SoCal fire maps
Oct 24th, 2007 by Tom Johnson

Today, literally hundreds of square kilometers of Southern California — Los Angeles to San Diego — are burning. Some very alert newspapers and radio stations, though, are using Google Maps and a program called Twitter ( to update the maps on a regular basis. A good example, I think, of applied tools of analytic journalism.

Southern California fires on Google Maps


More on Benford's Law
Jul 30th, 2007 by JTJ

We've long been intrigued with Benford's Law and its potential for Analytic Journalism.  Today we ran across a new post by Charley Kyd that explains both the Law and presents some clear formulas for its application.

An Excel 97-2003 Tutorial:

Use Benford's Law with Excel

To Improve Business Planning

Benford's Law addresses an amazing characteristic of data. Not only does his formula help to identify fraud, it could help you to improve your budgets and forecasts.

by Charley Kyd

July, 2007

(Email Comments)

(Follow this link for the Excel 2007 version.)

Unless you're a public accountant, you probably haven't experimented with Benford's Law.

Auditors sometimes use this fascinating statistical insight to uncover fraudulent accounting data. But it might reveal a useful strategy for investing in the stock market. And it might help you to improve the accuracy of your budgets and forecasts.

This article will explain Benford's Law, show you how to calculate it with Excel, and suggest ways that you could put it to good use.

From a hands-on-Excel point of view, the article describes new uses for the SUMPRODUCT function and discusses the use of local and global range names.  [Read more…]



Maybe "Performance Measurement" Isn't the Answer? At least if you are the one being measured.
Aug 2nd, 2005 by JTJ

We recently enjoyed meeting Stuart Kasdin at a Netlogo workshop
Stuart spent some years in the Peace Corps, then a decade with the OMB
(Office of Budget Management).  Currently he's working on his
doctorate in Poly Sci at UC-Santa Barbara.

Stuart has also been thinking about “performance measurement,” the
term-of-art used by auditors and managers of government agencies. 
(In the private sector, the term often used is “forensic
accounting.”)  We have generally thought well of performance
measurement, especially as a vocabulary and tool journalists should
know about to better understand and evalutate the performance of
government.  Stuart, however, has thought about this in greater
depth, and from the perspective of someone inside the government. 
His paper, “When Do Results Matter?  Using Budget Systems to
Enhance Program Performance and Agency Management” is worthwhile

: “Managing by results” is a widely used public
budgeting approach based on developing performance measures that display the
progress of a program toward its stated objectives.  This paper considers the complex environment of government
budgeting and how to establish budget systems that can successfully encourage
improved performance by managers.  The
paper assesses the limitations in how governments currently apply performance
budgeting and suggests ways that it might be made more effective.  First, performance measures must be individually
tractable and simple, as well as be coherent and revealing in the context of
other program performance targets. 
In addition, performance budgeting must distinguish between
program needs based on environmental changes and those based on management
related decisions.  Finally,
paper argues that
multi-task, complex-goal programs
will typically result in low-powered incentives for program managers.  This outcome results because, even apart
from information obstacles, program managers will be rewarded or punished on only
a component of the program, representing a small fraction of the total program
performance when performance measures as increase.  A partial solution is to ensure that the number of policy
instruments is not smaller than the number of targets.”   

Click here to read the Kasdin paper.

What's behind the curtain? "Private Warriors"
Jul 7th, 2005 by JTJ

We're pleased that the PBS program “Frontline” is keeping up the good fight to produce important journalism.  And thanks to the Librarian's Index to the Internet for pointing us to:

Private Warriors

This Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Frontline program looks “at
private contractors servicing U.S. military supply lines, running U.S.
military bases, and protecting U.S. diplomats and generals” in Kuwait
and Iraq. Website features discussions of the appropriateness of
outsourcing, whether privatization saves taxpayer money, and the role
of contractors. Includes contractor profiles, interviews, a FAQ, video
of the program, and related links.

Subjects: Government contractors — United States | Public contracts — United States | Private security services | United States — Armed Forces — Management | New this week

Created by
je – last updated Jul 6, 2005

Be sure to drill down to the section, “Does Privatization Save Money.”  A nice example of a reporter asking the right questions.

Why editorial page editors need to know something about data bases
Apr 25th, 2005 by JTJ

Dan Gillmor picks up a story from California's Contra Costa Times about
a Republican operative who has been sending phony letters-to-the-editor
bashing Demos, more than 200 letters for the past 10 years.


According to the CC Times story….

letters have a tremendous effect on the readers,” Times Editorial Page
editor Dan Hatfield said. “People need to be able to know that the
letters to the editor are real people, writing about real issues. They
need to be able to believe what they read in the newspaper. The
discovery of false letters makes the reader wonder about the veracity
of the opinions on our pages….

“Hatfield said the paper has tightened its policy, but there is no way to screen writers intent on breaking the rules….

The Times, [San Francisco] Chronicle and [Tri-Valley] Herald have similar
letter to the editor verification policies. A writer must provide his
or her resident city and phone number. A newspaper employee then calls
the writer to verify that they sent it in.

there is not a fail-safe way that I have found. No matter how elaborate
the system one designs, there is always some knucklehead out there who
wants to ruin it for everyone by proving that he or she can beat it.”

Maybe not a “fail-safe” way to stop this Astro-turfing, but stronger controls would be possible if an organization like the American Press Institute or Newspaper Association of American
would create an online data base that all newspapers could have access
to.  The calling-to-check approach is pretty standard in the
business.  Each letters editor could enter the pertinent info on
the writers they decide to publish into the data base.  It
wouldn't take much programming to do some automated data mining on
phone numbers and/or cities or addresses or spelling patterns of names
for flags to be raised.  Sure, someone could always have a couple
phone numbers and even a couple mailing addresses.  But 200? 

As to text analysis that could be applied to the language of the
letters-to-the-editors, see the IAJ link lower right to Don Foster's
book, Author Unknown.

Municipal Performance Measurement Program
Mar 8th, 2005 by JTJ

Municipal Performance Measurement Program (MPMP) is an initiative
designed to provide taxpayers with useful information on service
delivery and municipalities with a tool to improve those services over
time. The program requires municipalities to collect data to measure
their performance in 10 core municipal service areas. All relevant
current information, including important updates to the program's
requirements and answers to technical questions by service area as
asked by municipalities, have been drawn together in a “one-window”
format.  This is from The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and
Housing, Ottawa, Canada, but good materials that can be generalized.
Forensic Economics and Forensic Accounting Bibliography
Mar 6th, 2005 by JTJ

“Will Yancey, a Dallas accountant who specializes in
support, started compiling bookmarks of his favorite sites in
1995.  Today, his site offers users links to other portals as well
as to legal and political directories.”

“Portals for Prying”, by Jennifer Saranow, The Wall Street Journal,
Technology Report, September 15, 2003, page R6.

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