Data sources for stories

These sources were compiled by Matt Wynn of the Omaha World-Herald for a data journalism session a few years ago. They may give you some ideas of the kinds of data-driven reports you can do for class.


      Tax assessments. Gold mine of stories that people want to read. Potential graft or quid pro quo.

      Salaries. Topline numbers can be predictable and boring. But breakdowns — overtime, special incentive pay, etc. — can offer a new layer worth exploring.

      Tax scofflaws. People and businesses that don’t pay up often make their own special list. Worth getting.

      Budgets. The more detailed, the better. Changes over time can be especially interesting.

      Licenses. Any licenses awarded by your agency can be telling.

      Inspections. Restaurants, weights and measures, cleanliness, safety, etc.

      Purchase records. What’s getting purchased, from whom and for how much?

      P Cards. Similar to purchase records, but often with less oversight. Get credit-card statements for cardholders within the agency.

      Campaign finance. Who’s giving? Who’s getting? When?

      Literally anything. Government is excellent because it has to answer to the public.


      Test scores. Over time, by race and poverty or special education status.

      Campus crime. Compiled by IRE and available for cheap, breaks down crimes on every college campus in the US. Cross-checked with police records, can lead to some valuable results. (

      Teacher rosters. Which schools get the greenest teachers? Which has the most experienced, the most educated?

      Repairs, maintenance and repair requests. Maintaining so many buildings and so much equipment costs money. How is your district keeping up, and is every school treated fairly?

Cops and courts

      Sex-offender registration. Do they live near schools, day cares? Are they all living in the same area? Are the registration records even accurate?

      Crime logs. Where are burglaries most likely? Is there a time of year that’s most dangerous? If your department has data with narratives, all the better. Can be compared to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data to see if reports are accurate.

      Jail/prison logs. Who’s been in longest? Who’s been in most often?

      Police discipline.

      Court records. Which judge is harshest? How does your county court differ from those around the state in terms of sentencing? Which attorney pleas down the most?


      Vaccination rates

      Various inspections and complaints. Nursing homes, hospitals, home health-care agencies.

      CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) data sets. The feds have interesting data grading and comparing hospitals, nursing homes and the like along a variety of measures. For example:

      Prescription-drug data

      Mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has data reporting how every single American dies. What are the highest rates in your area? Why?


      Minor league baseball:

      College athletic department salaries. See USA Today for top coaches’ salaries in football:

      and basketball:

      NCAA research data:

      Major NCAA infractions:

      Academic-progress rates for college athletes:

      High school sports-participation rates:

Grab bag

      Potholes. Cities should have databases reflecting pothole locations, the date they were notified of the issue and the day it was fixed. Comparing all those issues can show you hard-hit areas of town, how well your city responds in general, or if services differ depending on where in the city a pothole is located.

      Lawsuits and claims against the city. Pretty much just potholes, part two. Can let you see if potholes are getting more severe, based on the number of claims or actual value paid out. Might also indicate other persistent issues in your city or its infrastructure.

      Pet names: Many local governments track this when issuing dog tags; if not, the humane society or others may have the info. You can look at the most popular name, the most popular name by breed or by type of pet. You can break down into ZIP codes or cities, if you have a large enough coverage area. You can also look at most unique names.

      Gas-pump inspections: An excellent first CAR story. The state department of weights and measures tests every gas pump to see whether, when it reports pumping a gallon, it indeed does just that. Those data are recorded and available for a nominal fee. You can see the worst pump in your town, how your town compares to others and so on.

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