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Data journalism pioneer David Donald dead at 64

Former Center for Public Integrity data editor David Donald, a pioneer and leader in the development of modern computer-assisted reporting worldwide, died Saturday at Reston Hospital Center in Virginia after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 64.

Donald was one of the early and most successful practitioners of data-based, investigative journalism that relied on computer analysis. He became a passionate Pied Piper for such reporting, crisscrossing the United States and indeed the globe, training dozens of other journalists who then helped spread and develop the craft even further. Donald was also known for his calming influence, his sage advice on matters both journalistic and personal, his dry wit, nutty professor appearance and love of a good glass — or two or three — of red wine.

“David was as kind as he was brilliant,” said Center CEO John Dunbar. “He was an evangelist for database investigative reporting and touched so many lives. I learned so much from him. He was my friend, and I will miss him.”

Donald joined the Center for Public Integrity as data editor in 2008 and worked with a variety of teams on some of the Center’s most ground-breaking projects — they included an investigation into the top subprime lenders behind the financial meltdown to the under-reporting of campus sexual assault to the methods Medicare providers used to overcharge the government.

Donald’s work with senior investigative reporter Fred Schulte on Medicare billing was twice (in 2012 and 2014) honored with the Philip Meyer Award, widely considered the most prestigious annual award in the world of computer-assisted reporting. Judges called the 2014 entry “superb,” adding that “despite the challenges of dealing with complex and voluminous government data the Center aptly dissected the shocking shortcomings” of the Medicare Advantage program.

Over the course of his career, Donald was also honored with the James K. Batten Award, the Dart Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award and a Peabody Award.

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