Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cool Tools from ASNE's #hackleaders "Hacking News Leadership" event in Austin

At the ASNE Hacking News Leadership conference this weekend, editors and data gurus from across the United States showed off  tools and shared suggestions, tips and stories. Here’s some cool stuff:
1.       Tableau – for maps, interactive charts and dashboards. If you’re an IRE member you can get an inexpensive desktop license. Mark Collette from the Caller Times used it for this project –
2.       Storify – is a cool tool to make stories out of visual elements; using  /slideshow allows them to be converted into a slideshow
3.       Mapbox, Tilemill were among the tools the Washington Post used to create this super zip code map – of wealthy and well-educated Americans
4.       The Texas Tribune’s Ethics Explorer used a common spreadsheet in Google docs as the main reporting tool – everyone dumped data there  And it was the basis of their series Bidness as Usual.
5.       Google fusion tables lets you build maps and relationship tables too,  like this one from Express News reporter Jason Buch on connections between alleged moneylaunderers  - Free
6.       Document Cloud lets you share documents between reporters and highlight them for readers too – here’s a example - just set up a log on and start experimenting. Free..
7.       Tabula is a free tool for converting pdfs to spreadsheets. It has a built-in function that allows you to define information on several pages and export many pages of data all at once. Very cool
          Timeline:  A new free timeline tool
9.       Make quick videos with the Videolicious i-phone app:
         Try making Story 
T      The Firetracker app  used for California wildfires is an app built by reporters and programmers at LA public radio station KPCC  If you're interested in app and web designs/prototypes? Check out  InVision: Free Web & Mobile Prototyping and UI Mockup Tool or  Marvel: Free mobile and web prototyping for designers

Saturday, March 8, 2014

SXSW Top 10 tips - and a bonus 11th one too

Here's a few of the tips and tricks from my  SXSW Interactive talk about getting beyond the invisible web, thinking outside the box and using social media and shoe leather to get stories.

1. Remember Google won't search it all. Maybe not even half of what's out there. Know and use advanced Google searches (like searching within URLs or by file type) and try OTHER search engines, especially for other countries.
2. For social media, search inside Linked In, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter itself and use advanced searches there too - you can easily uncover connections between people who aren't your friends by comparing their friends or look for relatives of contacts you can't otherwise find via FB; you can find ex-employees of companies you're researching and then send people messages via LI.
3.  Sample various Social Media search tools - they're constantly evolving. Compare results on sites like with others. Doug Haddix of Kiplinger does a good job of keeping track - check out his presentations on Social Media Sleuthing. Here's one:
4. Remember Twitter itself only searches recent tweets. To go back, you must use another tool.
There are several choices - is an example. To look at your own stuff, check out "all my tweets."
5. Public records are everywhere these days.  I start with the assumption that the document is probably somewhere out there  - or at least the index or an e-mail of the source will be. A directory with many links is Search Systems Even small county courts are increasingly online. Justia has some cool  court-related links
6. Explore the many tools for tracking corporations worldwide, like   or Open Corporates 
or Investigative Dashboard. For non profits, there are many more - Charity Navigator, Foundation Search are examples.
7. Check out tools in - a paid but inexpensive site set up for historians and genealogists that can be useful for finding connections between individuals. Use free directories like and Zabasearch, and even too.
8. Remember to search not just for one name - but associated names, associated addresses and variations of names (nicknames, misspellings, etc).
9. Just because it says so in a document doesn't mean it's true. Sometimes the stories are in exposing the lies.
10. Remember photos and e-mails - private records - can be really useful documents too. Ask sources to e-mail records, ask lawyers to share statements, documents obtained via lawsuits.
11. Protect yourself and your sources - the things we know can be used against us.  Margot Williams of ICIJ did a nice summary of tips on this topic from #NICAR14 here:


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Top immigration story ideas, links and tips from #coveringimmigration event at UTEP - #border2013

Ideas were really flowing at the UTEP Immigration reporters' conference this weekend, organized by the Zita Arocha. Here's a quick summary of immigration story ideas suggested by a round table of El Paso-based immigration lawyers and advocates* and a few tips on where to find related data.  (For more sources, see my immigration tipsheet here):

1. Secure communities controversies: are truly dangerous criminals or harmless relatives of US citizens being deported and detained? 

Data:The ICE FOIA page includes secure community data stats by state. Deportation/removal (for criminal/non-criminal by country) also available via ICE too.

2. Increase in asylum seekers on the southern border- particularly Mexicans who have fled violence. Few apps are granted and there are long waits.

