2016’s best precision journalism stories announced


In 1967, following riots in Detroit, Philip Meyer used survey research methods, powered by a computer, to show that college-educated people were just as likely to have rioted as high school drop outs. His story was one of the first examples of computer assisted reporting and precision journalism, in which journalists use social science methodologies to extract and tell stories.

In recognition of his contribution to the area, each year’s best computer-driven and precision stories are celebrated through the Philip Meyer Journalism Award.

The Award’s 2016 winners have just been announced, with the successful entries showcasing techniques derived from quantitative and qualitative methods, such as surveys using randomly-selected respondents, descriptive and inferential statistical analysis, social network analysis, content analysis, field experiments, and more.

We took a closer look at the top prize winners.

1. Doctors & Sex Abuse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In a multi-part series that began in July 2016, reporters at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used machine learning to reveal the extent of unpunished patient abuse by doctors. In the absence of structured data on the issue, the team built 50 scrapers that pulled in over 100,000 documents related to board orders from regulators’ websites. Each case was then fed these through an algorithm that used keyword analysis to assign a probability rating that it was related to physician sexual misconduct. Ultimately, the investigation found that doctors in every state had abused patients, and even when caught, still went unpunished.

Read the full story here.

2. How Fire Feeds, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting

Throughout the summer of 2015, thousands of homes were destroyed and four people were killed as a result of violent firestorms in California. To explore how fire and topography intersected to feed these blazes, Reveal analysed satellite imagery and eight government datasets. Their results were visualised through an interactive map and narrative, which provided a cautionary tale of potential wildfire outbreaks that may pose ongoing risk for years to come.


Image: How Fire Feeds.

Read the full story here.

3. The Tennis Racket, Buzzfeed News and the BBC

In its first transatlantic investigation with the BBC, BuzzFeed News analysed the betting odds and outcomes of 26,000 tennis matches spanning seven years to investigate suspected match-fixing. The team’s algorithm identified 15 players who regularly lost matches that they statistically shouldn’t have. As a result of the investigation, professional tennis stars have called for greater transparency in corruption investigations surrounding the sport, and several government entities have conducted hearings.

Read the full story here.

Find out more about the Philip Meyer Award here.