February 21, 2009

How to use data and make a story come alive

Earlier I commented on a story from Newsday about how a reporter took Census data on foreign born in the United States, put a human face to the data, and did a great story. (2007 census data compares immigrant groups on LI)

The New York Times did a story using the same basic information (Government Offers Look at Nation’s Immigrants) but does not do what Olivia Winslow did in her Newsday story.

Winslow went to the Census Bureau web site and got the information about Long Island.
The Times did nothing to localize the data

Winslow sought out a local immigrant (foreign born) to get her story as part of the larger Census story.
The New York Times only quoted some one from Brookings.

The bottom line is that the New York Times ran a story of statistics and sociology. Newsday ran a statistical story with a human face.

At the same time Newsday helped explain to its readers more about the immigrant communities in their neighborhoods. There is no sense of explanation in the Times article.

Okay, let's say The Times was writing for a national audience and Newsday for Long Island readers. A fair cop.

But, it is still The NEW YORK Times. Why was there no look at the numbers in the New York area? Or how about a look at other areas around the country.

In about 3 minutes I compared the foreign born and total populations of Illinois, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Virginia. I could take another 10 minutes and delve deep into the education, income and housing data for these states as well.

Maybe a national paper could do something like that and then tell us what it all means.

Because this is being posted first on the George Mason University j-prof group, let's look at Virginia.

In seven minutes I found the following items for the Old Dominion:
  • General population (GP): 7.7 million
  • Foreign born (FB): 794,000
  • School enrollment at the graduate college level - GP: 28.7%; FB: 51%
  • Less than high school diploma: GP: 14%; FB: 20%
  • High school diploma or equivalent: GP: 27%; FB: 22%
  • Bachelor's level of college achieved - GP: 20%; FB: 23%
  • Commute to work on public transportation - GP: 4%; FB: 7%
  • Speaks English less than well - GP: 5%; FB: 43%
  • Median household income - GP: $59,000; FB: $66,000
  • At poverty level - GP: 7.1%; FB: 7.8%
  • Owner occupied home - GP: 69%; FB: 63%
  • Rental - GP: 30%; FB: 37%
  • Rent less than 30% of income - GP: 57%; FB: 51%
  • Rent at or greater than 30% of income - GP:43; FB: 49%
And with another 5 minutes of work all this information can be obtained for Fairfax County.

So what does all this mean?

Quickly we can see that a higher percentage of foreign born use public transportation and pay more of their income to rent than the general population.

Are there political, economic and social issues to be addressed from this data?

You betcha!

For example, New York has a state-wide population of 19 million. The foreign born population is 4.2 million. A little more research

And just so you know, another 7 minutes and I had all that same data on New York.

So with 15 minutes of research I could easily draw comparisons between the general populations and foreign born in New York and Virginia.

Context becomes the big issue.

Why are foreign born doing better in Virginia than New York? Maybe it is who is moving into those areas.

Last year the largest single growing group of foreign born in Fairfax county were Indians. The largest single minority group (non-white) in Fairfax County are Asians, with Koreans as the largest nationality within that group.

And for Mason, what does this all mean?

Do the state, county and school all have to do something differently because of these numbers?

I don't know but I would like to know.

February 20, 2009

Story idea: How Newsday used census data

Excellent story by Olivia Winslow in today's Newsday on immigrant populations in the States. (2007 census data compares immigrant groups on LI)

Ms. Winslow used the just released Census Bureau data on immigrant groups as the basis for her story. She then went out and found someone to give a face to the data.

Proving once again -- and I don't know how many times I have made this point -- the Census Bureau has loads of great data that an enterprising reporter can use to develop a great story.

Winslow took the national data and then looked at the local data.

The nice thing is that the Census Bureau makes this kind of comparison -- national to local -- very easy. (Census Bureau Media Tool Kit.)

Also please notice, in the following press release from the Census Bureau Feb. 19 that the Bureau already compares the statistics of the foreign born with the native born.


