Syllabus     Resources


Journalism 772 and 472: Computer-Assisted Reporting

Ira Chinoy / Philip Merrill College of Journalism / University of Maryland


Stories for critiques

You may choose one of the stories below, or you may find one on your own.


The IRE Web site has a collection of links to CAR projects at:


The IRE site also has an archive of “hot stories” dating back several years:


The Scoop maintains a searchable database of CAR projects at:


A class page with links to other resources for finding stories is at:





Business (see also “Military” and “Science” categories below)


Egg inspections and inspectors, Capital News Service.


Elevator inspections and chart, Capital News Service.




“Teachers who fail,” Chris Davis and Matthew Doig, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, December 12, 2004


"How we did this story"


“State Fights to Prevent Access to Teacher Information”


“Can D.C. Schools Be Fixed?” Dan Keating and V. Dion Haynes, The Washington Post, June 10, 2007


From the series: “Fixing D.C.’s Schools”


Interactive Map Database

“Poor schools' TAKS surges raise cheating questions,” Benton and Holly Hacker, Dallas Morning News, [registration required]; an analysis of school performance tests uncovers evidence of cheating orchestrated by educators.


“Closing Costs,” The Charleston Gazette, Charleston, W.V., Aug. 25, 2002:  “When they closed hundreds of West Virginia schools, state education officials promised to save millions of dollars and provide new advanced classes, without making bus rides much longer for students. A decade later, bus times are longer than ever, few advanced courses are offered to rural students, and those savings never materialized…”


Also:  “School closings, lax oversight lead to record long bus rides,” Aug. 25, 2002: “School administrators across West Virginia have repeatedly ignored transportation laws and guidelines, forcing thousands of children to spend two hours or more on school buses each day and leaving them more likely to get sick, less likely to learn, a Gazette-Mail investigation has found.”


“How we did it,” Aug. 25, 2001:  “…Through the Freedom of Information Act, the Gazette-Mail obtained records for 1,569 bus runs for the state’s 35 most rural counties…. Over the course of nine months, the newspaper constructed a database including when each run started, when it stopped, and how much time children rode in-between.”




Toxic Waters: A series about the worsening pollution in American waters and regulators’ response,” The New York Times, Sept. 12, 2009.

Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering,” Charles Duhigg.


Graphic: “Clean Water Act Violations: The Enforcement Record”


Map and database: “Find Water Polluters Near You


Report on dam safety in the DC metro area by Tisha Thompson, Fox5 News: Part 1,  Part 2, and interactive map


Related issue:  Restrictions on releases of database of dams since 9/11:


Investigative Reporters and Editors comment:


Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press comment:


In Harm’s Way: Troubled neighbors; People who live nearest to the area's refineries and petrochemical complexes have little idea what's in the air that blows across industry's fence line and into their lives,” By Dina Cappiello, The Houston Chronicle.


“Vanishing Wetlands,” St. Petersburg Times.


“They won’t say no,” May 22, 2005.


“Satellite photographs show losses,” May 22, 2005


Leaking underground oil storage tanks (Capital News Service)


Large increase  in sewage overflows in Maryland (Capital News Service)


Cars most prone to fail emissions tests (Capital News Service)


Executive branch [Note: Some stories in other categories may also be used for presentations on the executive branch]


“Race gap found in pothole patching; City's response is slower in minority neighborhoods,” Keegan Kyle, Grant Smith and Ben Poston, Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aug. 31, 2008


District Dodges Spending Laws; Companies Snare Contracts With Connections, Not Competition,” by Dan Keating and David S. Fallis, The Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2005


A Decade of Deadly Mistakes,” The Washington Post, Sept. 9-12, 2001


Financial institutions:


“Borrowers Betrayed,” Jack Dolan, Rob Barry And Matthew Haggman, The Miami Herald, July 20-22, 2008; a series on mortgage fraud committed by individuals with criminal histories, thousands of whom were granted state licenses to take part in the lending  industry.


“The Color of Money,” Bill Dedman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 1-4, 1988.


“Foreclosing on the American Dream,” Lisa Hammersly Munn, Binyamin Appelbaum & Ted Mellnik, The Charlotte Observer, January 2006.


Health care:


“Trust and Neglect:  As Michigan Ages, Serious Errors Plague Nursing Homes – Sometimes They Are Deadly,” Robin Erb and Kristi Tanner, Detroit Free Press, December 2011.  Three-part series includes:


Interactive database


Interactive map


“Saving Babies: Exposing Sudden Infant Death in America,” Thomas Hargrove and Lee Bowman,  Scripps Howard News Service, Sept. 24, 2007.


