REPORTING METHODS Carleton University: Journalism 5206_Winter 2018



Wednesdays: 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Room 4114
Richcraft Hall
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada  K1S 5B6

David McKie, CBC News
Phone: (O) 613-288-6523 (C) 613-290-7380

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Phone: (O) 613-231-8653 (C) 613-859-3752 (fax) 613-238-4452

Course Objectives  Needs and Special Accommodations  | Assignments and Evaluation | Course Schedule Link to a more detailed syllabus |  Dollars and Sense story Back Story | Data Visualization  Access-to-information story Week one Week two Week three | Week four | Week five Week six Week seven Week eight Week nine Week ten Week eleven Week twelve |Tutorials | Datasets |

Course Objectives

1) Obtain a thorough grounding in journalistic research methods.

2) Acquire skills, such as data-journalism reporting techniques, needed to make sense of the information gathered.

3) Develop the ability to shape the information into accurate and compelling stories for all platforms.

Digging Deeper 3rd edition is the mandatory textbook.

The Data Journalist is optional, as is Your Right to Know.

The first two books are available at the Carleton bookstore. You can order the third book online.

Special needs and Accommodation (TOP)

Academic Accommodation: You may need special arrangements to meet your academic obligations during the term. For an accommodation request the processes are as follows:

Pregnancy obligation: write to us with any requests for academic accommodation during the first two weeks of class, or as soon as possible after the need for accommodation is known to exist. For more details see the Student Guide.

Religious obligation: write to us with any requests for academic accommodation during the first
two weeks of class, or as soon as possible after the need for accommodation is known to exist. For
more details see the Student Guide.

Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: The Paul Menton Centre for Students
with Disabilities (PMC) provides services to students with Learning Disabilities (LD),
psychiatric/mental health disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism
Spectrum Disorders (ASD), chronic medical conditions, and impairments in mobility, hearing, and
vision. If you have a disability requiring academic accommodations in this course, please contact
PMC at 613-520- 6608 or for a formal evaluation. If you are already registered
with the PMC, contact your PMC co-ordinator to send me your Letter of Accommodation at the
beginning of the term, and no later than two weeks before the first in-class scheduled test or
exam requiring accommodation (if applicable). After requesting accommodation from PMC, meet
with me to ensure accommodation arrangements are made. Please consult the PMC website for the deadline to request accommodations for the formally scheduled exam (if applicable).
The Student Guide can be found here.

Assignments and Evaluation(TOP)

Assignments in this course are governed by the provisions of the document Ethics and Standards in the School of Journalism and Communication. There are four assignments, each with a deadline. Lateness will be penalized, though exceptional circumstances will be taken into account.  With the exception of the access-to-information assignment, each has three components, all of which will figure in the grade:

A. Copies of the actual documents compiled / gathered (in paper or electronic form).

B. A description of how the documents were obtained, and why they were useful.

C. The resulting story or visualization.

Each of the four assignments is worth 20 per cent of the overall course grade. The remaining 20 per cent of the grade will be determined based on presence / punctuality, participation and professionalism, including quiz results.

Final standing in this course is determined by the course instructors subject to the approval of the Dean of Public Affairs. This means that final grades submitted by the instructors may be subject to revision. No grade is final until it has been approved by the Dean.

Academic Integrity

This course abides by Carleton University’s Academic Integrity Policy. Acts of academic dishonesty include, but are not restricted to, plagiarism and unauthorized resubmission of work, and will be dealt with accordingly.

Students who fake any part of their stories or research, plagiarize anyone else’s work, or otherwise cheat on their assignments will get more than just a failing grade. They will be dealt with according to the university’s rules for Academic Integrity.
The full graduate policy is here

Ethics and Professional Standards

This is a professional school, and you’ll be held to professional standards in both assignments and conduct. As a student of journalism, you must read and adhere to the School’s policies.

 1.Our ethics policy sets out the rules of behaviour that you, as students and journalists, are expected to follow as you carry out your assignments for this course. 

 2.Our publishing policy requires certain authorizations before journalistic coursework can be published outside of the class. In addition, your sources must understand that any assignments they are associated with may be published outside of class.

 3.Our policy on electronic media usage requires that you follow copyright regulations with respect to your use of all materials culled from the Internet.

