The impact of two data journalism pioneers, including a former Center for Public Integrity data editor, will be honored at the Investigative Reporters & Editors annual conference in Orlando June 24.
Both had accomplished U.S. journalism careers while playing pivotal roles in spreading the power of data journalism overseas — Donald in western Europe and Torok in Russia and Ukraine.
Torok, who passed away last year, led The New York Times’ data journalism team to eight Pulitzer Prizes in 13 years, and was previously a Pulitzer-finalist reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition to training other journalists in the U.S. and abroad, Torok developed innovative data analysis tools that he freely shared with the industry.
Donald, who died in 2016 of complications from mesothelioma, had already trained and mentored countless journalists around the world as IRE’s training director before joining Public Integrity as data editor in 2008. In that role, he worked with massive data sets to power investigations that uncovered $11 billion in fraudulent Medicare billing, the impact of subprime lending on the U.S. economy and the systemic failure to accurately report the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. He was recognized with many of journalism’s highest honors, including the Peabody, Philip Meyer, Tom Renner, IRE, James K. Batten, Dart and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism awards.
Donald went on to serve as data editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop and data journalist in residence at American University, working with Public Integrity founder Charles A. Lewis. There he developed the vision for a tool that would allow reporters to sort through large data sets without advanced data journalism training. Donald’s colleagues saw through what became The Accountability Project. It was developed at IRW and is now housed and supported by Public Integrity.
In his original proposal for the project, Donald stressed the need for data among accountability professionals.
“The key is the link among databases that provide the connections that allow us to hold the powerful accountable for their decisions and actions,” he wrote.
“In preparing David’s nomination, I heard from people all over the world who shared similar stories about how much they learned from him and how kind and patient he was,” said Public Integrity Senior Editor Jennifer LaFleur, who helped make his plan for The Accountability Project a reality at IRW. “Having trained with David around the world, I got to experience that first hand along with his wit, wisdom and unbeatable 20 questions skills.”
Donald received a master’s degree in journalism from Ohio’s Kent State University in 1997, a degree he completed while working in computer-assisted journalism at the Savannah Morning News in Georgia.
Joyce Donald, his wife of 34 years, told The Washington Post in 2016 that David “taught himself SQL and other computer languages, and he’d still read me poetry at night when we were together.”
Public Integrity data journalist Joe Yerardi recalled applying for a data internship with the organization in 2012 because of Donald’s work and reputation.
“I learned a ton in my four months here that served me very well when I graduated and started my first ‘real’ reporting job. That’s the stuff I’d expected to learn,” Yerardi said. “What I hadn’t expected to learn was just what a kind person he was. Like I said, I was an intern here. Not yet out of school. I made my share of boneheaded, rookie mistakes. The patience and kindness David showed in helping me work through my mistakes was something else. The fact that someone of his stature — at the top of his game, so to speak — was willing to spend so much time helping a lowly intern was kind of revelatory to me. Journalism has a reputation as an industry of big egos and ruthless competition.”
“Just as much as his incredible journalism, I think his incredible kindness is the legacy with which he’s left many of us,” Yerardi said.
The IRE board established the Ring of Honor in 2022.
Nominations to the Ring of Honor can be made in tribute to current or retired IRE members or in memory of deceased members.
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