I never set out to be a data journalist. Hell, I never set out to be a journalist. For the longest time I wanted to be an astronaut. So that’s what I set out to do.
Unfortunately, no one thought to tell me that the path to becoming an astronaut was to become a fighter pilot. So I went to school for aerospace engineering, realized it wasn’t the path for me and attempted to figure out what was next.
Eventually I realized I wanted to do journalism and went to grad school for it. I chose the University of Missouri because I knew they’d teach me by throwing me directly into a newsroom. I volunteered for the city beat and immediately got my first data assignment.
The first thing my editor asked me to do was to tear through the city of Columbia’s draft budget. It was a tedious operation but it was very fulfilling. I never saw it as a data assignment until after but it was definitely my first foray into data journalism.
What I found was amazing to me. The city was intending to cut public bus service to the poorest areas of the city on bus lines that were making money and not for ones losing money that largely served students. The data work was not difficult: it was mostly just doing the math and figuring out where the money was going. But it ended up saving bus service for many of the city’s poorest residents. I was hooked.
While the work behind the story wasn’t glamorous or particularly complicated, it was necessary. The key, I have found, is to start small and work up from there. It’s difficult to do the complicated stuff if you haven’t mastered the basics.
I never really set out to be a woodworker, either. I always liked working with my hands. I was a Boy Scout and enjoyed the tactical experiences I got from it. I enjoyed shop class.
But there aren’t too many places to learn woodworking outside of these opportunities, especially if you don’t have money to burn. Woodworking is kind of an expensive hobby. The machinery costs. The lumber costs. And not too many will take on the liability of students hurting themselves on the machinery without money.
My side job woodworking started in earnest in the basement of the old Washington Post building where there was a woodshop for whatever reason. I used it from time to time until we moved buildings and the machinery was presumably sold off. But my first build was years before this.
For my Eagle Scout project, I wanted to help members of my community properly retire their American flags. To do this, I wanted to create a hub for folks to bring their flags for retirement. So I decided to build one of the most basic woodworking projects: a box.
The box I built was relatively rudimentary. It was made with MDF from Home Depot and the top opened with hinges and was locked with a simple latch and a lock and key. It did the trick and I did eventually earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
While the build wasn’t complicated, it’s something I kept coming back to in my mind for years after, I really enjoyed it and wanted to learn much more. The key, I have found, is to start small and work up from there. It’s difficult to do the complicated stuff if you haven’t mastered the basics.
The True Coronavirus Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000 — “Counting deaths takes time and many states are weeks or months behind in reporting. The estimates from the C.D.C. are adjusted based on how mortality data has lagged in previous years. Even with this adjustment, it’s possible there could be an underestimate of the complete death toll if increased mortality is causing states to lag more than they have in the past or if states have changed their reporting systems. But comparing recent totals of deaths from all causes can provide a more complete picture of the pandemic’s impact than tracking only deaths of people with confirmed diagnoses.” [The New York Times]
Failure of oversight: How dozens of officers kept their police certification despite convictions — “As legislators plan to address systemic policing problems in a special session next week, a Virginian-Pilot investigation found three dozen officers convicted of crimes since 2011 who were never decertified. It’s unclear if any are still working as police. State law makes it impossible to strip an officer of their certification unless they have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. And even when officers’ conduct reaches those narrow criteria, many are not decertified by the state board with that responsibility.” [The Virginian-Pilot]
How police can use Brady lists to discredit whistleblowers — “Phil Roberts has a stain on his 33-year law enforcement career. “(It’s like) ah-ha, you’re on the Brady list,” he said. “And I go, ‘Yeah, I am, and I can’t get off.'” Yet the retired Phoenix sergeant — and whistleblower targeted for completely upending the city— doesn’t want to attack the importance of the lists, which contain 1,400 dishonest and disreputable law enforcement officials tracked by county attorneys' offices. He just believes the entire Brady system and its lack of oversight need a major overhaul.” [ABC 15]
At least 77% of American voters can cast ballots by mail in the fall — “The coronavirus pandemic is set to change the way millions of Americans can vote in November, as states expand access to mail-in voting as a safer alternative to in-person voting. As of now, over 180 million Americans who are eligible to vote would be able to cast a ballot by mail. Of those, 25 million live in states that will accept fear of the coronavirus as an excuse to vote absentee, or have switched to become “no excuse” states.” [The Washington Post]