Graduate students can find all three policies here:

You are expected to be familiar with these policies and apply them to your work. Failure to abide by them will adversely affect your standing in the course.

Due Dates

1) Dollars and Sense story outline due Mon., Jan. 22, midnight.
2) Dollars and Sense story due Sun., Feb. 4, noon.
3) Backstory outline due Mon., Feb. 12, noon.
4) Access-to-information requests must be filed by Sun., Feb. 18.
5) Data visualization outline due Mon., Feb. 26, noon.
6) Backstory assignment due Sun., March 4, noon.
7) Data visualization due Sun., March 18, noon.
8) Access-to-information assignment due Sun., March 25, noon.

Course Schedule (TOP)

Jan. 10: a. Course introduction b. Elements of storytelling (part one) c. Dollars and Sense (part one)
|| Reading: Digging Deeper, Chapters 1, 2, 9 and Appendix – Finance Facts, 12

Jan. 17: a. Dollars and Sense (part two) b. Assignment: Dollars and Sense story c. Elements of Storytelling (part two)
|| Reading: Digger Deeper, Chapter 10

Jan. 24: a. Introduction to Access to information b. Access-to-information tips: Previously released records  c. Assignment: Access to information d. One-on-ones / Research time
|| Reading: Digging Deeper, Chapters 6

Jan. 31: a. Dollars and Sense story due Sun. Feb. 4, noon b. Access-to-information tips: Focusing a request, negotiating, seeking partial releases c. Introduction to historical records d. Assignment: Backstory
|| Reading review of chapters covered so far to prepare for the following week’s quiz

Feb. 7a. Data (part one) b. Quiz based on readings c. One-on-ones / Research time
|| Optional reading: The Data Journalist: Chapters 2, 4

Feb. 14: a. Access-to-information requests must be filed by Sun., Feb. 18 b. Mid-term checkup via EDC            c. Dollars and Sense story feedback d. Data (part two) e. Assignment: Data visualization
|| Optional reading: The Data Journalist: Chapter 8

Feb. 21: Break Week. No class scheduled.

Feb. 28a. Backstory assignment due Sun., March 4, noon b. Data (part three)
c. One-on-ones / Research time

March 7a. Data (part four) b. One-on-ones / Research time
|| Reading review: Digging Deeper: Chapter 10

March 14: a. Data visualization due Sun., March 18, noon b. Backstory feedback c. Access-to-information tips: Making sense of records (decoding documents, chronologies)
|| Reading: Digging Deeper: Chapter 4

March 21: a. Access-to-information assignment due Sun., March 25, noon. b. Public Records (part one)
|| Reading: Digging Deeper, Chapter 8

March 28: a. Data story feedback b.  Quiz based on readings c. Public Records (part two)

April 4a. Access-to-information feedback b. Enterprise journalism tactics

Dollars and Sense story  (TOP)

A news story about the City of Ottawa budget. 600 words, due Sun. Feb. 4, noon. (An outline is due Mon., Jan. 22, at midnight) 

What is required?

1) A news story about any aspect of the City of Ottawa’s program spending that you obtain from the 2018 online budget tables.

2) The story MUST come from the budget table

3) Upload the story to the first of the four categories on the website that will be created for the assignments.

4) At least two interviews with an expert and an individual with a direct connection to the specific program or program area at the heart of the story. For instance, a community group receiving less money this year compared to the previous year.

What’s to be submitted?

1) An emailed, 500-word explanation in a Word document that briefly explains — in point form, even — the steps you took to get the story, the coordinates of your interviewees and the people you attempted to interview.

2) An Excel sheet with your calculations emailed as an attachment.

3) In addition to uploading the story to the assigned category on  our website, a Word document with your actual story.

4) The uploaded story to the website should have at least two visualizations: a photograph and a the key numbers displayed in a chart, using a program like Infogram. Please click here to obtain a brief tutorial that explains how to upload your numbers.  For now, please ignore the DocumentCloud reference in step 2.

Q.  What should be in the draft that I submit?
A. I only need a tightly written lead, based on the principles we’ve discussed in class, followed by a point form description of who you’ve interviewed, the research you’ve conducted, and where you see the story heading.

Q. How can I write a lead if I  haven’t completed my research?
A. Write a lead based on the information at hand. Admittedly, the story may changed based on what you discover. However, the exercise of writing early drafts helps sharpen the mind and should keep you focused.

