Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide, 4th Edition (Paperback) book cover

Computer-Assisted Reporting

A Practical Guide, 4th Edition

By Brant Houston


264 pages

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Paperback: 9780765642196
pub: 2014-11-21
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This straightforward and effective how-to guide provides the basics for any journalist or student beginning to use data for news stories. It has step-by-step instructions on how to do basic data analysis in journalism while addressing why these digital tools should be an integral part of reporting in the 21st century. The book pays particular attention to the need for accuracy in computer-assisted reporting and to both the potential and pitfalls in utilizing large datasets in journalism.

An ideal core text for courses on data-driven journalism or computer-assisted reporting, Houston pushes back on current trends by helping current and future journalists become more accountable for the accuracy and relevance of the data they acquire and share.

Online instructor's materials are available to adopting professors, and additional exercises are available free online to students at the below address:

username: carbook

password: carbook4


"Brant Houston has done more for helping journalists learn database journalism than any other person on this planet. We wouldn't exaggerate. He's taught thousands of reporters how to crunch spreadsheets, query data and create geocoded maps."

- David Cuillier, the University of Arizona, USA and Charles N. Davis, the University of Georgia, USA, in (2011) "The Art of Access: Strategies for acquiring public records".

Table of Contents

1. Data Journalism: What Computer-Assisted Reporting Is and Why Journalists Use It

History of Computer-Assisted Reporting

The Basic Tools

Trial and Error and Repetition

Where You Are Going

Practical Advice

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

Part I. Learning Computer-Assisted Reporting Skills

2. Online Resources: Researching and Finding Data on the Internet

Finding Data

Digital Information and Data on the Internet

Using Online Resources

What Online Resources to Use

Digital Library Researchers and Journalists

Newsroom Databases

Discussion Groups and Social Media

Using Boolean Logic to Search the Internet

Downloading Databases

Different File Types

Downloading Different Files

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

3. Spreadsheets, Part 1: Basic Math for Journalists

Becoming Friendly with Numbers

Learning Addresses

Calculating Percentages

Going from Horizontal to Vertical

Comparing Parts to the Sum

Sorting the Results

Using Average and Median for Better Accuracy

Interpreting Outliers

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

4. Spreadsheets, Part 2: More Math That Matters





Pivot Tables

Charts and Graphs

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

5. Database Managers, Part 1: Searching and Summarizing

The Query

Selecting and Searching

Criteria and Filtering


Boolean Logic: And, Or, Not


CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

6. Database Managers, Part 2: Matchmaking and Advanced Queries

Relational Databases

Joining Tables

Enterprise Matchmaking

Structured Query Language

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

Part II. Using Computer-Assisted Reporting In News Stories

7. Getting Data Not on the Web: How to Find and Negotiate for Data

Finding Data

Obtaining a Database

The Record Layout

Privacy and Security Issues

High Costs


CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

8. Building Your Own Database: How to Develop Exclusive Sources

When to Build

Spreadsheet or Database Manager

Using the Database Manager

Creating a Relational Database

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

9. Fact Checking the Database: How to Find and Clean Dirty Data

Kinds of Pitfalls

Two Rules

Record Layout

Record Layout Miscues

Cryptic Codes

Sorry, Wrong Number

Where Is the Standard?


Numbers versus Text

Offensive Characters


CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice

10. Doing the Computer-Assisted Reporting Story: How to Report and Write with Data

Pick a Story You Know Can Be Done

Pick a Database You Can Get

Some First-Time Examples

Start Small

Building Your Own

Match the Database to Your Knowledge

The Minimum Story

Keep Up with Other Reporters' Work

Integrate Databases into Your Daily Work

Find a Partner

Becoming Familiar with the Field of Data Processing

Look for Tips

Writing the Story

Good Reporting and Ethics

Stay Curious, Get Excited

Reporting with CAR

CAR Wars

Chapter Checklist

Your Turn to Practice


A. A Short Introduction to Mapping

B. A Short Introduction to Social Network Analysis

C. Choosing Hardware and Software

Selected Bibliography


About the Author

Brant Houston is a Professor and the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, where he teaches journalism and oversees an online newsroom. An award-winning journalist, he was an investigative reporter at U.S. newspapers for seventeen years. For a more than a decade, he served as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a 5,000-member association headquartered at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he also taught investigative reporting. Houston has conducted more than 300 seminars for professional journalists and students in twenty-five countries, and he is a co-founder of networks of nonprofit newsrooms and educators throughout the world.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Media Studies