NICAR 2017 Reflection

NICAR – National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting conference is a program run by the the IRE, Investigative Reporters and Editors, through the Missouri School of Journalism.

As newspapers go under and cries of “FAKE NEWS” diminish the integrity of the media, there are a number of powerfully-burning questions pending for the journalism industry. The 21st century has left the fourth estate challenged with fighting peoples’ shrinking attention spans and tendencies to either mistrust or overstep honest efforts by journalists, though many strive to be free of bias and understand the ideology and responsibility behind being a member of the news media. I’ve had too many fearful thoughts about the future of my career in the past month, until delving deeper into the data journalism world at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference in Jacksonville last weekend.

I observed and learned the strategies of data teams at influential publications like the Washington Post, New York Times, Texas Tribune, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

Dan Keating (left) and Jeremy Singer-Vine (right) of the Washington Post and Buzzfeed News data teams led one of my favorite sessions about “unsung” datasets and databases, discussing ways to uncover new or unseen sources of public information.

I spoke with members of investigative organizations who do much of the digging into tomorrow’s next government controversy. I discovered that the blurred overlap of what we should and should not believe out of the news media is sharpening as journalists learn new ways to make information more and more accessible. They engage in endless fights for government transparency through the Freedom of Information act; WaPo data editor Steven Rich has literally filed the same FOIA request 1,033 times, he shared in his lightning talk, each time hoping the police department will give him more. A researcher at Fusion GPS (Global Research, Political Analysis, Strategic Insight), an investigative organization involved with finding ties between Russia and Trump administration officials, does not have social media in order to keep a low profile. At NICAR, I was able to unquestionably see an advanced wave of journalism, full of innovative and inspired thought. I’ve always been told by my professors that the news media is not dying, it’s changing, but I think “adapting” is a better way to put it. We’re discovering ways to take spreadsheets upon megabytes of data and find stories and build narratives out of institutional examination, all while creating gorgeous and interactive ways online for audiences to visualize data. In data journalism lie the solutions to multiple issues facing the news industry; traditional print alone (of any kind) cannot thrive in the age of Internet, and journalists have figured out what can.

One of the conference lightning talks – short, 5-minute topic presentations – showed the development of NICAR since its inaugural year in 1993.

NICAR is jump-starting the crucial next step for journalism education: data journalism concentrations and courses at universities. Not even the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern has established an undergraduate data track, I learned while talking to senior from the school, which was ranked as one of the top 20 journalism schools in the country. News organizations do not want to hire reporters without data skillsets, much of the time expecting them to know how to code their own websites and build meaningful information graphics by the time they leave college. A data track at Temple would push the School of Media and Communication far beyond many other undergraduate journalism programs, adapting students to an internet- and information-centric media environment that is our industry’s reality. Data journalists will have the greatest impact on the media community, moving us back to purely fact-based practices from reporters who dedicate themselves to the public and take pride in truthfulness, even if their work is behind the scenes.

Though I’m only in my second year of college, I have a good image of my future because of this opportunity to understand the direction of the journalism industry, which is undoubtedly ascending. I am immensely grateful to have a professor like Jillian Bauer, who is always looking for ways to help students adapt to journalism’s changing methods. As for the “war” between the Trump administration and the news media, I’m confident in journalists’ secret weapon, data, the purest form of fact.

Ironically enough, there was a pro-Trump rally at the Jacksonville Landing, right next door to NICAR. My classmate Anh and I were on our way to lunch with a Philly-based digital mapping organization when we heard the rally and decided to observe. Click on the photo to hear a local government official tell supporters not to listen to the “slipstream media.”


Refugees Hit Hardest By Trump Travel Ban

Seven Muslim-majority countries referenced in proposed temporary refugee ban accounted for almost 40 percent of all U.S.-bound refugees over past decade. Article written for Data Journalism class at Temple University.

A great American anthem proclaims to migrants that “this land is your land,” offering refuge to immigrants of any nationality to join a nation built by differences and grounded in hospitality for those who seek sanctuary.

But American citizens and politicians have drifted from these values, allowing their country’s humanitarian efforts to be buried deep beneath fear of terrorism.

In the past decade, politically-charged civil wars and terrorism in the Middle East and the Greater Horn of Africa have erupted into violence, displacing many innocents who oftentimes fear they’ll never return. The war in Syria has intensified over the past two years and sent thousands fleeing their homes. In 2015, the U.S. received 16 times the number of refugees from Syria than it did the previous year in 2014. Under President Trump’s travel regulations, however, Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely from entering the U.S.

Syria is among the seven Muslim-majority countries in question as the president and the Judiciary grapple over his 120-day ban on refugees entering the U.S. from said countries. Officials are bypassing Trump’s orders, but if the orders prevail, refugees from nations in turmoil will be forced to remain in there or find an alternate refuge nation. The seven countries being banned – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria – accounted for 39 percent of all refugee arrivals to the U.S. from 2008-2015, over the course of the Obama administration.

Halting refugee and asylum privileges for these countries eliminates a significant number of America’s refugees overall. It especially diminishes the U.S.’s help to those suffering in the Middle East from destruction and continued violence caused by American-involved wars. About a quarter of refugees who arrived during the Obama administration were from Iraq.



 *(numbers for Yemen and Libya were calculated into total refugees, but were too small to be represented individually in this chart).

*(numbers for Yemen and Libya were calculated into total refugees, but were too small to be represented individually in this chart).

But while Trump proposes to postpone refugee arrival from the seven countries, over the course of the Obama administration the number of refugees granted affirmative asylum from these countries – and overall – remained low. America’s refugee and asylum seeking process is two-tiered: if asylees (refugees already on U.S. soil) are granted affirmative asylum, they are allowed to stay in the U.S. as a non-citizen, or go through the legal processes of becoming one. It’s open to anyone who arrives, whether legally or illegally, and applicants must fit the characteristics of a refugee – someone fleeing war, or persecution because of race, religion, social group or political opinion. Even with these terms, a majority of applicants are rejected. Defensive asylum is temporary; these asylees are already in the U.S., but are threatened with deportation because of criminal activity or lack of proper documentation.

Considering the number of affirmative asylees, potential terrorism threats from the seven Muslim-majority countries named did not go ignored through Obama’s eight years. While 31 percent of refugees from countries other than the seven were granted affirmative asylum, only 6 percent of arrivals from the seven were. Both presidents, so far, have shown reluctance in allowing citizens of these countries to remain in the U.S.


For defensive asylees, it’s a long legal battle with the Department of Homeland Security and immigration officials, and most of the time refugees from the seven countries do not meet requirements and are rejected.

War-tarnished countries have also left thousands of children displaced or exposed to threats of violence in their home countries. Americans recall the emotional image published in national newspapers of a Syrian father clutching his young son’s dead body; the boy drowned as they attempted to flee the nation by boat last year. Children became the face of the refugee crisis, as displaced under-16-year-olds represent 31 percent of all U.S. refugee arrivals during the Obama administration. Only 10 percent of these children, however, were granted asylum.

Over the past decade, America’s allowance of refugees, specifically those from the seven countries Trump is attempting to ban, hasn’t changed much. As concern for the members of these nations grows, America has the opportunity to become a nation which welcomes people abandoned by their own. The opportunity wanes as President Trump promises to toughen immigration and refugee policies.

*data from yearly Refugee and Asylum Reports by the Department of Homeland Security. Data analysis can be viewed at