Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Matt Carroll, database whiz, reporter, comes to class when I'm terribly sick

Well, I've been M.I.A. with a terrible bug that has left torn, battered and confused. Phew! I'm alright though.

I just wish I could have been in my Web journalism class on Monday for a presentation with Matt Carroll, a Globe staff reporter who specializes in computer assisted reporting.

Basically what that means is that he culls information for databases to be used by colleagues and by himself to write stories that tell people the facts they need to know about how their state and municipalities work in relation to their working lives.

Actually, I worked with Matt for about six months. I was the student co-op worker at the City Weekly section. For some reason Matt was sequestered along with the small City Weekly crew in the mezzanine where he'd be plugging away all day and often making phone calls to local officials.

I remember one time I had some cursory participation in this story:

Basically all I did was set up an Excel sheet and plugged in some average incomes from different zip codes in the Greater Boston area, that Matt gave my editor, which she in turn gave to me.

But I appreciated that involvement.

At the end of my stay at City Weekly I remember Matt boasting about his new blog, Mass Facts, to another staff reporter. And here it is.

It seems to be the old resource, Government Center, just reconfigured a bit.

The "Your Town" section provides info on voter registration. It turns out that Randolph has one of the lowest rates of Republican voters in the state. I wonder what it'd be like to be an embattled conservative living amongst liberals. That might make for a good story.

Here we have a link to a lobbyist search. If we ever want to question a major funder a local politician or if we're just wondering what's up with an advisor or friend of a politician, we might want to check if they are a registered lobbyist. And if someone is spending money to to curry favor with politicians they should be registered as a lobbyist and follow the rules. Always important.

And at the bottom of page in the Miscellaneous section we have a link to the state's abandoned property. It turns out that "one person in every ten has abandoned property." I wonder why. This issue may need exploring in a story.

It seems that Matt had our class participate in an excercise to familiarize themselves with code that can be used to manipulate data in an Excel spreadsheet. You can have it conduct operations that involve different columns and rows according to your specifications. Very useful -- but put a decimal point in the wrong place or insert a zero where it's not supposed to be and you're in trouble.

I grabbed the photo of Matt Carroll from his Facebook profile, which he so proudly proclaims has earned him hundreds of friends.

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