Herald-Tribune database tracks bad Florida teachers

Broken Trust - Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has published ‘Broken Trust,’ a triumph of an investigation in which the staff revealed widespread problems with the way Florida handles complaints alleging abuse by teachers.

Backing up the comprehensive graphic is an enormous database the Herald-Tribune constructed, where one can find information specific to a school, county or even a particular teacher if a complaint has been filed. The database had previously been withheld from the public and was meticulously cleaned up by the newspaper’s staff.

For more about the project, visit this post by Sarasota Herald-Tribune online editor Lucas Grindley.

Here are details straight from the story:

“The analysis — the first of its kind — shows that more than 300 teachers have been punished in recent years for sexual misconduct — molesting students, seducing them, having them pose nude or lavishing them with unwanted attention. Nearly 450 more physically attacked or verbally terrorized their students.”

“More than half of those teachers kept their license to teach. At least 150 teach in a Florida classroom today.”


“It took the Herald-Tribune 14 months and repeated threats of legal action to obtain the database under Florida’s public records law.”

“Even then, some information turned out to be so inaccurate that the Herald-Tribune decided to create its own version, reviewing 30,000 pages of administrative documents to build a database […]”

The Herald-Tribune staff did a fine job providing various ways to interpret and search the data, including pie charts, bar graphs and a searchable Google Map. Fortunately, none of my former teachers appear to be psychos, at least according to the database. Also, Melissa Worden built a neat graphic showing the winding bureaucracy a complaint must navigate before action is taken. Finally, one can read the stories inside the graphic.

My only –albeit minor– gripe with the package is that the searchable database is relegated to a secondary tab. Having the database front and center would answer the first question I think a reader would have: “Are one of these whackos inside my child’s school?” It would be a shame if someone missed out on the database for not clicking on the tab tucked away up there. And, how nifty would it be to have a cool embeddable little widget for that database?

But let’s put my whining about tabs aside. This is really a fantastic project. Congratulations to the Herald-Tribune for a tremendous achievement.

By Danny Sanchez on March 18, 2007 · Posted in newspapers, web design

4 Comments | Post Comment

Herald-Tribune shows the way for Flash and database journalism « Online Journalism Blog says:

[…] March 19th, 2007 I’m still scooping my jaw from the floor after looking at the Herald-Tribune’s Flash interactive on how complaints about teachers are handled. Not only does this use Flash cleverly – particularly to illustrate the complex process through which complaints go (now try doing that in print), along with audio clips – but it’s integrated with a database so you can search by district and school, keyword, or even map, a great example of database-driven journalism. From Journalistopia: […]

Posted on March 19th, 2007

Charlie Szymanski says:


Initially the Data Search was the main tab (and the only thing in the application at all — notice how out of place the “Report Abuse” form is — the rest of the additions came late in the project and it never got moved).

When we decided to incorporate the Case Flow and the Articles within the main application, we decided to make a Splash page for the project as a whole. I do wish that we had another button on the splash for the database search, but people seem to be finding it, so I guess it wasn’t so bad.

Thanks for the kind words,
Charlie Szymanski

Posted on March 20th, 2007

Danny Sanchez says:

Thanks for dropping by. It really was an impressive project.

Posted on March 20th, 2007

Ten ways journalism has changed in the last ten years (Blogger’s Cut) | Online Journalism Blog says:

[…] by similar efforts at the LA Times and Washington Post (who added house sales and schools); The Herald Tribune, meanwhile, used databases in their coverage of how complaints against teachers w…- readers could drill down to data in a specific […]

Posted on August 8th, 2008