Good presentation by the Boston Globe's Matt Carroll about databases Monday. His message was clear: Databases can be simple to learn, and yet, can be so helpful towards reporting a story. Figures at face value mean one thing. Figures presented in a certain way can make for a story.
One database I'm going to highlight comes from the Globe's website, and is a list of teacher salaries as of the 2006-07 year. The figures in this study are interesting, and many of them correlate to the wealth and/or size of the towns. Boston, the capital and largest city, tops the list at $71,123, while the state's richest town, Weston, is third at $70,617. The trend holds true on the other end, as Florida, a one-school town of 676 people, is the only town giving its teachers less than $40,000 a year ($34,748). That trend alone interests me, though eight months at the Patriot Ledger has introduced me to towns in the South Shore, and it's interesting to see the various figures for other towns in the South Shore.
Another database of note is one we mentioned in class. I was really impressed with the Congress Votes Database at Washingtonpost.com, to the point that it would be my go-to-source for any story I was doing centered around Congress. Voting records tell you everything, and can reveal a politician's stance on issues more than what they say in a speech. Whether the aim of the article is to inform, praise a Congressman or tear one down, what they do in office is not just helpful to the story; it often is the story. This site should be memorized by every Washington reporter, and not just those with the Post.
The final database is one by the Boston Police Department comparing crime figures from January to July in 2007 and 2008. The department breaks the figures down by district and by crime, including offenses such as homicide, rape, assault, theft and robbery. I picked this database due to an interest I have in crime and crime stories, and due to the usefulness of this site in reporting. If a reporter were doing a story on city crime, this is the site he or she would consult. The statistics are legitimate, from a legitimate source, and can be the foundation for a thorough, investigative crime story.
A story idea comes to mind. In all districts, for all crimes mentioned in the survey, totals went down between 2007 and 2008. Why is this? Were new measures put in to improve safety and crime awareness? Were there more police officers on staff. Plus, less crime means more unharmed citizens. Do they feel safer? Do these numbers ease any tension they could have about more dangerous parts of the city?