When Bethney Bonilla deposited the U.S. Rape Clearance Data (2014-2016), in the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR), she was putting into place a key piece of a larger, coordinated effort to break a troubling national news story: some police departments use a loophole to clear rape cases despite not having made related arrests, resulting in inflated clearance rates that are often cited as a measure of police effectiveness.
According to Bonilla, a Stanford alum who has returned to the Farm to put her data journalism skills to work in service of the Big Local News (BLN) project, “We are already seeing the impact of this remarkable reporting and data gathering by our partners. The FBI announced earlier this month that they will fast-track a fix for flaws in their crime reporting system and require local police to disclose cases they classify as unfounded. Beyond that, we believe this data will help journalists across the country to discover and write stories about policies affecting their communities.”
The investigative journalists, Mark Fahey, Mark Greenblatt, Kenny Jacoby, Eric Sagara, and Bernice Yeung collaborated with the Stanford Big Local News team to collect, clean and archive the data. This deposit was collected as part of the investigations that lead to articles published by Newsy, Reveal, and ProPublica into how police process rape cases.
The Big Local News team is led by Cheryl Phillips, professor of journalism in the Stanford Department of Communication and Journalism. Big Local News is a project within the Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative (JDI). An important aspect of Big Local News it that it seeks to empower smaller local news organizations to be able to use these aggregated data sets to tell their own local stories based on evidence in the data. Smaller newsrooms typically don’t have the staff or funding to launch investigative data journalism projects on this scale. Part of what Big Local News does, in addition to data wrangling and archiving, is to provide journalists with data analysis tools for their own investigations.
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