Infrastructure: Falling Behind

Infrastructure: Falling Behind

Organisation: The Associated Press (United States)

Publication Date: 04/15/2016

Applicant(s)

Size of team/newsroom:large

Description

In a four-part, multimedia series, The Associated Press found that key parts of the nation’s infrastructure are aging, unsafe and inadequate for the demands of population growth, and that the power grid has been left vulnerable to foreign hackers and extreme storms. AP interactives, videos, photographs and data sets accompanied each piece of the project. Essential to the series were a total of 15 data sets that AP journalists obtained--sometimes using FOIA requests, sometimes accessing government data sites--cleaned up and packaged for use by AP state bureaus and the cooperative’s thousands of news customers across the country. The yearlong investigation focused on the state of the nation’s highway and bridge funding, traffic gridlock and mass transit systems, drinking water supplies and quality, and power grid and energy supplies. In addition to the multimedia components, AP reporters produced 18 bylined stories for the national wire that were both explanatory and hard-edged, developing several fresh news angles. Among other things, the AP reporting revealed that: • The amount of inflation-adjusted federal highway money dropped in all but two states during the past five years. • More than $1 billion in federal water infrastructure money has been allotted to states but is sitting unspent. • Foreign hackers had gained access to networks running the power grid about a dozen times in the past decade, potentially allowing them to shut off the lights to millions of Americans. • And local and state governments were blocking transmission lines meant to carry power from wind and solar farms, dealing a huge blow to government policies requiring utilities to increase use of renewable power. The work by AP’s data journalists to provide customers with a wide variety of data sets for their own use was an essential component of the initiative, yet difficult and complicated. In examining the state of drinking water sources, for example, identifying and then obtaining relevant data was time-consuming and challenging because of a lack of cooperation from the relevant government agencies. Even when data sets were obtained, the AP data journalists caught errors, inconsistencies or dated material that had to be fixed or reconciled before the data could be packaged for use by other news organizations. Developing data for the fourth project in the series, on the power grid, was especially difficult and took nearly a year’s worth of work. In the end, the reporters and data journalists produced four sets that allowed news organizations and AP state bureaus across the country to localize the stories. They included data about utility power outages, emergency incidents and enforcement actions.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

The networked data analysis approach to investigating this perennial topic allowed the Associated Press and its members to explore the issue from multiple perspectives simultaneously. By centralizing the data aggregation, vetting, cleaning and principle analysis but distributing the reporting and local analysis, we were able to generate content that was both relevant and comprehensive in scope.

Technologies used for this project:

R, Ruby, SQL, JavaScript and D3

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