Archive for April, 2013

Mc Nelly Torres

“When you built a story with data, you always have to find those anecdotes and people. It’s a daunting task.”

Mc Nelly Torres is an independent writer and investigator with extensive experience producing stories for newspaper and online. She was a consumer writer for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. She is currently a news entrepreneur based in South Florida and the Associate Director of Florida Center For Investigative Reporting (FCIR), which is a digital nonprofit investigative journalism organization. www.fcir.org

Torres is skilled on investigative reporting techniques and building sources. She is good at Excel statistical data analysis, Access, and other computer-assisted reporting tools.

Using CAR skills to break stories

Poverty, Homelessness Rising Sharply Among Florida Students

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(Photos was from FCIR)

She used data from the Census on poverty and the data from the Florida Department of Education to show the number of students who qualified for free or reduced lunch, homeless data by school districts and so forth.

In 2009, Torres was doing consulting work for the Education Writer Association and was hired to work on a new project known as EdMoney.org. She became the team leader for EdMoney.org working with many reporters around the nation who were covering how the stimulus funding was being spent in school districts. She also wrote blog items about issues relating to the stimulus funding geared towards education. Torres began to request public records to also understand hoe these funds were being spent in Florida. At the same time, Torres was working with her partner, Trevor Aaronson, also a co-founder of FCIR, to build FCIR. This became her second education project for FCIR.

“I applied for a small grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to work on this project.” 

 School of Hard Financial Knocks

QQ20130403-8The story was coverage by Torres in 2009. It focused on financial issue of Florida’s public schools. Torres used lots of data from the education system and also built maps showing a great deal of data about each school in Florida.

“You always have obstacles when covering these complex issues especially when you are taking a statewide approach and because of that its difficult to get folks to talk to you atthe school districts as opposed if you were the reporter from the local newspaper covering that beat.

(The photo was from FCIR by Cristobal Ceron.)

Another story she wrote about a school district that had to return money because they spent it the wrong way. She discovered that through the public records of the state education agency about stimulus funding.
“When I noticed the discrepancy, I asked for all the correspondence and that helped me built the story. “

Polk County Education Official Delayed Return of Federal Funds

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Polk County Superintendent Sherrie B. Nickell (Photo from FCIR, courtesy of the Ledger)

Torres visited one school district which numbers have changed drastically since 2007 with more children being poor that prior years.

“When I looked at the data I noticed the huge spikes in poverty  and a very obvious patterns that became apparent after the economy collapsed in Florida in 2007. The same happened with the homeless data. Again, putting a face with the stories it’s a difficult task with any story but especially with data-driven projects.”

The reason why she chooses to be an investigative reporter

Torres wanted to be an investigative reporter since she was a little girl.

“I wanted to write great stories, give a voice to the voiceless and uncover injustices to inform people and somehow bring justice to them if possible.”

She was interested in detective or crime programs like Columbo and Magnum PI. She said she also read a lot of detective novels when she was young. 

“My grandmother was a great influence and that’s how my love for newspapers evolved organically. I used to practice my reading newspapers sitting on grandmother’s lap reading newspapers when I was six-years-old.”

Torres became interested in data while working as crime reporter for a daily in Oklahoma in the late 1990s.

“I’ve seen how powerful those tools could be to write stories of impact. I bought a book published by the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization and after I read it, I was hooked.”

 CAR skills are crucial.

Torres said CAR skills are crucial in today’s media ecosystem. More importantly these skills are important for younger generations of journalists who would like to produce investigative work.

“All journalists, young and experience reporters, should learn these tools because it would separate them from everybody else in the newsroom.”

She trained journalists in the U.S. and Latin America with organizations like the Investigative Reporters and Editors IRE. She is considered to be one of the top trainers on this area and is well respected by students. Nothing gives Torres more pleasure than receiving a message from a former students thanking her showing the work they produced after taking her training. Sometimes, these stories become award-winning work.

Torres said the CAR skills are a great tool for reporter and when they realize the power of data analysis, they feel empower.

Torres thinks the online world has also opened the door for an incredible opportunity to do great things with data like interactive data visualization, maps, searchable databases. Every reporter should know how to use the EXCEL, ACCESS and so forth. They should learn that in the college.

“CAR helps you hone your math skills and this is extremely important. It happened to me. We supposed to be the eyes that watch policy makers and those who make decisions with our public dollars. It affects the public and all of us. It’s our job to keep an eye on all that and more.”

Torres thinks the CAR skills are extremely helpful for daily and quick-turn stories.

“In the past, reporters have to do the math with a calculator, line by line. Now you can calculate thousands of rows in just less than minute. It cuts times and it makes you more productive.”

 CAR skills and management

How strongly is management supported CAR? Does management pay for CAR reporters to attend major IRE conventions every years?

“Not all newspapers support CAR especially the small ones where management tends to be ignorant about the potential of these tools. I have though worked for small dailies that have supported CAR, and in fact, hired me because of my skills.”Mc Nelly Torres

Some larger newspapers she has worked FOR supported CAR, such as  San Antonio Express-News and Sun-Sentinel. Editors there used resources available to train journalists. 

“At FCIR we do care about these tools and we use them. Some of these tools are not that expensive.”

Torres said she has paid her way to the IRE conventions for years. But when she was at the Sun-Sentinel sometimes they would cover airfare or the hotel and she would pick up the rest of expenses.

“Both my partner, Trevor Aaronson, and I attend the IRE conference every year. We understand this is an investment to what we do. The reality is the days when news media would pay people to attend these conferences are gone. Few media outlets do this.”

CAR reports and social media

More and more people use social media to get information or post their own comments on it. Torres said FICR ‘s  reporters use social media to promote everything they do from blogging to investigative reports at. Torres is very active in both Twitter and Facebook. If you want to know more about her career experience, you can add a connection. Follows them @FCIR and her Twitter handle is @WatchdogDiva.  

Advice for journalism majors

“Try to take internships even if they don’t pay.”

MexicoTraining“Do not misspell people’s names and always make sure your number correct. Revise. Revise. Revise” 

“Every job and beat has a lot to offer.” 

“Playing dumb pays: nobody likes a smart-ass journalist.”

“Become active in groups like the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization.”

“Be aware that nobody gets into journalism to make money.”