Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Data Project: The license plates PennDOT won't let you have

Ask any experienced data reporter for advice on where to start when trying to learn the basics, and he or she will say some variation of the same thing: "Start small." Massive or complex datasets can be intimidating to any journalist, so picking something simple and fun is a good way to ease into it.

That's why one of the first projects of this site included no pie charts or bar graphs. No, it included photoshopped license plates like this one:


Inspired by WRAL's project, "100 rejected NC license plates," I reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation asking if they kept a list of rejected plates. Even better, I was told, they had a "Do Not Issue" list of 10,000 combinations of letters and numbers banned from the back bumper of Pennsylvania's vehicles. 

It took a great deal of time and several sets of eyes to scour through the list and pick out a few dozen plates that were entertaining but still safe to publish on a family website. From there, I created a quick template in Photoshop and produced a photo gallery of license plates you'll never see on the road

No intimidating data set or complex data navigation here; just a simple, fun first data project. 


Updated: PA State Government

We've added a Pennsylvania Subsidy Tracker on the PA State Government page. A subsidy is a form of financial support given by the government to an economic sector (whether it's an institution, business or individual).

Pennsylvania has spent $4,468,568,047 on 7,804 subsidies archived back through 2006. These subsidies come in several forms to big and small businesses across the state, including training reimbursements, tax increment/financing and tax credits or rebates.

The link to the Pennsylvania Subsidy Tracker additionally outlines the top parent companies to which Pennsylvania has awarded subsidies. The largest subsidy Pennsylvania awarded was a $1,650,000,000 megadeal with Royal Dutch Shell, granting $66 million in tax breaks for the next 25 years, beginning in 2012.

Pennsylvania has additionally awarded 10 subsidies to Merck for more than $41 million, predominantly in the form of tax credits and rebates. The only state to provide more subsidies for Merck is North Carolina, which has granted 15 subsidies worth $51,290,022.

As these reports are added to the Data Center, Digital First Media reporters will comb through the details and report on their findings. Be sure to check back for links to their coverage.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New: Pennsylvania State Government

The new Pennsylvania State Government page hosts links to resources found on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's website, including contact information for senators and representatives, as well as their committees and district lines.

The Pennsylvania Spending link, for example, directs to a bar graph of how much the Commonwealth has spent this fiscal year (through Jan. 2014) on items like education ($7.385 million), public welfare ($3.061 million) and transportation ($2.762 million).

There are also campaign finance reports, which candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, senator in the General Assembly and representative in the General Assembly are required to file. Additionally, on the PA State Government page, there is a link to a list of candidates who are required to file campaign finance reports, but have not done so.

As these reports are added to the Data Center, Digital First Media reporters will comb through the details and report on their findings. Be sure to check back for links to their coverage.