More tools from Google… and filter through that sports jargon

Posted By Mark Scarp

Here are some shorts summarizing two sessions at the 49th annual SABEW conference in Indianapolis March 15-17:

Google official explains new tools

Many journalists think they are getting the most out of Google, but Sean Carlson begs to differ. Carlson, Google’s manager of global communications and public affairs, presented at the SABEW 49th annual conference’s first session on Thursday, March 15 about several new tools the company has to offer.

One useful tool is the Public Data Explorer. It allows users to not only see large collections of public data, but it visualizes it in configurable, colorful graphs that are embeddable.

Google Insights for Search allows reporters to find out what are the most commonly searched terms in their area on any specific date. It also allows more specified searches that show what terms were searched on specific subjects.

A final tool that Carlson demonstrated was Fusion Tables. This nifty tool allows journalists to view databases on a map. Data sets are imported and the program shows geographic locations on a map that will allow journalists to spot trends in the data they acquire.

The best thing about these Google products is that they are all free. That’s a price that all journalists can get behind. — Steven Rich

Rich is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Legal language growing part of sports business coverage

Indianapolis is a sports hub, so it was fitting place for a panel on the business of sports. The discussion Friday, March 16, at the SABEW 49th annual conference was moderated by Anthony Schoettle, a sports business reporter at Indianapolis Business Journal, and featured Bill King, a senior writer for Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal; Kristi Dosh, a sports business reporter at ESPN; and Sam Mamudi, a business of sports reporter at MarketWatch.

The 55-minute discussion’s topics ranged from how various news organizations address breaking news, to the dynamic and ever-changing sports landscape at large. Among so much information were some insights from panelists:

Those covering sports business need to filter through complex legal jargon. Oftentimes collective bargaining agreements, contracts or arbitration-related documents can be especially heavy. Sifting through them to pick out the necessary information can be a chore. As is the case with most things however, the panelists stressed that practice makes perfect. They urged the audience to just become more and more familiar with those legal documents. While it may take a while at first, the more familiar a journalist becomes with those information-rich documents, the greater his or her overall sports understanding will be, they agreed.

All three panelists stressed the importance of embracing social media as a way to break into the business. Dosh urged the audience to be active on Twitter, Facebook and everything in between. It was established that social media can be a platform for increasing your readership for a particular story (i.e. tweeting a link to a story you wrote), but could also be instrumental in building a fan base (i.e. putting relevant, often humorous tweets out there, and allowing yourself to be re-tweeted). — John Hunt

Hunt is a senior in accounting and journalism at the University of Missouri.

Journos advised to learn how to use Excel

In his book, The New York Times Reader: Business & Economics, Mark Tatge cited the Times’ David Leonhardt’s statement that “If I got to play journalism dean, I wouldn’t let anyone graduate from my school without a statistics class and without being able to use Excel.”

Jaimi Dowdell’s computer-assisted reporting session at SABEW’s 49th annual conference in Indianapolis provided basic training on how to sort data with spreadsheets, how to dig for public records from online databases, and how to detect business stories through data.

Excel skill building isn’t that difficult, Dowdell said. The long-lasting lesson of Excel, according to Dowdell, is “don’t take it for granted that data are correct.” Good journalists take the efforts to verify, and if they detect any discrepancy in numbers, that’s how a story idea comes to surface.

In news reporting, skills like interviewing and writing in an inverted pyramid are the first things to notice, but sourcing, or digging for data in particular, is another important skill that adds flesh to a story. Dowdell made a list of various online databases where business reporters could get statistics. For example, many may know that the Internal Revenue Service is a resource for tax information, but few know that it’s also a good place to turn to if one is writing a story on migration, because one way of examining the country’s migration is to take a look at the tax. Other databases Dowdell mentioned include Occupational Safety and Health Administration, FPDS Federal Procurement Data System, to name a few.

Making open records requests helps get precious statistics. If a file is on the retention schedule, it means it’s open and available to the public. A journalist has the right to request such a file, and if the institution refuses to offer it, a reason should be provided, and the journalist can always negotiate.

A smart journalist can get a story idea from the data acquired. For example, if a local government is spending less and less on parks, it could imply that the government is tight on money and is closing down its parks. Every time people use an electronic machine in everyday life, it becomes public record where possible stories derive from, Dowdell said. The most precious thing I learned from this session is, don’t only focus on the obvious things like a new apartment built in town, but pay attention to the hidden numbers that may tell a story no other reporters have noticed.

Data reporting is gaining momentum. Dowdell said she received so many emails asking for data reporters but she didn’t have enough of them to recommend. I think two of the most important abilities of a business journalist are how to find data, and how to break down the numbers. This is what makes a story insightful and appealing to the general audience. — Ruisha Qian

Ruisha Qian is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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