Vol. 22, No.1/Fall 1999
|A Report from Summer
By Julie Wilson
Summertime. It always brings to me memories of my summer camps growing up. So when The Dallas Morning News decided to send me to the IRE Bootcamp, I got silly visions of summer camps past - enjoying the outdoors, cooking out and taking long hikes. Boy, was I ever wrong! But I'm not complaining.
A number of opportunities presented themselves to the research staff at The Dallas Morning News as a result of the newspapers decision to install a whole new front-end system for the newsroom. With Pcs coming to everyones desktops, we saw an opportunity for us to build a library intranet and as part of the intranet we saw a need in the newsroom for computer-assisted reporting (CAR). So we signed up for the NICAR bootcamps. Darlean Spangenberger, my fellow camper and reference researcher, and I started packing. I went in July and she in August.
My camp fantasies from the past were shattered from the start! Columbia, Missouri, has a nice small town feel but the only hotel within walking distance to the NICAR training was less than desirable. My old camping tents were more homey! However, it was cheap; and frankly, we were hardly in the rooms except to sleep.
The actual bootcamp began on Sunday afternoon and it really did not stop until Friday afternoon. Sunday was a warm up with a lecture, a little labwork, and dinner out. Then Monday everything began in earnest with the rest of the week starting at 9:00 AM and ending at 9:00 PM. The day began with a lecture and discussion on actual examples of CAR-generated stories from papers and television stations. As the week progressed the discussion time covered lab questions as well. At about an hour before lunch, we all trooped to the lab and trained and worked on Excel and Access with imported data. We took the information and used the software to manipulate the data or to analyze the information in the data.
I have to admit that when I looked at the schedule before going I did not think it could be possible for the NICAR team to keep us that long. But once we were there working, I lost track of the time and was always amazed that I had spent almost 12 hours on CAR! It was intense but fun to learn what these two software packages could do and how they were used in covering stories.
When Darlean and I got back from Columbia, we began brainstorming with Judy Sall, The Dallas Morning News Reference Editor, on our new program. We decided that, to get this off the ground, we needed to get interested reporters and editors support and input. So we formed an advisory board with six people whom we knew were interested in CAR and who have been supporters of the library in the past.
The three of us also put together a proposal for the managing editors of what we would have to have to do CAR out of the library. At the bootcamp, the NICAR folks kept warning us not to let our papers just assume that after bootcamp we all can just march back to the newsroom and do CAR. They pointed out the importance of finding a separate and quiet spot for CAR work and taking small steps in the beginning. So in our proposal we presented equipment and labor needs as well as a workstation dedicated to CAR for all to use - the library and newsroom - in a quiet spot far from the newsroom chaos and editors.
We also placed in the proposal our CAR timeline. We first plan to get the equipment and workstation set up. We see the need for one more staff member. With the physical stuff in place, we want to start up with a CAR project from the newsroom. We needed to look to our group of reporters and editors for help there.
With our barebones proposal off in the bureaucratic maze, we gathered our advisory board for a lunch. It was our first meeting and we wanted to make sure we weren't too far off target with the newsrooms' needs. After explaining what we were hoping to do, our board members began immediately telling us what they would love to have and how they wanted a CAR setup to assist with their reporting. The meeting pointed us to two areas to start with - local crime or government statistics. I feel the meeting really affirmed what we had thought all along - the newsroom needed someone and someplace for CAR, but it did not have the time or manpower to do it. We were definitely hiking down the right path!
I wish I could say that my "What I did this Summer" tale had an end. I'm afraid for the moment it doesn't. We are waiting to hear what, if any, of our proposal has been approved to continue our journey. But this has been one of the most exciting summers I have had in a long time - just without the S'mores!
Editors Note: If youre interested in attending the NICAR bootcamp, check out the information on IREs web site: http://www.ire.org - or see NLN's Web Extra for CARR links.
Julie Wilson is a researcher at The Dallas Morning News. Her e-mail address is JWilson@dallasnews.com.
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