I attended my first meeting in the Columbia’s central neighborhood a couple weeks ago, as a part of my continued coverage of the city’s work on its three-year strategic plan.
I have been covering the meetings in the north neighborhood, one of the other three neighborhoods identified by the city as having significant disparities when it comes to poverty, unemployment and crime.
Meetings in the north neighborhood had been relatively productive, and there was always at least 40 people in attendance. Most of the people who came were engaging and showed how much they care for their neighborhood.
At the meeting in the central neighborhood, there were barely 15 people who showed up at Hickman High School. The city staff who had to come to the meeting outnumbered the residents. The discussions were far less engaging and seemed to focus on issues of less importance to the central neighborhood.
One reason for this could have been how inconvenient it is to get to Hickman for many central residents, discouraging them from attending the meeting. Another issue could be a lack of connection and trust between central residents and the city, as they have been a neglected section of the city for years.
Discussion focused on community beautification, such as adding green spaces like community gardens, trash collection and adding murals.
The next meeting is April 6, and it hasn’t been announced whether the meetings will continue to be hosted at Hickman.
Check out my recap of the meeting here and check back in on my continued coverage of Columbia’s strategic plan and neighborhood meetings.
IRE and NICAR announced at NICAR17 conference that the organization will begin taking steps toward saving federal data that is at risk of disappearing.
Many are concerned that data is going to be harder to access, won’t be updated or maintained or just disappear. (Check out my previous post about a NICAR panel that discussed this very concern.)
IRE and NICAR will organize a federal directory where people can submit any federal databases that they’ve collected or share where certain data can be accessed.
This is a time where newsroom competition needs to be set aside and journalists need to work together to preserve valuable data and information.
Other organizations such as DataRefuge have been leading data rescue events and have already saved 140 databases.
Check out the IRE website for more information on how to get involved.
Donald Trump’s presidency has many journalists worried about press freedom and access to government information. So a NICAR panel about the precautions that journalists can take to protect data an ensure that the public still has access to it was an important and relevant discussion.
The panel was lead by non-journalists who deal with data within their fields. Yogin Kothari from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Nancy Watzman from the Internet Archive and Margaret Janz from the University of Pennsylvania were on the panel, which was moderated by David Herzog, the computer-assisted reporting professor from the University of Missouri.
They discussed that while other presidencies didn’t have a great record of transparency and press freedom, the Trump presidency seems to be different and more of a problem.
“They don’t appear to be interested in being transparent and making government data accessible,” Kothari said.
Watzman, who also works with the wayback machine, explained that while data might be harder to find, the wayback machine also has access to large set of databases. ‘
Janz said that while access to data will become limited, she is also worried about the lack of funding for new research and maintaining government data.
While this panel did leave me feeling worried about access to data, I did learn new ways to find databases and how people outside of journalism are also fighting for public access to government information.
During the last IRE conference, I had the chance to hear Nicole Hannah-Jones discuss investigating racial inequality and her favorite methods and tips for finding and proving racial inequality. She is especially brilliant when it comes to covering issues with education and housing.
At NICAR, Jones joined Ron Nixon of The New York Times and the Ida B. Wells Society to discuss investigating inequity.
Panels at NICAR and IRE will have a specific reporting topic or process and then we invite them to come and speak about it. Many panelists will share examples of their own stories and just describe how they found their story, their reporting process and other thoughts on how to go about reporting on that topic.
For me, a good panel goes beyond just talking about their reporting. Reporters and editors can talk about a specific story, but it adds more value and context when they give specific methods they used that can be applied elsewhere. And that’s why Jones and Nixon was a special panel.
Jones talked about stories that she had worked on and ones that other people had done, but she used them as an example for the places that she found data and how she interpreted it.
She also shared a handful of useful links for finding databases and how to use them.
The most important part of Nixon’s discussion was his call for people to collect government databases before they disappear. This is incredibly important, as there have already been issues with the Trump administration and data conveniently disappearing.
Collecting data is something that I plan to try on the local level. Even if the threat of local data isn’t as severe, it’s an important practice.
One of the first panels I was able to attend at NICAR was about finding narratives in numbers. While data journalism heavily emphasizes numbers and figures, there is still a necessary human factor needed to tell a story. It’s also what gets people interested in a story, especially if it’s full of numbers.
Each panelist shared a story that they had worked on, the data they found, their investigation and then the human side to the story. One of the panelists described the process of finding human impact as looking for the perfect victim. Meaning, who is the person who would be most effected by the data they found and how.
The issue is something that I find to be very important and something that I strive to incorporate into my own reporting. People are going to be more interested and engaged if a story has the human impact, or a perfect victim. I plan to try and apply the methods shared by panelists to my own reporting in order to see how they work in Columbia.
At the most recent north neighborhood meeting, residents worked on picking a leadership model for their community to use in order to work on creating a community center and developing a neighborhood watch program.
The choose a model where everyone would be able to work together and avoided having a power structure, like a president, vice president, treasurer model.
Residents decided that this would be the best way to ensure that everyone works together and has an equal say.
I think that community centers have the potential to serve as a gathering place for a neighborhood and a place where kids can spend time outside of school and home.
I do worry that finding funding might discourage this group, but hopefully their city councilman and other members of the city are able and willing to serve as helpers and advisors. If not, the success of the city’s strategic plan will be in jeopardy.