A conversation with DataMatters

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Portland investors heat map by Jason Alcorn.

Well it’s raining drooling dogs in Oregon, but the newsroom is still firing. Last month I wrote about the rise of nonprofit journalism, and how very essential media collaboration is to our future work in this industry. As we head into winter at InvestigateWest, I’m super excited to be rolling up my sleeves in one of the largest media collaborations we’ve undertaken to date.

I wish I could tell you about all the amazing work that’s being done, and the fabulous group of people I am working with. Alas, some things are still sacred – even in today’s jaw-dropping news cycle – and among them is the media embargo. So I’ll have to keep my keyboard silent on the details for now. But since I look forward to the day I can write to all of you in more depth about this work, what I offer today is a bit of a primer.

If you saw our work on the Portland housing market last year, then you know that big data is one of the primary seeds of great journalism. It was data-mining that helped James Gordon and me see the forces behind the cash purchasing of housing that upended prices in the real estate market last year. And it’s data that underpins enormously successful journalism projects nationally and worldwide, like last year’s look at the state mental health system in Florida, and the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of sexual assault on college campuses, which led to the Campus SaVE Act in 2013. You can find a treasure trove of these kinds of projects in the annual list of Philip Meyer Awards, which recognizes the best of them.

Back in June, when I was on fire about current projects and just swooning over big data overall, I spent some time emailing with friend and colleague Ashawnta Jackson at the Center for Data Arts Research at The New School in New York. Our conversation about data’s new role in journalism is especially pertinent now. I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives you another view of the work that we do.

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