What the CAR?


As far as online journalism goes, twitter and blogs are about all I seem to manage at the moment –  both I was highly dubious of three months ago and both I have come to love like a family member.

CAR is a totally different dimension in cyber confusion. Computer Assisted Reporting(CAR) is an established part of journalism across the pond but is relatively new in the UK. It is basically a tool of journalism using computer data to analyse statistics and find accurate information for successful articles.

Any government statistics about public buildings and services are available to the public – it is your right to know this information and http://www.data.gov.uk is a good place to start. Using the basic search tools you can find information on anything you need to know, be it your local MP’s expenses or the health and safety of your favourite fish and chip shop – the information can be found and downloaded using excel, or a free online programme like google spreadsheets – making it clearer and easier to analyse.

Journalists are known for not being great mathematicians and generally shying away from anything maths related – and this is a great weakness for example when being given facts by politicians, if you are unable to understand them then how can you ever produce an objective article?

Stephen Quinn from Queensland University said: “The techniques are how you use the tools to improve the breadth, depth and quality of your reporting.”

The basic four points of CAR are:

– Learning how to find information correctly and accurately.

– Evaluating and analysing this information.

– Communicating the data to your audience in an effective and interesting format.

– Using the right amount of precision in your data.

An example of using CAR in every day journalism is freedom of information requests. If you are investigating for example, the health and safety of a restaurant – it is much better to be given a range of statistics for restaurants throughout a city and analyse these, rather than being given the individual restaurant’s results.

Heather Brooke is an american journalist who spent two years challenging the MP expenses until these were finally released, and taken over by the Daily Telegraph. Brooke campaigned for this data to be released and was the first journalist to uncover this scandal. In Brook’s book, Your right to Know, and her blog of the same title, she provides an in-depth, informative guide to using CAR for FOI requests.

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