Applied Fact Finding was a great class for me.
In class we reviewed news stories that were seeded or based entirely on analysis of public records. I learned how to find local and state records on all topics: “campaigns and elections, property, business, health care, court procedures, environment, education, online and library research, FOIA requests, computer-assisted reporting, and Excel.” (from her description of the class)
I was amazed and a little perturbed by how many parts of people’s lives are available through public records and how easy they are to find once you know where and how to look. I’m all for open access, but not to my life.
I love nothing more than to think of a question and use the Internet to find an answer. For this class, my questions were more specific, and limited to the life of one person (who despite numerous marriage licenses was extremely boring). And occasionally, we had to use actual books.
I was further intrigued by the possibilities for journalism that can come from analyzing and tracking public records.
But my favorite segment of the class focused on Web search. Of the two choices available for a book review assignment, I read John Battelle’s “The Search”. I now recommend it to my friends along with “Atlas Shrugged” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”.
This is a class I would take over again if I could. In my mad rush to learn everything, sometimes I’m unable to slow down and pay attention to something that needs and deserves a little patience. Because of this class, there are randomly scattered CAR (Computer Assisted Reporting) -related Web sites among my del.icio.us bookmarks and Google Reader. I only wish there was as much emphasis on CAR in journalism education as there is on multimedia.
Here’s the resource Web site from the class.