Archive for ~ Tips and Tools ~


NewsInNumbers has posted this project page with access to various documents that will help you cover nonprofits.

If you’d like to be added as a collaborator on the project, contact me.

Poverty journalism conference this weekend

“The New American Poverty: Reporting the Recession’s Impact” brings together about 50 journalists from across the U.S. to share skills and techniques.

It’s invitation-only, but we will share what we learn together.

Follow the conference on Twitter via #PovJour2012.


Poverty journalism’s leading voices gather in Lexington, VA. for inaugural conference |

What I learned

When a reporter is diving into covering a topic as large and diverse as poverty, the beginning can look overwhelming. Statistics and numbers contradict each other, or are measured in different ways, or may or may not be relevant to the actual story at hand. My advice is to, before beginning any reporting or fact-gathering, sit down and decide what will be the “take away” message of the story?

I knew that Greene County, Georgia was a place of incredible wealth disparity, as evidenced by its Gini coefficient, but that in and of itself did not make for an interesting story. I needed to find a way to present the story through a very specific lens, which I decided would be community health care.

It is also to go in with a hypothesis, but to be ready to cast aside previous notions if they turn out to not be supported by data you gather and especially the people who are in the front lines of whatever you’re reporting on. I thought that the health care situation in Greene County would be dismal, but everyone I spoke to (even outside the story) talked about how great TenderCare is. So, as much as we journalists don’t like to admit it, there are “good” stories out there.  Good luck!

Michael Hudson: The business of poverty

Reporter Mike Hudson is not your typical poverty beat reporter. In his years of reporting in Virginia, the Wall Street Journal, and on an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, Hudson went beyond social services to look at the business of poverty.

Hudson investigated businesses who make their money by taking advantage of the poor, and loan officers who falsified applications from borrowers who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified. He was interviewed in Columbia Journalism Review about his approach to poverty coverage.


Often new regulations or tougher laws are treated as threats to profitability, as threats to business—as an attack on business rather than as an attempt to rein in bad practices and actually serve as guiding principle that can help businesses stay out of trouble and stay profitable in the long run and not blow up, as we’ve seen.

via Audit Interview: Michael Hudson : Columbia Journalism Review.

Looking at the whole picture

Photo by Al Clayton

[Recently I attended a gathering of journalists who have all covered poverty extensively, including reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other distinguished outlets, as well as several university professors.

I asked several of them to look at this site and the Grady poverty tutorials, to see if they had any helpful thoughts. I’ll share their viewpoints as posts in Tips and Tools.]

Journalists have to slice and dice complex subjects into readable bits; that’s the nature of the beast. But in doing so, we have to avoid myopia.

Pulitzer-winning journalist David Shipler, who wrote the 2005 book “The Working Poor,” suggested we think about “drawing clearer connections among disparate problems of poverty, to avoid the silo effect.”

He explains:

Poor housing can lead to problems in both mental and physical health, for example–children’s asthma is exacerbated by dust mites, mold, roaches, etc.– which in turn can lead to emergency room visits that can be billed if you don’t have insurance, which in turn can lead to a damaged credit rating and higher interest payments on credit cards and car loans.

In The Working Poor I wrote about Lisa Brooks, who endured just that chain reaction. High housing costs for families without public housing or Section 8 also squeeze food budgets, which are malleable expenditures. I’d think most reporters would be intrigued with these connections, because they don’t occur to most people, and, as we all know, reporters like to break new ground and be counterintuitive when possible.

He also reminds us to think about the real human beings as a way to break free of ideologically polarized debates:

It might also be useful to think about how to translate the current election campaign into human stories on the ground. For example, we’re locked in a sterile ideological dispute over where the responsibility lies: with society or the individual. You might suggest looking at that difficult question in specific cases to show that nobody fits neatly into one box or the other. NGO workers with experience seem able to get past the ideology. Read more

Advice: Reporting on advocacy groups

A debate this month on Linked-In’s “Online reporters and editors” group is illuminating for our work with news and numbers – particularly on policy issues.