“A Dangerous Place: Assisted Living in Virginia,” David Fallis, The Washington Post, May 23-26, 2004


“Dangerous Care: Nurses' Hidden Role in Medical Error,” Michael J. Berens, Chicago Tribune, Sept. 10, 2000 (first of a 3-part series)




“In Their Debt,” a December 2008 Baltimore Sun investigation of the legal practices of hospitals suing patients over unpaid bills.


“A Disability Epidemic Among A Railroad’s Retirees,” Walt Bogdanich, Andrew W. Lehren, Robert A. McDonald, The New York Times, Sept. 20, 2008


“New York Medicaid Fraud May Reach Into Billions,” by Clifford J. Levy and Michael Luo, The New York Times, July 18, 2005.


International issues:


“Civil claims provide glimpse into war's impact on Iraqi citizens” Dayton Daily News, October 23, 2004


Judicial branch:


“Aging Justice,” Tisha Thompson, / WTTG-Fox 5, Washington, D.C.

After creating a database with biographical data on more than 1,200 federal judges, Thompson found that over a third were 70 years old or over. Her report focuses on the effects of lifetime appointments in limiting diversity on the bench. The Web presentation also includes interactive features, including a way to understand the numbers by state and by president. Among the 93 still on the bench based on appointments made as far back as Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, for example, there are no women and only two African-Americans, one Hispanic, one Asian-American.


“Unequal Justice: Murders on Probation,” The Dallas Morning News, Nov. 10-14, 2007, a five-part series.


Methodology and database use


“Justice Delayed, Justice Denied,” The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., Nov. 24-26, 2002.  The Courier-Journal examined criminal court files dating to 1983 and found that human error, antiquated record keeping and scheduling lapses allowed at least 200 people charged with felonies to escape prosecution.


“DUI: A Failure to Convict,” Brad Branan, The Tucson Citizen, August 17-19, 2005


“Cases crumble, killers go free,” Jim Haner, Kimberly A.C. Wilson and John B. O'Donnell. The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 29, 2002; part of the series, "Justice Undone."


Law enforcement:


“Deadly Force: When Las Vegas Police Shoot, and Kill,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 2011; five-part series investigates the 300-plus shootings by police since 1990. Story elements include:  data analysis, interactive database, videos, slide shows, interviews, charts, reenactments; for example:




Interactive database


“Suburban Cops, Tough Tactics,” Mark Fazlollah, Dylan Purcell and Keith Herbert, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 15, 2007; first part of the series, “Too Tough? Tactics in Suburban Policing.”


“How This Series Was Created”


 Dispatch agencies analysis: West Valley police slowest to respond; Priority calls in Salt Lake County slower than in Salt Lake City,” The Salt Lake Tribune, March 2, 2008


“About the project”


“Cleveland Police Always Justify Using Force,” Gabriel Baird (alum of JOUR 772), Cleveland Plan Dealer, Jan. 14, 2007. Links: Page 1 and Page 6  [class logon and password needed to access these.]


Maryland Corrections Reforms Yield Mixed Results,” Dan Lamothe, Capital News Service, Dec. 19, 2007.


“The Truth Dies with Them,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Oct. 31 – Nov. 1, 2002:  The series finds “suspicious deaths of young children in Washington since 1997 in which legal and medical authorities failed to investigate thoroughly… Hidden in thousands of pages of documents obtained through public disclosure requests are stories of bungled police investigations, missed clues, and elected coroners or prosecutors who didn't pursue hard questions… [A] P-I computer analysis of death records using a widely accepted statistical formula designed to estimate maltreatment deaths found that abuse and neglect have likely claimed the lives of 78 to 116 children during the same period -- up to 84 percent more than even police statistics reveal.


“Liveliest D.C. Neighborhoods Also Jumping With Robberies,” By Allison Klein and Dan Keating, The Washington Post, October 13, 2006.




 Speed Trap: Who gets a ticket, who gets a break,” Boston Globe, July 20, 2003. “A Boston Globe analysis of traffic tickets and warnings, from every police department in the state, shows differences in race, sex and age in who gets a fine, and who gets a break, for the same offenses.”