Data: Asylum grants by country is available via USCIS or via Homeland Security's Immigration Yearbook see Asylum granted/denied by individual immigration judges is available via the non-profit TRAC

3. Human rights issues about the conditions of facilities where asylum-seekers, children, other immigrants are detained.

Data: ICE FOIA Library page also includes both audits and ICE contracts of detention facilities. Use FOIA to obtain more data yourself. Request interviews with individual detainees by contacting PIOs w/ICE - you need full names and A numbers

4. Deaths of immigrants crossing - increasing both in Az and in So Tx because of increased border security/fence etc. that drives crossers to more dangerous/remote areas.

Data sources include: Sheriff's departments in affected areas, medical examiners and coroners, data on unidentified bodies from state police, consulates can help reach families.
Good examples of reporting on this include the Arizona Daily Star's border death database:
(based on Pima County ME and other data).

5. The cost of securing the border - human and $$ and the difference between the money spent on the so border vs. the no. border, which remains unfenced.

Data on federal contracts - money paid to build the fence, etc - is available online via and more can be FOIAed. Don't forget local gov'ts/agencies can get Homeland Security grants and obtain more $$from seizures/forfeitures. (Data on Texas forfeitures is available via public information request to the Texas AG's office).

6. Explode myths - the"Dreamers" still dreaming of reform,  immigrants can't automatically adjust status after 10 years, waits for family members/fiances/spouses of US citizens can literally stretch decades due to backlogs and quotas. Consult immigration lawyers to describe laws and find local examples. Searchable directory of AILA members here:

*The panel on Sept. 28 at El Paso's La Fe Culture and Technology Center included Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights, Ruben Garcia, director, Annunciation House, Father Bob Mosher of the Columban Mission Center, Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services Inc and Katie Anita Hudak, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and was moderated by Estela Reyes Lopez of the Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

As the social media world turns...blogs bog down

As the social media world continues to evolve, I am more often using Twitter - @chrondigger and  and the Houston Chronicle I-team's  Expose Blog to communicate about my work and Facebook for personal and professional posts.

My latest post on Expose was about a study by the former head of pre-trial services in Harris County who says that his study of 6,000 inmates showed that those who couldn't post bond later got tougher punishments.  Expose Blog - Can't post bond? You'll do more time

Every once in a while, I will continue to update and add to my Dig blog entries. I recently updated my Immigration Reporting Tips and Links I'll blog about my trip to UTEP for an upcoming immigration conference here too.

But if you want to regularly follow my work, my favorite stories or my data journalism tips - check me out on (or if you're a subscriber on and follow me on Twitter instead!

As always, you can contact me via e-mail at


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Students dig CAR (computer-assisted reporting)

For a visit to an awesome J-school class this week, I got jazzed up reviewing some fabulous examples of ideas students can do for computer-assisted reporting on campus. Here's a few I really like:

Probes of campus crime, 911 calls - or faked stats: (crime stats can be found online, campus police, local fire/police are other sources)

The Daily Iowan's investigation of how dangerously drunk students were tying up ambulance services in Iowa City: (Records: police reports, 911 calls)

The Red and Black newspaper - University of Georgia paper's investigation of sexual harassment complaints and cover-ups on campus. A lot of great stories. (Campus legal records, interviews)

Sadly an older story by The Washington Square News, NYU's student paper, is no longer online - it probed how the university deflated campus crime stats by classifying 87% of its residence hall population as "off campus." A newer more generic story reports that the campus is safer:

Probes of sports team/athletes/stadiums:
Victory and Ruins - stories about UW athletes' run-ins with the law: (Compare rosters to court records)

Who says investigations can't be fun - Check out "What's lurking in your stadium food?"- a fabulous story by my fellow UNL alum Paula Lavigne (Interviews, health department, other docs).

Analysis about sports' scholarships - NY Times:

Great web series by students at UTEP and  universities that explores immigration from Mexico to the US due to recent violence and the impacts on schools, communities and campus culture.

Stories about cheating, attendance or grades:
Analysis of grade school scores -and evidence of cheating

And the ever-popular faculty salary stories:
Some data is even online here:
Many related stories:

For more story ideas and inspiration - check out the IRE website and
IRE's campus coverage project has links for students here -

Americans murdered in Mexico

Americans murdered in Mexico
US citizens continue to be killed in ongoing border violence. I've been covering this since 2009.

Was this teen offender wrongfully executed?

Was this teen offender wrongfully executed?
Debate over this 2005 Chron investigation - and other cases continues in Texas

Who killed Baby Jane Doe?

Who killed Baby Jane Doe?
A 2003 investigation from the now online-only newspaper gave this baby back her name. But her murder remains unsolved...