Are reporters too lazy to uncover the facts? As one veteran journalist said, “The editors are intent upon covering news the reporter simply picks up from one person or another without even checking to see if there is more to the story or the story is WEAK.”

Wayne Rash, Jr., Editor-in-Chief for FierceMobileIT and Washington Bureau Chief and a columnist for eWEEK, responded with crucial points about reporting on statistics from advocacy groups.

Or what’s worse is that a reporter will get a story from an advocacy group and go with it. They’ll basically re-write the group’s press release without getting any other perspective. Or sometimes they’ll Google the advocacy group, find another article using the same source and quote that. It’s an easy way to turn a story around fast, and the PR people love it.

What’s almost as bad is when the reporter gets the press release from the advocacy group, and in an attempt to appear fair, will get something from an advocacy group on the opposite side of the issue, and then quote both of them. The obvious problem is that there’s no reason to believe that any of those groups are being accurate or truthful.

I’m not suggesting that you should ignore advocacy groups because what they have to say can be important, but you have to check them out, including checking out who they really work for. In addition you have to check to see if what they’re saying is true. I’ve seen advocacy groups distort the truth, ignore parts of the truth, and sometimes simply lie.

The other thing that’s critical is to follow the money. Somewhere if you look hard enough, you’ll find who provides their funding. Read more

Making it real

Photo by Al Clayton

Although we emphasize use of numbers and data on this site, it’s important to not lose perspective.

Numbers are summaries of different kinds of realities. What we care about will always be the human beings who are summarized by those numbers.

Reporters live for those interviews with a quotable source, and stories with photos of vivid faces will draw people in. The right person can make the whole story sing.

But I love crunching numbers and digging up data, too. For me, each complements the other.

I like numbers because:

+They give us a way to draw a bigger picture – to show trends that give meaning to individual stories. Numbers work in tandem with human stories; one supports the other. A feature story about an individual can be an interesting read, but without a larger context, that individual can be dismissed as an oddball or an exception.

+Conversely, they can help us find the local angle in a national story. You might think that those policy debates in DC are just too hard to get a handle on, but if you drill down on the data, you’ll find out exactly how they affect your county. Read more

Make an easy chart

Comparison of four North Georgia counties / Data from US Census Bureau

Numbers can be boring when they’re piled on top of each other.

You can easily make a chart, though, if you put those numbers in Excel.

Here are the basic steps.

When you’ve gathered some comparison data, copy-paste it into a new tab in your spreadsheet.

Remove any columns or rows that are not relevant, and make sure the column headings are worded in a way that readers and viewers can understand easily.

Go to the “Insert” tab.

Select the group of cells that contain the cleaned-up data.

In the Chart section of the Insert tab, choose a format and click on it.

The chart will appear in the body of the spreadsheet. The Design tab will open with options related to charts.

If you don’t like how your chart looks, you can “Change Chart Type” on the Type section of the Design tab. You can also change the color scheme and layout under Chart Styles and Chart Layout.

Fix the wording of text areas by clicking on them. You can also change fonts and type sizes, or delete text areas.



Quick Census tables

A quick comparison of four North Georgia counties

If you need Census data about income and poverty for your county or for a select group of counties, but don’t want to download entire tables (as we show in another post), you can make your own table very quickly.

Start from and choose the year and the state.

On the next page, select one or more counties, as well as the state and US for comparison, by holding down the control / command key as you click your selections.

You can choose from several basic fields of information about poverty, such as median household income and percent in poverty.

Voila! An easy comparison that you can use to make a quick chart.


Steal these links!

If you would like to make a spreadsheet from the current list of Resources links on this website, it’s easy! Just follow these steps.

Paste this in your browser:

The page that opens will look like a scary bunch of code, but don’t worry.

Find the “Save Page as….” for your browser.

Probably it will, by default, name the file wp-links-opml.php.xml. Read more