About the author

Ben Welsh is the editor of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk, a team of reporters and computer programmers in the newsroom that works to collect, organize, analyze and present large amounts of information.


He is also a cofounder of the California Civic Data Coalition, an open-source network of developers working to open up public data, and the creator of PastPages, an archive dedicated to the preservation of online news.

Ben has worked at the Los Angeles Times since 2007. Before working at The Times, Ben conducted data analysis for investigative projects at The Center for Public Integrity in Washington DC.

Projects he has contributed to have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Library of Congress’ Innovation Award and numerous other prizes for investigative reporting, digital design and online journalism.

Ben graduated from DePaul University in 2004. During his time there, he worked with Carol Marin and Don Moseley at the DePaul Documentary Project. He later earned a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism — where he served as a graduate assistant at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

He is originally from Swisher, Iowa.

About this class

This course was first developed for an October 2016, “watchdog workshop” organized by Investigative Reporters and Editors at San Diego State University’s school of journalism.

It was revised for a February 2017 hands-on training of students at Stanford’s journalism school and expanded into a six-hour class at the annual conference of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting in March 2017.

It was expanded into its current form for a massive open online course offered by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in May 2017.

About the data

The course is based on data provided by the California Civic Data Coalition, an open-source network of journalists and computer programmers working to ease access to the state’s jumbled, dirty and difficult database tracking money in politics.

The goal of the coalition’s work is to make the data those reporters used easier to access, understand and analyze. Learn more about the status of the project and the data you can download at californiacivicdata.org.