"Cops who abuse their wives rarely pay the price," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ruth Teichroeb and Julie Davidow, July 23, 2003


"Badge of Immunity," Michael J. Berens, The Columbus Dispatch, June 22-24, 1997


Legislative branch:


“For Murphy, Good Government Means Good Business,” from the series “Boss Hog, North Carolina Pork Revolution,” by Pat Stith and Joby Warrick, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), Feb. 22, 1995


Pulitzer prize citation


Links to stories


“A Guide to Computer Assisted Reporting: Tips and tales of investigative journalism,” by Pat Stith, co-author of the “Boss Hog” series; on the Poynter Institute Web site.


Licensed Professionals:


“Bad Lawyers Worsen Under Mild Punishments,” by Anju Kaur, Capital News Service, Dec. 19, 2007 (finalist for 2007 IRE award)




“Winning Contractors: U.S. Contractors Reap the Windfalls of Post-war Reconstruction,” by The Center for Public Integrity, Oct. 30, 2003.  Web site includes a description of the project methodology.




“Some officers of charities steer assets to selves,”  part of the series, “Charity Begins at Home,” The Boston Globe, October 9, 2003


Real estate:


The Baltimore Sun series on ground rents, by Fred Schulte and June Arney [with links to stories, video, graphics, audio, maps, documents).

Part 1: “On shaky ground:  An archaic law is being used to turn Baltimoreans out of their homes,” Dec. 10, 2006.


Part 2: “The new lords of the land:  A small number of investors who own many Baltimore ground rents often sue delinquent payers, obtaining their houses or substantial fees.” Dec. 11, 2006.


Part 3: “Demands for reform:  Even as critics call for loosening ground rent's grip on Baltimore, new ones are being created,” Dec. 12, 2006.


“The New Redlining,”  Penny Loeb, Warren Cohen and Constance Johnson, U.S. News and World Report, April 17, 1995




Donors' motives varied; Those who sign the big checks have agendas: power or profit or ideology or pleasure – even better government,” by Ronald Campbell, The Orange County Register, Sunday, July 24, 2005; campaign finance story includes reporting on the connections between stem cell research and politics; methodology and lists of donors and recipients are described in sidebars.




“Front airbags don’t inflate in hundreds of head-on crashes,” Mike Casey and Rick Montgomery, The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri, Oct. 22, 2007.


 Toxic Cargo:  Crowded Inland Rails at Risk for Dangerous Chemical Spill,” The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA), Nov. 20, 2005.


Link to “Off Track,” an IRE Journal article (May/June 2006, pp. 25-27), about this reporting project (class sign-in needed)


“Deadly teen auto crashes show a pattern,” Jayne O’Donnell, USA Today, March 1, 2005


"Death on the Tracks," by Walt Bogdanich, The New York Times, December 30, 2004




Lead Levels in Water Misrepresented Across U.S.:  Utilities Manipulate or Withhold Test Results to Ward Off Regulators,” by Carol D. Leonnig, Jo Becker and David Nakamura, The Washington Post, October 5, 2004.


World of the disadvantaged / poverty / race :


“House of Lies,” Debbie Cenziper, The Miami Herald, A seven-part series starting July 23, 2006. [You may pick one or more stories for your critique]


Multimedia links for this project.


Response: “Furious at what he called the most troubling report he has seen since taking office, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez on Monday cited a Miami Herald series that has found millions of dollars squandered on failed housing projects and called for a host of investigations into the troubled Miami-Dade Housing Agency.”


“Too Young to Die,” Erin McCormick and Reynolds Holding, San Francisco Chronicle, October, 2004


“State Often Returns Foster Kids to Homes Where Alleged Sex Abuse Happened” (Capital News Service)


Elliot Jaspin’s reporting on “racial cleansing” in America:


“Leave or Die: America’s Hidden History of Racial Expulsions,” multimedia package, Austin American-Statesman


“Expulsions of blacks leave hidden legacy,” Raleigh News &Observer, July 10, 2006


Jaspin’s book (2007, Basic Books): “Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America”


Dispute over publication of  the newspaper series and book:


“Atlanta Paper Accused” – Richard Prince, The Maynard Institute; see also earlier account of  newspaper series:


A dispute over why the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wouldn't run a series on 'racial cleansing,' ” - Nieman Watchdog.



 Elliot Jaspin’s book is the last thing the AJC’s editors want you to read” –

History Still Hidden; Reporter of Statesman racial-cleansing series disowns published version” – Austin Chronicle