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Analysis: Computer-Assisted Reporting

Here's a link to a investigative report that News Channel 5 in Nashville, Tenn. did about flammable wiring on airplanes.

Phil Williams, the chief investigator for the channel, did a nine-month investigation that followed the recent grounding or airplanes so that their wiring could be inspected. The reporter ultimately discovered that a lot of the wiring had a history of almost-explosive sparks. The story details the different types of wire that are explosive, what the FAA did about it, and how it affects fliers.

News Channel 5 used computer-assisted reporting, or CAR, to help with the story.

Consider the following passage:

"But our investigation discovered reports filed by the airlines that, safety advocates say, are warning signs.

"Those reports, called 'service difficulty reports,' contain dozens of references to Kapton's 'burned wires.'

"In one report, a 'wire bundle that runs under [the captain's] feet has numerous wires burned thru and others [are] fire damaged.'

"And in another, 'wiring burned holes in [the] fuselage.'"

It is unlikely that the investigators sat down and looked at the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of reports about airplanes filed with the FAA over the last few decades. They most likely used a database to sift through these records, entering keywords in order to find the information that they needed.

The website for the article also contains links where the readers can read the actual reports themselves and look at the list of aircraft that have the faulty wiring.

Using computer-assisted reporting lends credibility to the story by giving specific facts and numbers to back up the reporter's statements. The reporter does not have to rely on anecdotal reporting and can tell the story more effectively.