IPC Fall Conference set for Oct. 18 in Boise

Data, public records, and the future of journalism…

  • WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 18, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Registration, coffee and doughnuts          begin at 8:30 a.m.
  • WHERE: Boise State downtown location, 301 Capitol Blvd., across from Trader Joes
  • REGISTRATION: $10 for members, $15 for non-members, $5 for students, payable in     advance. Visit www.idahopressclub.org to register.
  • WHAT: Public records law with Cally Younger and Brian Kane; data visualization/using data sets in reporting with Audrey Dutton and Nathaniel Hoffman; roundtable on the    state of journalism in Idaho with Vicki Gowler, Rebecca Boone, David Adler and Bob         Kustra – stuff you don’t want to miss!

By Clark Corbin

Sometimes, all it takes to turn an average story into a great one is a public records request, some data analysis and a little tenacity.

It’s about moving beyond the press release and press conference handouts and digging deeper to identify patterns and relationships, spot outliers and connect dots that that nobody else is connecting. It’s following the money, analyzing a trend and painting the bigger picture.

With records skills and data visualization, you can identify a candidate’s biggest donors, reveal deep patterns in lobbying money thrown at lawmakers, turn your sports coverage up a notch, track changes in tax rates across years in different communities and illustrate which crimes are happening in which neighborhoods more frequently than others.

Public records reporting and data visualization are also platform agnostic. It doesn’t matter if you’re reporting for the largest television station in the state, writing for the small town weekly, a student publication, metro daily or a niche online news site. Records and data give us more ways to tell more stories more effectively.

But it’s also intimidating, daunting stuff – especially starting out. Most journalists can probably relate to Chevy Chase’s Saturday Night Live portrayal of a frazzled President George H.W. Bush. When asked an economic question, involving legislation and the flow of money in relation to the GDP, Chase’s eyes glazed over and he began to sweat. “It was my understanding that there would be no math,” Chase protested.

At the Idaho Press Club, we’re here to keep you out of the hot seat and put more tools in your reporting toolbox. That’s why we’re devoting much of our fall conference to public records access and data visualization.

We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to join fellow journalists and Idaho Press Club members Oct. 18 in downtown Boise for a morning of hands-on instruction devoted to scouring public records and turning data points into stories.

We’ll give you an overview of public records availability and laws (with an eye to November’s upcoming election), and have a Q&A devoted to records, access issues, concerns and data with the state’s new Public Records Ombudsman Cally Younger and Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane.

Then we will guide you through a hands-on data visualization workshop led by two of the best in the business: Idaho Statesman’s Audrey Dutton and The Blue Review’s Nathaniel Hoffman.

They’ll teach you how to turn a data set into a story, using a suite of Google products and Tableau Software. (Please bring your laptop or tablet if you would like to follow along and build your own data set to take back to your newsroom).

The idea is that you can head back to the office Monday morning, confident in a new set of skills and prepared to pitch a new data-driven story idea.

“As far as reporting, you can easily find outliers, compare different sets of information and see relationships very quickly — whereas going through Excel spreadsheets might take a really long time to find out what something means,” Dutton said.

Within the changing media landscape, data and records skills also make you more marketable and web savvy – two qualities that never hurt.

After a short break, we will finish the conference strong with a roundtable discussion of the state of journalism in Idaho, shrinking newsroom resource, the recent departure of several veteran journalists and the changing news dynamics in an age where PR professionals outnumber journalists. Join Idaho Statesman Editor Vicki Gowler, Associated Press bureau chief Rebecca Boone, Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy director David Adler and Boise State President Bob Kustra in this timely and highly relevant discussion.

Clark Corbin is a Statehouse reporter for Idaho Education News and a member of the Idaho Press Club board.