And notice that nowhere in the press release, nor anywhere in the Census data, will you find any reference to a person's legal status in the United States. The Census Bureau does not get into that issue. As they will point out over and over, they are not a law enforcement agency. Their job is to gather data.

My only complaint about the Winslow article is that she could have included the links to the raw data in her online story. But I will bet that is the fault of the online editor and not the reporter.

Now tell me, how difficult would this story be to do in the DC area, especially with the large foreign-born populations we have? Too bad it has been done yet!

Shelly Lowe
Public Information Office
e-mail: pio@census.gov

Census Bureau Data Show Characteristics of the U.S. Foreign-Born Population

According to a new analysis of data about the U.S. foreign-born population from the 2007 American Community Survey (ACS), a higher percentage of people born in India have a bachelors degree or higher (74 percent) than people born in any other foreign country. Egypt and Nigeria had rates above 60 percent.

Based on 2007 ACS data, these figures come from new detailedcharacteristic profiles on the foreign-born population people who were not U.S. citizens at birth available by country of birth.

Meanwhile, among the nations foreign-born, Somalis and Kenyans living in the United States are the most likely to be newcomers, and Somalis are among the youngest and poorest.

These new selected population profiles highlight the diversity among the many different foreign-born groups in the United States, said Elizabeth Grieco, chief of the Census Bureaus Immigration Statistics Staff. This diversity is due in part to the way the various communities were established, whether it be through labor migration, family reunification or refugee flows.

The new data reveal the diversity among the 38.1 million foreign-born living in theUnited States in 2007, not only by where they were born, but also by where they live now.

For example, about 80 percent of the nations population born in China are high school graduates. In the New York metropolitan area, about two-thirds of those born in China are high school graduates, while in the metro area of San Jose, Calif., the figure rises to 93 percent.

Other findings available for foreign-born populations of 65,000 or more in areas with a total population of 500,000 or more include the following:

Country of Birth
Mexico tops the country of birth list with more than 11.7 million people. The next highest countries by birth include China (1.9 million), the Philippines (1.7 million), India (1.5 million), El Salvador and Vietnam (both at 1.1 million), and Korea (1 million). Cuba, Canada and the Dominican Republic round out the top 10 countries of birth.

Educational Attainment
Foreign-born from several African nations are among the likeliest to have graduated from high school, specifically from countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa.

About 96 percent or more of theforeign-born age 25 and over from these nations are high school graduates.

Overall, about 85 percent of the total U.S. population, 68 percent of the U.S. foreign-born and 88 percent of the native-born are high school graduates.

About 27 percent of the foreign-born and about 28 percent of natives have bachelors degrees.

Household Income
Among the foreign-born, those from India, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines have the highest median household incomes. The median household income for U.S. residents born in India is $91,195. The foreign-born from Somalia and the Dominican Republic had some of the lowest median household incomes.

Median household income is $50,740 for the total population, $46,881 for the foreign-born population and $51,249 for the native population.

Europe is the source of some of the oldest foreign-born. U.S. residents born in Hungary (64 years) and Italy (63.1) share the distinction, statistically, of having the oldest median ages. The foreign-born from Greece, Germany and Ireland also have median ages of about 60.

U.S. residents born in Somalia have the youngest median age (26.8).

Nationally, the median age for the total U.S. population is 36.7. The total foreign-born population has a median age of 40.2 and the total native population has a median age of 35.8.

Year of Entry

The foreign-born from Somalia and Kenya are the most likely to have entered the United States in 2000 or later. Nearly 60 percent are in this category.

Overall, about 28 percent of the nations foreign-born entered in 2000 or later, 29 percent between 1990 and 1999, and 43 percent entered the United States before 1990.

Employment and Occupations

Approximately 81 percent of the foreign-born age 16 and over from Nigeria and Kenya are in the labor force. Nationally, about 65 percent of the U.S. population in this age group are in the labor force, compared with about 67 percent of the foreign-born population and 64 percent of natives.