Q. Must the story emerge from the numbers in the budget that I’ve discovered?
A. Yes!  However, don’t assume you know the reason behind the increase or decrease until you’ve conducted the research.

Q. Can I write about any city program?
A. Yes

Q. Once I choose a program, should I ask the city for the kind of detailed breakdown we discussed in class?
A. Yes, but if you get stonewalled, then figure out another creative way to write about the program in question using the numbers you have.  For instance, you can compare it to spending increases for similar programs, and then find one example that illustrates how the money is spent.

A. Okay, but ideally, I’d like a more detailed of the program area of interest. So, how do I obtain it?
Q. Try going through the city’s communications department.

Q. Can you provide an example of a budget that is broken down into its component parts?
A. Sure thing. Check out the “Cultural Services” breakdown in the worksheet
entitled “CSCF Supp” in this  Excel workbook.

Q. Who should I interview?
A. It can be an expert like a city councillor, bureaucrat or university professor,  in addition to an individual or organization that benefits from the program in question.

Q. What if I have trouble contacting people?
A. To be on the safe side, avoid relying on a  limited number of sources. The wider you cast your net, the better.

Q. Can I accept an emailed statement as one of the interviews?
A. Yes, but  ONLY  if it’s a city official. And only after you’ve pushed for something in-person.  If you’re stuck with a statement, be  sure to set it up in the story by pointing out that the city official in question refused an interview, choosing instead to issue a statement that avoided answering the question. Then, be sure to paraphrase and quote selectively from the statement, if at all. In short, no long,  boring, jargon-laden statements that say nothing but give the appearance of accountability.

Q. Can I still submit a draft if I haven’t done any interviews?
A. Absolutely! You can craft a lead, and then spell out who you’d like to interview. This step alone will allow for some healthy brainstorming well ahead of your deadline, which should make it easier to find the right voices.

Backstory assignment  (TOP)

A story that draws on archival- or library-based sources to provide historical depth on a current issue or event. 600 words, due Sun., March 4, noon. (An outline is due Mon., Feb. 12, noon.) Details to follow.

Data visualization  (TOP)

A digital visualization that tells a story based on analysis of data from a federal, provincial or municipal government open-data portal, due Sun., March 18, noon. (An outline is due Mon., Feb. 26, noon.) Details to follow.

Access to Information assignment  (TOP)

An exercise involving preparation and submission of freedom-of-information requests to all levels of government, due Sun., March 25, noon. (Requests must be filed by Sun., Feb. 18.) Details to follow.

Week One (TOP)

What you will learn:
Elements of a good story
Key essentials to following money
Reading the City of Ottawa’s 2018 budget in a spreadsheet


Apple financial statements

Apple’s net income figures in DocumentCloud

Salvation Army’s Vanier shelter gets council’s OK

Salvation Army

List of charities (Charities Listings)

The Paradise Papers investigation

Updated: Ottawa city’s draft budget keeps tax promise, puts focus on infrastructure, social services

City of Ottawa budgets

Week Two (TOP)


Two Maritime provinces announce deals for marijuana regulations and supply

‘This is not a drill’: Accidental ballistic missile alert causes panic in Hawaii


 Week Three (TOP)

City Council & Committee Agendas & Minutes

Access to Information sites


Access to Information: general info

Federal Departments and Agencies

Access to Information and Privacy Coordinators

Information listings

Access to Information request forms

Access to Information fillable request form

Search Summaries of Completed ATI Requests

Exemptions under the Access to Information Act (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat)

Office of the Information Commissioner
Complaint form:

Office of the Privacy Commissioner



British Columbia
Completed requests:

Completed requests:

New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador
Completed requests:

Northwest Territories

Nova Scotia
Completed requests:

The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia



Prince Edward Island



Completed requests:





Halifax Regional Municipality




Completed requests:

Completed requests:



Completed requests:


Completed requests:

Additional reading

Week Four (TOP)


Week Five (TOP)


Week Six (TOP)


Week Seven (TOP)

Week Eight (TOP)


Week Nine (TOP)

Week Ten (TOP)

Week Eleven (TOP)


Week Twelve (TOP)



From week one
Ottawa budget tutorial.pdf

From week two
To download the DocumentCloud tutorial, please click here.

Datasets (TOP)