Pulitzer Prize Winner Tom McGinty Gives Talk on Data Journalism

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Source: nitro-net.com

Amajla Tricic, Assistant News Editor

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Utica College alumnus Tom McGinty visited campus to discuss his work in investigative data journalism on Friday, April 20.

McGinty graduated from Utica College in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Journalism. He was a reporter for the Times of Trenton and Newsday before becoming a training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), which took him to newspapers around the world to discuss utilizing data in their work. He is now a co-chief and reporter for the Wall Street Journal where he won his Pulitzer Prize.

McGinty spoke in the Economic Crime and Justice Studies building about the importance of data based on his own experiences. He mentions that sources are important, but data is needed in order to confirm any false information that may have been said. Compared to his early career, he notices that data is more readily available and retrievable now.

“Data is now millions of pages worth of information transformed into spreadsheets that are computerized,” he said. “You have machines that can turn paper into spreadsheets and data instead of combing over pages and pages.”

While he emphasized the importance of data, McGinty admitted not every journalist is going to find themselves leaning towards his way of researching.

“It’s unrealistic that every journalist is going to code,” he said. “Some interns come in and can’t collect data but every journalist has a different path. However, you should know how to work a spreadsheet if you report.”

He explained that coding may be difficult but data is found anywhere.

“A lot is government data, Medicare stuff is government data, and if it is directly from the source you should run your results by people you know well,” he said. “Always ask a lot of people any answers you come up with.”

He told a story of one of the Wall Street Journal’s reporters who discovered that Regents test scores spiked at 65. After a Freedom of Information Act request was submitted, the data showed that teachers were giving students extra points if their test was a failing grade near 65. Due to this research, teachers are no longer able to grade their own students anymore. He reiterated that sometimes data leads to effective change.  

“This is the power of data, it can confirm stories people might not believe,” McGinty said. “It is hard for someone to argue when there is hard-based evidence.”

Mcginty argued that journalists should not be labeled as writers because much of the work they do is reporting.

“It’s dumb to call journalists writers because reporting is the hardest part of the job,” he said. “Reporters is a better term. You can write around stuff and nobody will notice the gaping hole in your story, so writers can get away with interesting stuff. It is the reporting that is hard and is what matters.”

McGinty initially tried out journalism because he liked to write, and he found that it takes a lot more than just writing.

“Reporting is the hardest and takes the longest. If you’re writing an opinion, you’re a writer,” he said. “If you’re a reporter, you’re more than a writer.”

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