U.S. residents born in India have the highest percentage of civilian-employed people working in management, professional and related occupations (69 percent). These occupations employ about 36 percent of the native civilian-employed U.S. population and 27 percent of the foreign-born.

The foreign-born from Liberia and Haiti have the highest percentage of civilian-employed people working in service occupations (at 40 percent and 39 percent respectively, the differences are not statistically significant). About 16 percent of natives and 23 percent of the foreign-born civilian-employed populations are working in service occupations.

The foreign-born from Jordan (40 percent) and Bangladesh (36 percent) are among the most likely to work in sales and office occupations (the differences between the two are not statistically significant). Among natives, 27 percent work in sales and office occupations, compared with 18 percent among the foreign-born population.

English Language Ability
About 97 percent of the foreign-born population from Mexico and the Dominican Republic age 5 and over speak a language other than English at home. Those born in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Armenia, Honduras, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ecuador also have high rates of speaking a language other than English.

People born in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador age 5 and over are most likely to speak English less than very well. More than 70 percent of the foreign-born population from these countries identified themselves in that category.

On average, 52 percent of the foreign-born population, 2 percent of the native population and 9 percent of the total U.S. population speak English less than very well.

Among people for whom poverty status is determined, about 51 percent of residents born in Somalia are living in poverty. About a quarter of the population born in Iraq, the Dominican Republic, Jordan and Mexico are also living in poverty.

On the low end of the poverty spectrum for the countries of birth, U.S. residents born in the Netherlands and Ireland each have a poverty rate of about 5 percent.

About 13 percent of both natives and the total U.S. population are living in poverty, while about 16 percent of the foreign-born are.


The 2007 ACS estimates are based on a nationwide sample of about 250,000 addresses per month. In addition, approximately 20,000 group quarters across the United States were sampled, comprising approximately 200,000 residents. Geographic areas for which one-year data are available are based on total populations of 65,000 or more.

As part of the Census Bureaus re-engineered 2010 Census, the data collected by the ACS helps federal officials determine where to distribute more than $300 billion to state and local governments each year. Responses to the survey are strictly confidential and protected by law.

As is the case with all surveys, statistics from sample surveys are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. All comparisons made in the reports have been tested and found to be statistically significant at the 90 percent confidence level, unless otherwise noted. Please consult the data tables for specific margins of error. For more information go to http://www.census.gov/acs/www/UseData/index.htm
Editor's note: News releases, reports and data tables are available on the Census Bureaus homepage.
Go to http://www.census.gov and click on Releases.

February 19, 2009

NewsVision Conference March 30 at Newseum

Registration has opened for the first NewsVision conference. The day-long symposium will look at how the news business is changing.

Organized by the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, the conference is sponsored by The Newspaper Guild-CWA and the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, in partnership with the Online News Association. The March 30, 2009 event will be held at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

$75 registration fee covers access to the panel discussions and lunch and snacks by Wolfgang Puck.
Register by March 6 and save 10 bucks.

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February 18, 2009

Social Networking: Hazards and Opportunities -- WAMU/Kojo

Last Tuesday (2/17) WAMU had a good discussion on the Kojo Nnambi Show about the ups and downs of journalists using social networks such as Facebook.

Guests included Amada Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, Pew Internet and American Life Project; (friend of the SPJ) Alicia Shepard, NPR Ombudsman; Nancy Flynn, Executive Director, The ePolicy Institute, and Saqib Ali, member, Maryland House of Delegates.

Click here to hear the segment.


February 17, 2009

Fewer US bureaus in DC - More foreign bureaus.

The New Washington Press Corps, a special report from Project for Excellence in Journalism has an interesting article about how US media outlets are reducing their presence in Washington but foreign news media are increasing.

Maybe the foreign press understand something about covering another country -- or even this on -- that the American media are missing.

