. Yet, as DeFleur puts it, "Computer-Assisted Investigative Reporting is not a `how-to' book . …

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