Taking Stock of CAR in Your Newsroom

Teresa Leonard, The News & Observer
John Maines, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Margot Williams, Washington Post

Tuesday, June 8, 2004, 2:00 p.m. - 3:15 p.m.
Special Libraries Association 2004 Annual Conference - News Division

This panel discussed the news librarian's role in computer-assisted reporting.

Teresa Leonard of the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) described how the N&O began offering a month-long CAR fellowship in 1996. Since then, more than two-dozen reporters have gone through the fellowship.

The structure of the fellowship has changed over time. In the beginning, the first week included learning general research tools, the archive, etc. The flowing three weeks the reporter worked with a database manager and learned fun CAR tasks such as how to load a 9-track tapes or use FoxPro and other database programs. (The N&O now uses Excel much more than FoxPro.)

During the fellowship, reporters were not required to produce anything, and they were given lots of practice time and exercises working with data. The Library later added a one-week fellowship for editors.

As time passed, the N&O realized that they didn't need a full month for the CAR training; now, training lasts 3 weeks. The first three days focus on general research tools, and the remaining 2.5 weeks are devoted to working with data.

The change in the fellowship structure was partly due to evolving techniques, and also because most reporters are now more familiar with computers and data than they were in 1996.

At the beginning of a fellowship, the database manager has a conversation with the reporter about what they want to learn. A newer element of the CAR training involves freedom of information and how to request data.

The N&O's CAR training had good top management support from its inception. Reporters have always been given time to pursue training. The CAR trainers are members of the News research staff, and there is a training coordinator.

Teresa's handout covers the training lessons learned at the News & Observer:

John Maines says the South Florida Sun-Sentinel doesn't have the time or staff to do an intensive CAR fellowship like the News & Observer. Instead, reporters get isolated lessons that they tend to quickly forget.

The goal at the Sun-Sentinel is to take the pressure off John (who is the only CAR specialist), and still get stuff done. To that end, they created some push-button tools on their intranet.

An example of this is and election mapping database built in Visual Basic and based on Census data. The database was finished the night before the Nov. 2000 general election. With the mapping tool, reporters were able to get details into deadline stories right after the election. For instance, they mapped disqualified votes with Gore votes with black population in the inner city and were able to see that most disqualified votes occurred in specific areas, and that those areas had a higher concentration of people who intended to vote for Gore.

John says is doesn't matter who does CAR in your newsroom the library, the newsroom, etc. as long as someone does it.

For 2004, John is using ASP.net to develop a new mapping product. You can play around with some of John's intranet data tools at

Margot Williams, research editor at the Washington Post, talked about the similarities and differences between research librarians and CAR/database editors.

Margot highlighted the core missions and the skills & tools used in each role. She also described how each role plays a part in computer-assisted reporting and the process and information-handling tasks done within each role. Margot provided some examples of researchers contributing to CAR stories at the Washington Post notably some stories on Bush campaign donations and on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Finally, Margot discussed ways in which researchers and CAR editors can work together on stories, as well as some pitfalls that can occur, like unclear roles and poor communication.

Margot's slides detail the key points for each role.

-- Leigh Poitinger, San Jose Mercury News

Special Libraries Association 2004 Annual Conference
SLA News Division Home

Last Updated: 07/21/04