Thursday, June 06, 2013

Travis County gun deaths and using visualizations to shape reporting

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut and the resulting heightened sensitivity to gun control, Statesman reporter Eric Dexheimer requested the medical examiner's investigative report for every gun death from 2010-2012.

In the resulting analysis, Dexheimer found that two thirds of the gun deaths were suicides, and that many of those suicide victims had known mental illness diagnosis.

Shortly before the story ran, I asked Dexheimer for the data he had collected, hoping I could piece together a visualization to accompany his story. After deciding to concentrate on the age, type of gun and type of death, I was able to do some interesting things using Tableau.

Probably the most important thing I learned was I should've done this earlier. Dexheimer and I had talked that the geography of the deaths would probably not be important, but once mapped it was clear  that the majority of homicides happened east of I-35, areas that have higher poverty and crime rates, and the majority of suicides were west of I-35, considered more affluent  That might not be surprising, but it was certainly telling, and worth further reporting. Unfortunately, we were already upon the deadline.

While Tableau may not be intuitive, once you get the hang of it you can do a lot pretty quickly ... certainly quick enough to do explore your data for trends and outliers while you are reporting.

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