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Chapter 3: The Rise of Computer-Assisted Reporting by Brant Houston

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The third chapter in Partners for Preservation is ‘The Rise of Computer-Assisted Reporting: Challenges and Successes’ by Brant Houston. A chapter on this topic has been at the top of my list of chapter ideas from the very start of this project. Back in February of 2007, Professor Ira Chinoy from the University of Maryland, College Park’s Journalism Department spoke to my graduate school Archival Access class. His presentation and the related class discussion led to my blog post Understanding Born-Digital Records: Journalists And Archivists With Parallel Challenges. Elements of this blog post even inspired a portion of the book’s introduction.

The photo above is from the 1967 Detroit race riots. 50 years ago, the first article recognized to have used computer-assisted reporting was awarded the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Local General or Spot News Reporting “For its coverage of the Detroit riots of 1967, recognizing both the brilliance of its detailed spot news staff work and its swift and accurate investigation into the underlying causes of the tragedy.” In his chapter, Brant starts here and takes us through the evolution of computer-assisted reporting spanning from 1968 to the current day, and looking forward to the future.

As the third chapter in Part 1: Memory, Privacy, and Transparency, it continues to weave these three topics together. Balancing privacy and the goal of creating documentation to preserve memories of all that is going on around us is not easy. Transparency and a strong commitment to ethical choices underpin the work of both journalists and archivists.

This is one of my favorite passages:

“As computer-assisted repoting has become more widespread and routine, it has given rise to discussion and debate over the issues regarding the ethical responsibilitys of journalists. There have been criticisms over the publishing of data that was seen as intrusive and violating the privacy of individuals.”

I learned so much in this chapter about the long road journalists had to travel as they sought to use computers to support their reporting. It never occurred to me, as someone who has always had the access to the computing power I needed through school or work, that getting the tools journalists needed to do their computational analysis often required negotiation for time on newspaper mainframes or seeking partners outside of the newsroom. It took tenacity and the advent of personal computers to make computer-assisted reporting feasible for the broader community of journalists around the world.

Journalists have sought the help of archivists on projects for many years – seeking archival records as part of the research for their reporting. Now journalists are also taking steps to preserve their field’s born-digital content. Given the high percentage of news articles that exist exclusively online – projects like the Journalism Digital News Archive are crucial to the survival of these articles. I look forward to all the ways that our fields can learn from each other and work together to tackle the challenges of digital preservation.

Bio

Brant Houston

Brant Houston is the Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he works on projects and research involving the use of data analysis in journalism. He is co-founder of the Global Investigative Journalism Network and the Institute for Nonprofit News. He is author of Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide, co-author of The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook. He is a contributor to books on freedom of information acts and open government. Before joining the University of Illinois, he was executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors at the University of Missouri after being an award-winning investigative journalist for 17 years.  

 

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Posted in digital preservation, electronic records, journalism, learning technology, Partners for Preservation