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Journalists now use spreadsheets daily, whether it is picking out patterns of waste and abuse in government or providing context with figures of information that show years of data and trends. The spreadsheet is particularly attractive to journalists beginning to do computer-assisted reporting because it’s easy to get data in a spreadsheet format.

As noted in the previous chapter, many government agencies around the world– especially census offices - routinely place data files in spreadsheet format so it can be smoothly downloaded and analyzed.

It is equally easy to enter data in a spreadsheet from documents when no electronic data exists. The Times Picayune in New Orleans, for example, entered information on riverboat pilots from their job applications and resumes to reveal the nepotism, lack of education, and criminal backgrounds among the pilots. In another instance, USA Today built a spreadsheet from information in lawsuits to show the abuse and near-enslavement of immigrants.

Becoming Friendly with Numbers

Journalists constantly report on numbers, although you'll often hear them say they hated math in school - and that they still hate it. Well, many people hate flying on airplanes, but they do it because their jobs require them to. Not many of these people become pilots, but they know the plane will take them where they need to go.

The same idea applies to modern journalists and spreadsheets. A modern journalist doesn't have to be a mathematician to deal with numbers, but he or she should be willing to use a spreadsheet to get the job done. Yet it is startling how many reporters still strain for hours with a calculator while trying figuring out whether the mayor has given his cronies the largest raises.

Eric Lipton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who now works for The New York Times, discovered the efficiency of spreadsheets while working at The Hartford Courant. Lipton was examining a generous early retirement plan for city employees. He was trying to calculate the percentage of each person's pension as compared to his or her salary at the time of retirement. Experts told him the figure should be approximately 67 percent, but in the city's early retirement plan some retirees' pensions came close to the full amount of their former salary.

Lipton was tediously tapping a calculator for each comparison when he remembered that he had seen a spreadsheet demonstration in which the calculations were done much more rapidly. With a little help, he imported the information into a spreadsheet and learned how to do one calculation. Then he copied that calculation for more than a hundred other entries. Those calculations served as the starting point for a front-page story.

What Lipton discovered is that a spreadsheet saves an enormous amount of time, prevents unnecessary repetition and improves accuracy in calculations.

A spreadsheet allows you to quickly figure out such things as who got the most money, who got the highest percentage raise, who made the most drug arrests or which city's housing prices increased the most.

By Brant Houston, from “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide”, 4th Edition, Copyright, Routledge Press

As noted in the previous chapter, many government agencies around the world– especially census offices - routinely place data files in spreadsheet format so it can be smoothly downloaded and analyzed.

It is equally easy to enter data in a spreadsheet from documents when no electronic data exists. The Times Picayune in New Orleans, for example, entered information on riverboat pilots from their job applications and resumes to reveal the nepotism, lack of education, and criminal backgrounds among the pilots. In another instance, USA Today built a spreadsheet from information in lawsuits to show the abuse and near-enslavement of immigrants.

Becoming Friendly with Numbers

Journalists constantly report on numbers, although you'll often hear them say they hated math in school - and that they still hate it. Well, many people hate flying on airplanes, but they do it because their jobs require them to. Not many of these people become pilots, but they know the plane will take them where they need to go.

The same idea applies to modern journalists and spreadsheets. A modern journalist doesn't have to be a mathematician to deal with numbers, but he or she should be willing to use a spreadsheet to get the job done. Yet it is startling how many reporters still strain for hours with a calculator while trying figuring out whether the mayor has given his cronies the largest raises.

Eric Lipton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who now works for The New York Times, discovered the efficiency of spreadsheets while working at The Hartford Courant. Lipton was examining a generous early retirement plan for city employees. He was trying to calculate the percentage of each person's pension as compared to his or her salary at the time of retirement. Experts told him the figure should be approximately 67 percent, but in the city's early retirement plan some retirees' pensions came close to the full amount of their former salary.

Lipton was tediously tapping a calculator for each comparison when he remembered that he had seen a spreadsheet demonstration in which the calculations were done much more rapidly. With a little help, he imported the information into a spreadsheet and learned how to do one calculation. Then he copied that calculation for more than a hundred other entries. Those calculations served as the starting point for a front-page story.

What Lipton discovered is that a spreadsheet saves an enormous amount of time, prevents unnecessary repetition and improves accuracy in calculations.

A spreadsheet allows you to quickly figure out such things as who got the most money, who got the highest percentage raise, who made the most drug arrests or which city's housing prices increased the most.

By Brant Houston, from “Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide”, 4th Edition, Copyright, Routledge Press

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