Media Moves

How a NY Times economics reporter uses technology

November 13, 2019

Posted by Chris Roush

Ben Casselman

Ben Casselman, an economics and business reporter at the New York Times, discusses how he uses technology for his job.

Here is an excerpt:

You compile complicated data sets and distill them into stories for our readers. What are the tech tools and methods behind this madness?

“Madness” is tough but fair. If you walk by my desk on any given day you’ll find my computer monitor littered with charts, spreadsheets and way more Chrome tabs than any sane person would consider reasonable. And my physical desktop is just as cluttered with half-used notebooks, printed-out economics papers and my trusty TI-86 calculator (a holdover from college calculus that I still find inexplicably useful — apparently a theme among economics reporters at The Times).

Really, though, the most important piece of technology on my desk is my landline telephone. I think some people have the idea that “data journalism” means staring at spreadsheets until a story magically appears, but in the real world that almost never happens. The best stories almost always emerge from talking to people, whether they are experts or just ordinary people affected by the issues we write about. They’re the ones who pose the questions that data can help answer, or who help explain the trends that the data reveals, or who can provide the wrinkles and nuances that the data glosses over.

For example, one of my favorite stories from the past year is one that I wrote with my colleague Conor Dougherty about investors buying up single-family homes. We had access to a huge data set — millions and millions of real estate transactions — that showed how investors had come to dominate the market for starter homes in many cities. But what really made the story come to life was when we zoomed in on one house that had changed hands several times and got to talk to all the people who had touched it — the investor who flipped it, the family that bought it, the would-be buyer who kept losing out to investors.

Read more here.

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