The deft use of numbers can move your reporting beyond the all-too-common “he said vs. she said” school of journalism and add depth to any story. In the following stories, reporters used data to expose the realities of the death penalty, property insurance, sub-prime loans and the nuclear industry’s health impact.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution produced an outstanding four-day series on the death penalty in Georgia, “A Matter of Life or Death.” The series, by Heather Vogell, Bill Rankin, Alice Wertheim, Sonji Jacobs and Megan Clarke, is based on a two-year AJC investigation that researched 2,328 murder convictions. The main finding:
Getting the death penalty in Georgia is as predictable as a lightning strike. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death penalty nationwide after finding it was arbitrary and capricious in Georgia.
It still is. Reforms that persuaded the high court to reinstate the death penalty have fallen far short of the state’s promises.
For a neat application of multimedia, check out the interactive quizzes on the lower left of the home page: “Can you guess the verdict?”
Squeezing the customer
Despite record-breaking profits, property insurance companies are paying less than promised to their customers when catastrophe strikes, David Dietz and Darrell Preston reported in September’s Bloomberg Markets. Dietz and Preston’s “The Insurance Hoax” reveals that property-casualty insurance companies made $73 billion last year, their highest-ever profit, but routinely pay policy holders only 30 percent to 60 percent of the cost of rebuilding a damaged house.
Using complaints filed with state insurance offices and court records from Florida, Illinois, California, Mississippi, Tennessee and New Hampshire, Preston and Dietz showed how it has become common industry policy to lowball claims. They do a great job of clearly explaining the numbers as well as giving us examples of customers who’ve suffered through disasters only to find that their insurance company wasn’t there for them.
The impact of the Cold War on tens of thousands of American workers is still a hot topic in the pages of the Rocky Mountain News. The newspaper’s excellent “Rocky Flats and nuclear weapons workers” project has investigated the long-term health effects for employees at the massive Rocky Flats bomb-making plant near Denver.
In one story, reporter Ann Imse estimated that the U.S. nuclear program has killed at least 4,000 Americans and sickened 36,500 others who built weapons, mined uranium or breathed dust from bomb tests. Imse painstakingly compiled her data based on compensation records from four U.S. government programs.
The story includes sidebars profiling some of the people made sick by the bombs and offering arguments about why the estimated deaths and illnesses might be too high or too low.
John Gittelsohn and Ronald Campbell of The Orange County Register have done a great job of localizing the national crisis over foreclosures and risky loans that has rocked the housing market and Wall Street.
In “One street’s subprime struggle,” Campbell and Gittelsohn describe what is happening to the owners of the modest bungalows on West Camile Street in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Santa Ana. They detail how easy credit helped the street’s home values soar and then plummet as some residents began to default on their loans and others slashed prices in a desperate effort to sell their properties.
The story comes with a glossary of mortgage terms, a map of which communities in Southern California have the most subprime loans, and an interactive feature that lets you see photos and information about different homes on the street.