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American Journalism Review
Pitfalls  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   November 1991


By Katherine Corcoran
Katherine Corcoran is a freelance writer inthe San Francisco Bay area who has worked in newspapers for 10 years.      

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Andrew Schneider is a big proponent of computer-assisted reporting. He's considered one of the experts. But he also sees its potential for ruining American journalism.

"Computer-assisted reporting can destroy good writing," says Schneider, Scripps-Howard News Service assistant managing editor for investigations. "I see it happening all over the country."

While computer analysis may have changed reporting for the better, there are pitfalls to watch out for:

•Reporters can become so enamored of the technology and numbers that they forget the computer is merely a starting point.
"Some stories read like academic studies and not like journalism," says Bill Dedman, a freelance writer working on a book on computer-assisted journalism. "There's a misperception that the computer does your reporting. The database [only] you something to talk about."

•Computers can make phenomenal mistakes. Results always must be checked against paper records. And sometimes databases contain erroneous information.

•Don't let the computer drive the stories you do. Though Schneider declined to name specific stories, he says of 125 computer-assisted projects he's seen so far this year, most duplicate what other newspapers have already done.ows the obvious or nothing at all. But reporters write the story anyway.

"They spend months crunching numbers and have to justify their existence," says Tim Schreiner, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. "But the story is like, so what?"
– K.C.



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