February 13, 2009

Mexican Journalist GutiƩrrez Released by U.S. Immigration Pending Hearing

Good news from the border.

Emilio Guitierrez Soto was released from a U.S.immigration jail pending an immigration hearing.

Guitierrez, a journalist in northern Mexico, requested asylum in the United States after he was threatened not only by the drug cartels that seem to be running that part of the country but also by the Mexican army, which was sent in to clean out the cartels.

As a journalism professor, we must never forget to explain to our students how important it is to have a free press. And that many people in our profession are threatened and killed because all they do is report the news.

Overseas Press Club of America statement

February 12, 2009

Fairfax Co. Tweets -- Easier to follow

The McClean Connection ran a story yesterday (2/11) about how Fairfax co. now uses Twitter to get news out quickly: Fairfax County is All Atwitter.

Interesting use by a government to get info out quickly.

I wonder, how many of the 31 followers are journalists covering the Fairfax beat?

Guess I should have looked at the followers at the Fairfax site.

The Connection has it backwards. The county is following 31 people -- all media types. The county has 134 followers. And from the looks of the list, the followers range from other governments to media to average citizens.

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February 9, 2009

Standing out from the crowd: Looking at corporation HQs in area

Saw a news item that Hilton is moving its corporate headquarters to Fairfax County.

First, I hope it does not mean Paris will be visiting often to get her allowance.

More importantly, what can we see from this move?
  1. At at time of economic trouble, this move means a new corporate taxpayer 
  2. It means more taxpayers moving into the area.
  3. It also represents another international company operating in Fairfax County.
It is this last point that I want to talk about.

Hilton, like other international hotel companies has a staff drawn from around the world. New hotel managers are cycled in and out of corporate headquarters for training. New corporate managers are moved in and out depending on the global needs of the company.

This cycling of people from around the world in and out of the headquarters is not unique to Hilton nor to the hotel industry.

I would bet Fairfax County -- and the greater DC metro area -- get loads of temporary international visitors passing through the other international corporate headquarters.

I wonder how well local journalists understand how much these international corporate activities affect the local area.
  • Are there changes in restaurants?
  • How about grocery stores?
  • Dry goods? (For example, where does a traditional Indian woman buy a good sari in the DC area?)
Maybe student journalists should be looking at these local issues. And maybe they should be looking at how international headquarters of major corporations affect their school.
  • What kind of relationship does the university have with the large companies? If they don't have one, why not?
  • Does the presence of international corporations affect the composition of the student body?
  • Do the incentives offered by the state and local governments to get these international companies to locate in the area affect funds available for education (higher and otherwise)?
To be honest, I don't see a lot of mainstream media reports on these issues. Maybe student journalists looking to stand out from the crowd of other graduating student journalists entering an ever-tightening market could look at these stories and see what others don't.

And I will bet -- in fact I am sure -- there are quite a few other story ideas based on what I presented that I have not figured out.

February 6, 2009

Murder your darlings: The best way to write

"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."

--Mark Twain (1835-1910), who knew his words (Letter to D. W. Bowser, 3/20/1880)

February 5, 2009

Using Digg to promote a publication chain?

Many thanks for Jim Romensko at Poynter for bringing up a discussion on how Village Voice Media may be using DIGG to improve its place on the Internet.

Here is Jim's column.

Here is the original article Romensko links to: How Village Voice Media Uses Digg to Game Their Traffic Numbers.

An interesting read and analysis on how one can use DIGG to drive attention to a site.

Explaining things so people can understand what is going on

Too many times, especially when dealing with technology, some of the writers in television and newspapers forget that not everyone is a 20-year old geek.

The following is as much about making sure the message is understood as it is about trying to learn a new technology.

That troublesome idea of fact checking...

NPR Ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard has a great piece on some issues that can arise from using social network sites for stories and NOT doing enough fact checking before going to air/print.

What about Chuck and his sister?