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UK lags in investigative reporting

An investigative story headed “Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don’t Farm” in the Washington Post demonstrates just how far we, in the UK, are behind the US in computer assisted reporting. It is a powerful story that starts with the example of a 67-year-old asphalt contractor whose suburban home in El Campo, Texas, gets $1,300 a year because his land once grew rice.

The Post analysed federal records in a nine month investigation to produce a stunning piece of reporting. The mechanics are hidden from the readers but an interactive map give county by county and farm by farm details of payments across the US.

Mindy McAdams who teaches online journalism was intrigued and got details of how the map was produced from Sarah Cohen, one of the reporting team.

A number of issues for UK journalism, in its role of holding government to account, are raised by this: public access to government data, skills to analyse it and the willingness to finance expensive reporting.

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  1. Martin Stabe » Finally some UK CAR reporting says

    […] Wordblog » Blog Arc&hellip | 4 May 2007 at […]

  2. Martin says

    Now that I think of it, there was one example of a US-style CAR story in the UK last year.

    The WaPo story you cite is a very good example of the UK lag in this area, because a UK equivalent of the US farm-subsidy dataset the WaPo used for this is actually available: The EU common agricultural policy subsidy data released by Defra last year in one of the first big FOI stories.

  3. Martin says

    Andrew, I saw that item as well, and you’re right: It’s a shame that we don’t see CAR-based investigative reporting in the UK. I think the major issue is the lack of skills and awareness of what’s possible among British journalists.

    Education is part of the problem. While our journalism courses are busy teaching students shorthand, US journalism schools are teaching students how to write SQL queries and file FOI requests for government databases.

    You’re in a position to help correct this. Push for some advanced CAR and Flash presentation techniques to be put on the curriculum at Westminster. Make it optional for students, but make it clear that anyone who takes the course will have nearly-unique skills that will make them highly employable.

    I know there are some stirrings in the CAR direction at City, and the more universities wake up to this, the better.

    Without advanced journalism education, the UK lag in this area will never change.