Fulbright in Portugal

Steve Doig in Lisbon August-December 2010

Lisbon skyline

Prepping for class

It’s been a very busy two months since I last posted on this blog. First, I went to Perugia, Italy, in late April to talk about precision journalism at the International Festival of Journalism there. The trip was a great reminder of the pleasures of travel to other countries, although there was considerable anxiety about our itinerary because of the volcano in Iceland that was disrupting air travel over much of Europe.

After we returned, there was the usual end-of-semester crunch of projects and grading to be done. As soon as the semester was over, I got involved as a consultant to an investigative project being done out of the Cronkite School by our News21 students from around the country; it’s fun for me to be doing actual journalism on occasion. Then last week I talked about newsroom math and the coming U.S. decennial census data at the annual Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in Las Vegas. Then Ellyn and I enjoyed a fun visit from our son and daughter and their families, which now include five grandchildren.

But it’s quiet around here now, which means I can turn again to preparing for my classes this fall at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Prof. Antonio Granado, whose class I will be working with, has given me the details of how the class will operate. We have some ambitious plans for putting the students to work on projects that we hope will turn into stories that can be published.

I have begun laying out a schedule of content for the class, which will cover negotiating for public records, analysis of data, statistical tools, social science methods such as polling, and lots of work with computer programs such as Excel, Access, SPSS and ArcMap. I intend to keep them them very busy.

A particular challenge for me (other than my inability to speak Portuguese) is finding interesting data for the students to use as they learn to use the software. Naturally, I want them to use data about Portugal and Europe; there’s not much point in teaching students in Portugal how to work with American campaign finance data or crime reports. Preparing for computer-assisted reporting talks in other countries is always a reminder to me of how easy we American journalists have it compared to international reporters when it comes to getting government data. Our public records laws give us access to government information that simply can’t be obtained in many other places.

Even so, it’s encouraging to see that more and more international data is going online these days. When I was in Italy, I did an Excel demonstration that used reported crime data from more than a hundred Italian cities. Many of the reporters there were unaware that they could get at such data, and were amazed when I told them I found it by digging around on the net from my computer here in Arizona.

As I prep for Portugal, I have begun to find useful datasets at sites like Pordata, the Instituto Nacional de Estatística and the Instituto de Meteorologia. I’m also scouring around for mapping files that can be used to show how important the mapping of data patterns can be to finding and telling stories. It’s like a treasure hunt, with data instead of gold nuggets.

2 Responses to “Prepping for class”

  1. June 20th, 2010 at 5:19 am

    Mariam. says:

    So glad to see you are back in here. I check every week just in case… wishing you a fun time digging around and preparing for these classes, and of course a safe trip over.

  2. June 21st, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Steve Doig says:

    Thanks, Mariam. I intend to post at least weekly as I get closer to leaving for Lisbon, and then more often once I’m there.

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