Databases provide story tips

Boston.com provides a guide to public records, databases and useful information with its Mass. Facts feature. One of the portions of the site, Your Town, shows how area cities and towns measure up against one another. Globe reporter Matt Carroll has organized data and created charts of the statistics. There is a variety of data sets on the year-old portion of the website. As a Massachusetts resident, I think it would be interesting to see a Your Town presentation of religious populations in each town. I would like to see the data organized in alphabetical order by town, followed by an easily readable “bubble chart” created with Many Eyes. Also, the data could be visually organized by using a pie chart to show the total percentages of religions in the state.

While browsing through information on ProPublica.org’s Eye on the Stimulus feature, I discovered the median household income for Worcester County is about $10,000 more than the median income for the United States. At the same time, the poverty rate in Worcester is at 9.5 percent, not far behind the 10.1 percent poverty rate for Massachusetts. As an editor, it might be interesting to assign a story analyzing the distribution of wealth in Worcester County versus Massachusetts, and versus the nation. Also, the Highway Stimulus Contractor Database lists a project in Worcester as having the largest contract – at $4,743,178. The contractor is Aggregate Industries – Northeast Region, Inc. As an editor, I might run a background check on this particular stimulus contractor to see if a story could evolve. For example, by searching the company, based in Saugus, I discovered that Aggregate Industries Northeast Region is Eastern Massachusetts’ and Southern New Hampshire’s largest integrated producer of aggregate, asphalt and mixed concrete. The company has been in business for more than 100 years.

Toxic water

Using The New York Times’ Toxic Waters map, I discovered that the Worcester WFP, located in my hometown of Holden, Mass., has 34 violations. In 2007, the facility had two “effluent violations,” an outflow of water or gas from a natural body of water or from a man-made structure. In 2008 alone, the water supply facility had “12 other violations,” which the Environmental Protection Agency marks as data monitoring violations. “Other violations” do not indicate any actual discharge of pollutants. In most cases, required reports were not filed, which results in automatic violations. But, despite the violations, the Worcester WFP hasn’t incurred any fines nor inspections, according to the website. As an editor, I would ask, “With at least 34 violations, why isn’t the facility being inspected nor reprimanded? Where are the regulators?”

Inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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