How did your professor help in the story’s development?
ER: Susan McGregor, our professor and program advisor, helped us ask the right questions about what the larger picture was beyond simple cases of misidentification.
It is quite common for algorithms that classify large amounts of information to derive a few false positives. But the fact that this list containing what were, in our opinion, conspicuous errors was provided to Congress, which then published it in the public record, raised larger questions around the trust our society places in tech companies. Having access to a wealth of experience from the journalism school’s faculty helped us pursue the proper channels to articulate the bigger picture.
How did you apply what you learned in your courses to the story?
SV: I was able to apply what I learned through my reporting class in our interviews. Our understanding of social networks and databases from a technical standpoint was also crucial in analyzing the data for the story.
ER: We had to quickly write a lot of code and build databases to find the leads, but the basics of reporting and investigation we learned in our journalism courses were key to bringing the story to fruition. The computational components will always supplement a story, but will never make it.
How did you connect with the editors at WIRED?
SV: We were interested in pitching to WIRED, and Professor McGregor connected us to Scott Thurm, an editor to whom we could pitch the story. We sent a synopsis and a draft of the story and they were immediately interested in the piece.
How long did it take for the story to be published?
SV: It took about two months to get the final story published. We had to fine-tune and fact check and make sure we were doing everything correctly.
ER: Although we already had 3,000 words, WIRED wanted to make sure we got all of the facts right. We worked with WIRED fact checkers, followed up with sources and pulled more data to ensure everything was airtight. It was the first time any of us worked with a major publication and we were pleasantly surprised by the meticulous standards they required.
What impact has working on the story had on your life?
SV: I was really motivated to pursue this intersection of computer science and journalism with more vigor. It reinstated why this is important and that I was capable of making some difference in the world with my storytelling. The dual degree has given me a lot of exposure and opportunities that I think will be instrumental in my career going forward.