By Sonni Efron

Oct. 2, 2020

The National Press Foundation is expanding its partnership with DataKind DC to pair data scientist volunteers with NPF journalism fellows who are working to track federal COVID stimulus spending.

The partnership has already helped NPF fellows who attended a July training on data and investigative journalism break important stories about which companies got Paycheck Protection Program loans under the CARES Act.

DataKind’s DC chapter is now making its volunteers available to partner with journalists in the 2019-2020 Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship program.

Since August, top data scientists from DataKind, working pro bono together with individual journalists, have helped clean and analyze data, coached reporters in analytic techniques specific to their stories, and paired up to investigate where some of the $4 trillion in taxpayer funds went. This unique partnership has helped power investigative stories on a Tampa Bay entrepreneur who received 10 PPP loans and on how more than 200 of America’s worst-performing nursing homes received taxpayer-backed loans.

Tracking where the CARES Act and other federal stimulus spending funds ended up has proved difficult. Data released last summer by the U.S. Small Business Administration was incomplete and difficult to work with. Recipients were not required to fill in some important fields, amounts for large loans were given as ranges instead of exact numbers, and the data contained errors and inconsistencies.

DataKind volunteers have produced their own database with cleaner and enhanced data that is easier to work with and can help journalists track and map how money was spent in their specific coverage areas. The code can be found on the project’s GitHub repository, along with more documentation about the project and the additional datasets that were brought in as enhancements.

Training on how journalists can use the DataKind datasets to enhance their reporting and details on the different datasets that may be useful for particular stories are here.

DataKind is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing social organizations with the pro bono assistance they need to tackle critical humanitarian issue in the fields of education, poverty, health, human rights, the environment and cities.

The Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowship program was created in 1987 and has trained 627 journalists, many of whom have gone on to become distinguished correspondents and newsroom leaders in Washington and around the nation. The fellowship provides a primer on Washington agencies, institutions and issues. The National Press Foundation is an independent nonprofit that is run by and for journalists. Its mission is to make good journalists better.

NPF’s “Tracking the Stimulus” online training program, funded by the Evelyn Y. Davis Foundation, trained 25 journalists from around the country on data journalism and investigative journalism techniques. A free downloadable guide on tracking stimulus funds, including video tutorials, and links to databases and other resources can be found here.