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.