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Check out IRE’s best data-driven business stories of 2010

Mark Horvit IRE CAR

Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, introduces the best computer-assisted reporting in 2010.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Need inspiration?

Check out some of the data-driven business stories that were among the best in computer-assisted reporting in 2010. The presentation today by Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and its training director, Doug Haddix, was part of IRE’s Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference.

They emphasized that the public records underlying these stories are often available in other states, making it possible to localize these stories.

Here are some of the stories they highlighted, or take a look at the entire presentation in this PDF:

  • Government pension plans in trouble. McClatchy Newspapers used pension-plan valuation reports to find that the shortfall in California pension plans totals $4,000 per household. Among the factors behind the problem are rules that often base workers’ pensions on the last few years of earnings. Often, those receiving the biggest pension payments are police officers, firefighters and sometimes road workers, Horvit said, because of substantial overtime they racked up in their last years of employment.
  • Food deserts for poor families. Chicago public radio station WBEZ requested USDA data on vendors approved to accept food stamps. It documented that parts of Chicago lack grocery stories. The poor families who rely on food stamps were forced to shop at liquor stores, gas stations and dollar stores, which offer limited fresh produce and meats.
  • Immigrant labor filling new jobs. Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Use Microdata Sample, the Orange County Register found that immigrants have filled most of California’s new jobs since 1970. It also found that “the odds of an illegal immigrant being detained at work were 1 in 1,300.”
  • Sales of guns used in crimes. Using the Virginia State Police’s Criminal Firearms Clearinghouse, The Washington Post was able to find which retailers sold the most weapons recovered after crimes.
  • Turning foreclosure conventional wisdom on its head. Using a random sample of 1,200 foreclosures in three cities, The Seattle Times and ProPublica.org found that the conventional wisdom about foreclosures is often wrong. The analysis found that half of the foreclosures affected people over 40; three in four loans were not “predatory”; and more than half of the foreclosures ended with people being able to keep their homes.
    Stadium food restaurant inspections ESPN investigation

    An investigation by ESPN into health and safety violations in restaurant inspections for stadium vendors was one of IRE's top data-driven business stories in 2010.

  • Manipulation of the market by insurers. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune pulled the financials on more than 100 insurance companies operating in Florida and found that insurers and reinsurers had manipulated the market to overcharge homeowners and maximize profits.

About the Author

Linda Austin is the executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. A former business editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, she spent a decade as a top newsroom leader, serving as the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky; executive editor of The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and managing editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. She offers business-story ideas and notes good #bizreads @LindaAustin_

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